Sacred Samskaras: Hindu Rites of Passage
Samskaras--Hinduism's answer to the sacraments--sanctify life's transitions from birth to death.
The best rendering of samskara in English is made by the word "sacrament," which means "religious ceremony or act regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace." Sacrament also means "confirmation of some promise or oath; things of mysterious significance,sacred influence and symbol."
--Sri Raj Bai Pandey, Hindu Samskaras
For the Hindu, life is a sacred journey, and every step from birth to death is marked by a traditional ceremony called a samskara. During these Hindu rites of passage, a temple or home ceremony deeply influences the soul and directs life along the path of dharma. There are many types of samskaras, from the rite prior to conception to the funeral ceremony. Each one, properly observed, empowers spiritual life, preserves religious culture, and establishes bonds with inner worlds as the soul consciously accepts each succeeding discovery and duty in the order of God's creation.
Religious samskaras serve two purposes. First, they mark clearly within our minds the occasion of an important life transition. Second, they solicit special blessings from the devas and deities, society and village, family and friends. These blessings and feelings of love have a markedly positive effect, stabilizing the mind so that the deeper meanings of life can unfold within us. Of the many Hindu samskaras, eight are illustrated and described below.
Anna Prasana, First Solid Food
During the Anna Prasana Samskara, solid food is fed to the child for the first time. This is done by the father or the mother in the temple or at home. The choice of food, such as rice, offered to a child at this crucial time of life is said to help forge his or her destiny.
This ear-piercing ceremony, for both boys and girls, is performed in the temple or the home, generally on the child's first birthday. Health benefits are said to derive from this ceremony.