Why are certain rituals performed before commencing any sanskar?

Why are certain rituals performed before commencing any sanskar?

1. Origin and meaning

The Vedic rituals performed by the parents and the teacher on the son or daughter from the time of conception till marriage so that they may perform balanced [sattvik (sattva predominant)] actions are referred to as the sanskars (rites). There are sixteen important sanskars.
‘A process of increasing the potential. The origin of the word sanskar is sam (सम् ) + kru (कृ) + ghyan (घञ्‌) = sanskar (संस्कार). Thus the word sanskar is formed by prefixing the preposition sam denoting balance, to the verb kru and suffixing ghyan to it. It has manifold meanings such as to improve, to purify, to remove shortcomings in an object and to endow a new, attractive form to it. In short, the process by which positive qualities in man are developed and enhanced is known as a sanskar.
The extent of the concept of sanskars and their number is widely discussed in the Gruhyasutras. Sanskar forms the main topic of discussion in the Gruhyasutras. In these Sutras the sanskars performed on the body from Vivaha (marriage) till Samavartan (Sodmunja) are elucidated. In many Gruhyasutras the sanskar of performing the last rites is not mentioned as a sanskar.’ (1)

2. Importance

2.1 Comparative importance of sanskars

The sanskars
Importance %
1. Garbhadhan (Rutushanti)
2. Punsavan (Begetting a son)
3. Simantonnayan (Parting the wife’s hair)
4. Jatakarma (The rite at birth)
5. Namakaran (The naming ceremony)
6. Nishkraman (The rite of taking the
    child out of the house)
7. Annaprashan (Partaking of the first solid
8. Choulkarma [Chudakarma (keeping a
    small portion of hair on the front of the
9. Upanayan [Vratabandha, Munja (The
    rite of thread ceremony)]
10-13. Chaturveda vrat (The vowed
      religious observances of the four Vedas)
14. Keshant (Keeping a small portion of
      hair on the head)
15. Samavartan [Sodmunja (Giving up
16. Vivaha (Marriage)
But nowadays, 1. Upanayan (Munja or Vratabandha), 2. Samavartan (Sodmunja) and 3. Vivaha (marriage) are the only three sanskars (rites) in vogue. The rest of the sanskars are performed only as penance (prayashchitta). Prayashchitta means rituals performed as compensation for not having performed the sanskars earlier.

2.2 Sanskars and other spiritual practices

Importance %
1. Sixteen sanskars
2. Religious ceremonies performed on
    one’s own
3. Spiritual practice done with one’s own
4. Spiritual practice as advised by the Guru
‘Goutam incorporates the eight virtues of compassion, forgiveness, absence of envy, purity, self-control, right conduct, non-covetousness and absence of greed in addition to the 40 physical sanskars (rites) that He narrates. According to Him, these eight virtues are of greater importance than the rituals of the sanskars. He further states, ‘‘If man performs all the forty sanskars and yet does not acquire the eight virtues then he does not attain Brahman. Contrary to this, if he performs only those sanskars which are feasible and acquires all the eight virtues then he definitely acquires Brahman”.’(2)

3. The right to the sanskar (On whom is the sanskar performed?)

In ancient times sanskars similar to those performed on the boys were performed on the girls as well. Even their thread ceremony (Vratabandha) was being performed. However, during the Vedic period the sanskars performed on a girl began to decline and only the rite of marriage (Vivaha sanskar) continued to be performed on the bride along with mantras. ‘The sanskars (rites) have been mainly prescribed for the three main classes (varnas) that is Brahman (priest), Kshatriya (warrior) and Vaishya (businessman). The ten sanskars prescribed for the Shudras (labourers) as well as those performed on the girls should be done without the chanting of mantras. The Shankhasmruti states that these sanskars should not be performed on the insane and the mute.’(3)

4. Methods

4.1 The method of celebration

Two or three days prior to performing the sanskars, the house should be painted. A picture of Lord Ganapati should be installed at the main door of the house. If there is a compound or courtyard in front of the house then a pandal should be erected, and after smearing the floor with cowdung, designs of auspicious symbols such as the svastik, lotus, etc. should be drawn using special powder of soft white stone (rangoli). Before the ceremony of the sanskar, the one on whom the sanskar is to be performed as well as the relatives should wear new clothes and ornaments. Relatives and well-wishers should present gifts to the one on whom the sanskar is being performed.

