There are sixteen main Sacraments (Samskaras).These range from conception to funeral ceremonies.
The wedding rituals, Vivaha: Vivaha is the rite of passage and rituals associated with marriage. While there are many rituals in Hinduism, vivaha (wedding) is the most extensive personal ritual an adult Hindu undertakes in his or her life. The wedding rites and ceremonies begin with the engagement of a couple, and extend to rites of passage after the completion of wedding. They are typically very colourful, and celebrations may extend for several days. The detailed rituals and process in a Hindu wedding vary.
Intent to have a child ritual, Garbhadhana: Garbhadhana also called Garbhalambhanam, literally means attaining the wealth of the womb. It is a private rite of passage, marking the intent of a couple to have a child. It is a ceremony performed before conception and impregnation. In some ancient texts, the word simply refers to the rite of passage where the couple have sex to have a child, and no ceremonies are mentioned.
Quickening the fetus rite, Pumsavana: Pumsavana is a composite word of Pums + savana. Pums mean “to grind, a man, a human being, a soul or spirit”, while savana means “ceremony, rite, oblation, festival”. Pumsavana literally means “quickening a being or male”, usually translated as “quickening a male fetus, bringing forth a male baby”. It is a ritual conducted when the pregnancy begins to show, typically in or after the third month of pregnancy and usually before the fetus starts moving in the womb.
Parting hair and baby shower, Simantonnayana: Simantonnayana also called Simanta or Simantakarana literally means “parting the hair upwards”. The significance of the ritual is to wish a healthy development of the baby and safe delivery to the mother. Simantonnayana ritual is described in many Gryhasutra texts, but Kane states that there is great divergence in details, which may be because the rite of passage emerged in more a recent era, before it receded into the background.
Childbirth ceremony, Jatakarman: Jātakarman literally means “rite of a new-born infant”. It is a rite of passage that celebrates the birth of the baby. It is the first post-natal rite of passage of the new born baby. It signifies the baby’s birth, as well as the bonding of the father with the baby. In Hindu traditions, a human being is born at least twice – one at physical birth through mother’s womb, and second at intellectual birth through teacher’s care, the first is marked through Jatakarman sanskara ritual, the second is marked through Vidyarambha or Upanayana sanskara ritual. During a traditional Jātakarman ritual, the father welcomes the baby by touching the baby’s lips with honey and ghee (clarified butter), as Vedic hymns are recited.
Naming the baby ritual, Namakarana: Namakarana literally means “ceremony of naming a child”. This rite of passage is usually done on the eleventh or twelfth day after birth, and sometimes the first new moon or full moon day after the 10th day of birth. On the day of this samskara, the infant is bathed and dressed in new garments. His or her formal name, selected by the parents, is announced. The naming ritual solemnizes the child as an individual, marking the process by which a child is accepted and socialized by people around him or her.
Baby’s first outing, Nishkramana: Nishkramana literally means “going out, coming forth”, is the rite of passage where the parents take the baby outside the home and the baby formally meets the world for the first time. It is usually observed during the fourth month after birth. On this ritual occasion the newborn is taken out and shown the sun at sunrise or sunset, or the moon, or both. Alternatively, some families take the baby to a temple for the first time.
Baby’s first solid food, Annaprashana: Annaprashana literally means “feeding of food”, and the rite of passage marks the first time a baby eats solid food, typically containing cooked rice. Most Gryhasutras recommend this ritual in the sixth month, or when the child shows the first teeth, with slow weaning of the baby from breast feeding to other sources food. Some texts recommend continued breast feeding of the child, as the child adapts to the various foods. The ritual is usually celebrated with cooked rice, in a paste of honey, ghee and curd. Sankhyayana Gryhasutra recommends that fish, goat or partridge meat gravy be added to the solid food that baby tastes for the first time, while Manava Gryhasutra is silent about the use of meat. The mother eats with the baby, the same food.
Baby’s first haircut, Chudakarana: Chudakarana (literally, rite of tonsure), also known as choulam, caula, chudakarma, or mundana is the rite of passage that marks the child’s first haircut, typically the shaving of the head. The mother dresses up, sometimes in her wedding sari, and with the father present, the baby’s hair is cut and the nails are trimmed. Sometimes, a tuft of hair is left to cover the soft spot near the top of baby’s head.
Baby’s earlobe piercing rite, Karnavedha: Karnavedha literally means “ear-piercing”. This is a minor rite of passage that is not mentioned in most Gryha-sutras. Those that mention it state different schedules, with some suggesting that the ritual within the first four weeks after birth, others suggesting within the first year. The purpose of this optional ritual is primarily an ornamentation of the body, and is part of the baby’s socialization process and culture emersion. The piercing is usually done with a clean gold thread, or silver needle.
Child’s commencement to knowledge, Vidyarambha: Vidyarambha literally means “beginning of study”. It is also known as Akshararambha or Aksharasvikara. It is a ritual that celebrates as a milestone, the child’s formal attempt to learn means of knowledge. This includes steps where the child, helped by the parents and other family members, does one or more of the following: writes letters of the alphabet, draws mathematical numbers or shapes, and plays a musical instrument.
Child’s entrance into school, Upanayana: Upanayana literally means “the act of leading to or near”. It is an important and widely discussed samskara in ancient Sanskrit text. The rite of passage symbolizes the leading or drawing towards the self of a child, in a school, by a teacher. It is a ceremony in which a Guru (teacher) accepts and draws a child towards knowledge and initiates the second birth that is of the young mind and spirit.
Vedarambha: Praishartha (or Vedarambha) is the rite of passage that marked the start of learning the Vedas and Upanishads in Gurukulam or Pathashala (school). It was a fire ritual (yajna), where the teacher and the student sat together, with the teacher reciting initiation hymns and the student following. This ritual is missing in older texts, and Pandey suggests that the later tradition recognized the difference between getting accepted in a school, and the actual start of Veda studies when the student is ready to learn those texts.
Keshanta and Ritusuddhi: Keshanta (literally, getting rid of hairs) is the first shave of a youth’s facial hair. This was typically observed about age sixteen, and the emerging beard and moustache were shaved. The ceremony included gift giving such as to the barber and the teacher at his school. The coming of age ceremony ended with the student reciting his vow of chastity and the code of Brahmacharya.
Graduation ceremony, Samavartana: Samavartana, or Snana, is the ceremony associated with the end of formal education and the Brahmacharya asrama of life. This rite of passage includes a ceremonial bath. This ceremony marked the end of school, but did not imply immediate start of married life. Typically, significant time elapsed between exiting the Brahmacharya stage of life and the entering of Grihastha stage of life.
Cremation ritual, Antyeshti: Antyesti (literally, last rites or last sacrifice), sometimes referred to as Antima Samskaram, Antya-kriya, Anvarohanyya, or Vahni Sanskara, are the rituals associated with funeral. This samskara is not mentioned in the lists of samskaras in most of the grhyasutras and other texts that discuss samskaras. The details and procedures of this rite are given in separate texts, dealing only with this topic.