Sacred Samskaras: Hindu Rites of Passage
Samskaras--Hinduism's answer to the sacraments--sanctify life's transitions from birth to death.
In addition to the primary rites of passage described and illustrated here, there is a rich collection of other traditional samskaras ranging from complex to simple, from prominent to obscure, from current to obsolete. Here is a sampling.
When a boy first shaves his facial hair, this indication that he has come of age is celebrated in the temple or at home with the Kesanta Samskara. It is a joyous time of gift-giving , yet it is serious as well. Often a vow of brahmachariya (celibacy) is taken at this same time.
As puberty dawns for a young girl, the ritu kala home-ceremony is performed to acknowledge her first menses. New clothing, jewelry and her first sari are given as she joyously and openly joins the young adult community.
This ceremony--literally, "returning home from the house of the guru"--marks the end of studentship and indicates formal closure to the brahmacharya period of life. The young person now must choose one of two paths: the grihastha path (family life) or the renunciate path (monastic life).
Nischitartha or Vagdana
This is the betrothal ceremony in which a man and woman are declared formally engaged by their parents with the exchange of jewelry and gifts. Based on this commitment, they and their families begin planning a shared future.
The literal meaning of the term pumsavana is "the quickening of a male child." Not practiced today, this ceremony was performed by the husband for the wife beseeching the birth of a son, primarily as an assurance for the continuance of the family line.