4.2 Combating inauspicious forces

·         A. ‘To prevent distressing energies from attacking the one on whom the sanskar (rite) is being performed, one should make an offering of an animal sacrifice (bali) and pay obeisance to them at the time of the ceremony.
·         B. Some specific remedies: In the ceremony of Mundan (shaving off the child’s hair) the hair thus cut is hidden by mixing in a cake of cowdung and then buried in the cowshed or immersed in the river. This prevents the spirit of a diseased person (pishach) from possessing the child, using the hair as the medium. Sometimes to confuse these spirits an effigy of a sick person on his deathbed, is burnt. The motive behind this is to prevent them from attacking the subtle body of the man after he dies, with the belief that he has already been cremated.
·         C. The third method is to attack and then criticize and abuse them. It is believed that spirits fear mustard seeds. Hence mustard seeds are strewn around the place where the sanskar is to be performed.
·         D. Mantras like ‘Yadatrasanthitam bhutam.... (यदत्रसंस्थितं भूतं०)’, etc. are chanted, warning the spirits to vacate the place.
·         E. Celibates (brahmacharis) and celibates who have returned from their Gurus’ homes (snataks) wield a staff for the same purpose.
·         F. At times people selfishly direct the spirit troubling their relative on whom the sanskar is being performed onto someone else.
·         G. The bridal costume is a favourite medium of attack for spirits. No spirit can trouble a Brahman (priest). Hence, that costume is either gifted to a Brahman or hung on a tree or in a cattle shed.

4.3 Attraction of auspicious forces

In order to attract deities they are invoked, praised and prayers are offered to them.’(4)

4.4 Actual sanskars

Every sanskar is commenced with 1. The ritualistic worship of Lord Ganapati (Ganapatipujan), 2. Punyahavachan, 3. Matrukapujan, 4. Nandishraddha and 5. Acharyavaran. Then the specific sanskar is begun. The relative importance of the supporting rituals and the sanskars is as follows:
The sanskar  
Importance %
1. The supporting ritual
2. The sanskar
* Since the importance of each supporting ritual is 1%, the sum total of the five is 5%.
The reasons for using sandalwood paste (gandha), specific flowers, incense, copper, silverware, etc. are explained in ‘Science of Spirituality: Chapter 7 - Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga).

5. Supporting rituals

5.1 Worship of Lord Ganapati (Ganapatipujan)

A. The objectives: To prevent any obstacle from disrupting an auspicious occasion, it is begun with the worship of Lord Ganapati, a practice which is prevalent since the last century.
B. Preparations
·         1. Bath: The host and hostess performing the religious ceremony should bathe and wear clean attire.
·         2. The seat: The floor should be wiped clean, smeared with fresh cowdung and two or three wooden seats (pats) should be placed on it. Woollen cloth should be spread out on these seats and the sides should be decorated with designs drawn with special powder of soft white stone (rangoli). The energy generated in the body during worship, instead of escaping into the ground instantly, is conserved in the body for atleast sometime due to the wooden platforms and woollen cloth. More information on seats (asans) is given in ‘Science of Spirituality: Chapter 3 - Practice of Spirituality’.
·         3. Taking the seat: The host and hostess performing the religious ceremony should sit facing the east, as the east is considered to be auspicious. The wife should be seated to the left of her spouse. The left side of the husband indicates the Chandra nadi (Moon channel). When the wife sits on the side of the Chandra nadi, there is not much activation of energy. In this ritual, activation of energy is undesired. It is the experience of Bliss (Anand) that is desired. The one on whom the sanskar (rite) is to be performed should sit to the left of the hostess. (Variation : Another school of thought states that ‘the wife should be seated to the right of her spouse. Consequently, there is activation of energy. This energy then destroys the distressing energies obstructing the ritual’.)
·         4. Application of sandalwood paste (gandhadharan): Married women (suvasinis) should apply a tilak of sandalwood paste (gandha) onto the foreheads of the host and hostess performing the religious ceremony, the one on whom the sanskar is being performed and the guests. The energy generated due to the ritual of worship (puja) which flows through the Adnya chakra of the one performing the worship is increased by 5% when sandalwood paste is used. It also obstructs the entry of distressing energy through the Adnya chakra to the extent of 5%. Of the pleasant or distressing energies entering the body 30% do so through the Adnya chakra. Married women represent manifest energy while unmarried girls represent unmanifest energy. The sandalwood paste applied by married women is more effective as due to the manifest energy in them it facilitates the increase of the sattva component in the one on whose forehead they apply the paste. On auspicious occasions widows do not apply tilak to others as the quantity of manifest energy in them has been reduced on account of their married life.
·         5. Sipping water from the palm (achaman): The host performing the religious ceremony should take a little water from the vessel for worship (panchapatri) with an offering spoon (pali) onto his palm and sip it. This is called achaman. Just as bathing causes external purification, partaking water in this way is responsible for internal purification. Often this act is repeated thrice. Thus physical, psychological and spiritual, internal purification is brought about.
·         6. Wearing the sacred ring (pavitra/pavitrak dharan): The host performing the religious ceremony should wear a sacred ring made of sacred grass (darbha). As a result, pure particles of spiritual energy (pavitrakas) in the atmosphere get attracted towards him in greater amounts. Pure particles of spiritual energy are the subtlemost particles of divine energy (chaitanyakas) of various deities.
·         7. Pranayam: Due to pranayam, the raja component decreases and the sattva component increases. (Refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 29 - Pranayam’.)
·         8. Salutation to the benevolent deity (ishtadevata) and the family deity (kuladevata): One should offer obeisance to Them offering fruit and betel leaves with betelnut, lime, cardamoms, etc. Thus one obtains Their blessings too.
·         9. Sipping water from the palm (achaman): One should perform pranayam sipping water from the palm while chanting each Name out of the twenty-four Names of Lord Vishnu, commencing with Keshav.
C. The resolve (sankalpa)
·         1. Holding unbroken consecrated rice (akshata) and an offering spoon (pali) with water in the cup of one’s hand one should chant the mantra with the resolve, ‘I of the .....lineage (gotra), ..... Sharma (Sharma refers to the Brahman, Varma to the Kshatriya, Gupta to Vaishya class and Das to the Shudra class.) am performing the .... ritual to obtain the benefit according to the Shrutis, Smrutis and Purans in order to acquire .... result and then should offer the water from the hand into the circular, shelving metal dish (tamhan). Offering the water into the circular, shelving dish signifies the completion of an act.
·         2. Then taking water again and expressing the resolve, ‘I am hereby performing Punyahavachan, Matrukapujan, Nandishraddha, [the installation of the deity of the pandal (mandapdevata) and the family deity (kuladevata)]’ the water should then be offered into the circular, shelving metal dish.
·         3. Once again water should be poured into the cupped hand and expressing the resolve, ‘I am worshipping Lord Ganapati so that the ceremony is completed without any obstacle’, the water should be released into the circular, shelving metal dish. In any religious ritual the resolve (sankalpa) made plays a role in acquiring the benefit from the ritual.
D. The ritual of worship
·         1. Installation of the idol: A betelnut washed with water should be placed on a small heap of rice. (In Goa instead of betelnut a coconut is used.) This is similar to the installation of the idol of Lord Ganapati which is done on rice, heapedup on a wooden seat (pat) during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. In a religious ritual, rice refers to consecrated, unbroken rice grains (akshata). Rice grains have the ability to attract very distant pure particles of spiritual energy (pavitrakas). Betelnut too possesses the potential of attracting them from both male and female deities. This potential is activated by a mantra.
·         2. The mantra to invoke Lord Ganapati: After saying, ‘Gananam tva Ganapatim havamahe..... (गणानां त्वा गणपतिं हवामहे०)’ one should say ‘ भूर्भुव: स्: ऋद्धिबुद्धिसहितं सांगं सपरिवारं सायुधं सशक्तिकं महागणपतिमावाहयामि ’ meaning ‘O great Ganapati come along with Ruddhi, intellect, Your entire family, all Your weapons and might’. Then consecrated rice should be offered to invoke Lord Ganapati on the betelnut. In between ‘Om Bhurbhuvaha svaha ( भूर्भुव: स्:)’ is chanted like the three step (tripad) Gayatri mantra. To prevent an obstacle of any sort in the ritual, Lord Ganapati is invoked (avahan) with all His weapons and might.
·         3. Ritualistic worship with sixteen substances (shodashopchar puja): When any offering like food (naivedya), betel leaves with a betelnut, lime, cardamoms, etc. (tambul) or money (dakshina) is made one should repeatedly remind oneself, ‘This is not mine, I am offering unto You, what is Yours (इदं  मम)’. This is important from the point of view of making spiritual progress. The importance of ritualistic worship with sixteen substances is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 7 - Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga).’
·         4. Offering of flowers (pushpanjali): Finally chanting, ‘(अनया पूजया सकलविघ्नहर्ता महागणपति: प्रीयताम् )’ meaning, ‘May Shri Mahaganapati, the vanquisher of all obstacles be appeased with this worship of mine’, water should be released. This completes the ritual. For details about Ganapati refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 19 - Ganapati’.

5.2 Punyahavachan (Svastivachan)

A. The objectives:Punya (पुण्) + aha (अह) + vachan (वाचन) = Punyahavachan (पुण्याहवाचन) which means getting the Brahmans to pronounce that the day of commencement of the ritual is an auspicious one. The day of commencing any auspicious ceremony is chosen after referring to the Hindu almanac (panchang). However the Brahmans proclaiming the day to be auspicious and blessing the host accordingly augments the benefits obtained from it.’(5)
B. The importance: Due to their utterance that day acquires energy.
C. The material required
·         1. Those used for usual ritualistic worship (puja)
·         2. Five foliages - branches of mango, fig (umbar), the holy fig tree (pimpal), jamun and banyan trees.
·         3. Nectar of five ingredients (panchamrut) - a mixture of milk, curds, clarified butter (ghee), honey and sugar.
·         4. Five gems - gold, silver, diamond, pearl (rajavarta) and coral.
D. Preparation: The wife should sit to the right of the host and the one on whom the sanskar (rite) is to be performed should be seated to her right. The aim behind sitting to the right of her husband is to generate more energy during the ritual. The right side corresponds to the Surya nadi (Sun channel).
E. The resolve (sankalpa): After uttering the name of the place and the time one declares the resolve by saying ‘कार्यांतर्गतं पुण्याहवाचनं करिष्ये ’ which means ‘I am performing Punyahavachan for .... sanskar’.
F. Touching the earth (bhumisparshan): Chanting the mantra, first the earth (ground) on the right hand side (since the host performing the religious ceremony is facing the east, the hand touching the ground is in the southern direction) and then the earth on the left hand side, in front of oneself (that is the northern direction) should be touched. Energies from the south are distressing. To prevent them from causing distress, one offers obeisance to them by touching the earth. The energies from the north are however saluted as they are pleasant.
G. Installation of the pot (kalashsthapana): Two small heaps of rice should be made on the ground amidst chanting of a mantra. Later, chanting the mantra two pots of either gold, silver, copper or unbroken earthen pots should be placed on these two heaps. [The varying ability of various metals to absorb pleasant energy is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 7 - Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)’.]
·         1. Holy water (tirthodak): Clean water either from rivers like the Ganga or elsewhere should be filled in both the pots. They should then be worshipped with sandalwood paste (gandha), a sacred grass (durva), five foliages, fruits such as the coconut, five gems, offering of money (dakshina) and the ritual of tying of a thread (sutraveshtan). A pot filled with water represents a fulfilled life.
·         2. The water vessels (purnapatra): One betelnut should be placed in each of the two vessels filled with rice. These vessels should be placed over the two pots as their lids. One of the pots symbolises the right side of Lord Varun and the other the left. After saying, ‘कलशे वरूणं सांगं सपरिवारं सायुधं सशक्तिकं आवाहयामि ’ which means ‘The deity of rain Varun, please come along with Your entire family, all Your weapons and might’, consecrated rice (akshata) should be sprinkled on the betelnut. Then Lord Varun should be worshipped with five substances namely sandalwood paste, consecrated rice, flowers, incense and a lit lamp.
Prayer made to the pot: Lord Vishnu is at the mouth, Lord Rudra at the neck and Lord Brahma at the bottom of the pot. In the middle are the assistants of the Matruka deities, etc. Then consecrated unbroken rice should be put in the pot facing the north.
After paying obeisance to everyone (‘मातापितृभ्यां नम:  इष् देवताभ्यो नम:  ........ सर्वेभ्यो देवेभ्यो नमो नम: ’ that is obeisance to the mother deity, father deity, the benevolent deity and all other deities) one should sit with knees touching the ground. Then cupping the hands in the shape of a lotus, one should carry the pot facing the north and touch it to one’s forehead, that of one’s wife and that of the priest, thrice. This is obeisance offered to the pot so as to be able to absorb the energy generated in it. Then the priest should say ‘May this day be an auspicious one’. Chanting the Niranjan mantra, married women (suvasinis) wave a lit lamp in a circular motion in front of the host and hostess of the religious ceremony and the one on whom the sanskar (rite) is being performed. Then lifting the right pot with the right hand and the left pot with the left the water from it should be poured into a vessel in a continuous stream. (Variation : The right hand should be used to lift the pot on the left and the opposite hand for the pot on the right.) Then the hostess should sit to the left of her husband and the priest should stand facing the north and should sprinkle water (abhishek) on the host and hostess of the ceremony and the one on whom the sanskar is being performed with five types of foliages and a sacred grass (durva), amidst chanting of mantras. Consequently, the energy generated in the pot is transmitted to all. Finally the host should sip water from the palm twice (achaman). This marks the end of the ritual.

5.3 Worship of the Matruka deities (Matrukapujan)

A. The objectives
·         1. It is a custom to worship the Matruka deities along with Lord Ganesh at the beginning of any ceremony in order to prevent any obstacles. Matrukas are a type of female deities and are twenty-seven in all. [Variation: There are sixteen Matrukas namely - Gouri, Padma, Shachi, Medha, Savitri, Vijaya, Jaya, Devsena, Svadha, Svaha, Mata, Lokmata, Dhruti, Pushti, Tushti and the family deity (kuladevata) of the host. Another variation: Brahmi, Maheshvari, Koumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani, Chamunda in addition to the above and Ganapati, Durga and the guardian deity of the territory (kshetrapal) as substitutes.]
·         2. Since the worship of the Matruka deities (Matrukapujan) is a part of the ritual of Nandishraddha, it is performed along with the latter.
B. The ritual of worship (puja): Twenty-seven small heaps of rice should be made and a betelnut should be placed on top of each one of them. Ritualistic worship is performed as usual and then water is released to mark the end of the ritual.

5.4 Nandishraddha (Abhyudayik/Abhyudayik/Vruddhi-shraddha)

A. The objectives: The Nandishraddha is performed as an offering to the ancestors and their deities (Nandimukh and others) just as Lord Ganesh is worshipped before commencing any auspicious ceremony to ward off any obstacle.
B. Preparations: In Nandishraddha (Vruddhishraddha) instead of one sacred grass (darbha), another (durva) is used. However, if the shraddha is a part of the rite of a sacrificial fire (yadnya) then grass without roots or a combination of both the sacred grasses (durva and darbha) is used. Substances which have the ability to attract pure particles of spiritual energy (pavitrakas) of a deity are used in the ritualistic worship (puja) of that particular deity.
C. The ritual: The worship is performed with five substances namely sandalwood paste (gandha), consecrated rice (akshata), flowers, incense and a lit lamp and then some money (dakshina) is offered in a circular, shelving metal dish (tamhan). One copper coin (paisa) is thrown towards the south as an offering to the ancestors in the region of ancestors (pitrulok) situated in the south and to the distressing energies from that direction so that they do not cause trouble. Another copper coin is thrown towards the north as an offering to benevolent deities.

5.5 Acharyavaran (Accepting the priest)

A. The objectives: Accepting the priest (purohit) in order to perform any ritual.
B. The ingredients required: White mustard seeds, a mixture of milk, curd, butter, urine and dung of cow (panchagavya) and a betelnut.
C. The ritual: The betelnut is offered to the priest after the chanting of a mantra and he is requested to be the officiating priest. The priest then saying ‘yes’ accepts the proposal.
D. Sprinkling the ingredients with holy water (prokshan): The ingredients required for the ritual and the place where the ritual is to be performed is sprinkled with a mixture of the five substances mentioned above (panchagavya) using sacred grass (durva or darbha). Also, to prevent spirits from causing any trouble mustard seeds are scattered in all four directions.
‘Sixteen Sanskars and some other rituals’, published by Sanatan Sanstha.
Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publishers: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
Vol. 3 to 10: First edition           Vol. 1 and 2: Second edition
1. Vol.9, Pg. 562
2. Vol. 9, Pg. 565
3. Vol.5, Pg. 563
4. Vol. 9, Pg. 565
5. Vol.5, Pg. 582g. 565 5. Vol.5, Pg. 582

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Jagruti for the collection)


Post a Comment