- Samskaras (from the Sanskrit samskri, refined, the source of the word SANSKRIT) are ritual ceremo-nies that mark and purify life cycle events. Every samskara requires a BRAHMIN priest to preside and includes prayers, oblations, offerings, and a fire ritual.Rituals are performed to encourage impreg-nation and to obtain a male child. A special rite is performed at birth. The annaprashana is usually performed at the sixth month after birth to mark the feeding of the first solid food. The investiture of the SACRED THREAD, the upanayana ceremony, is performed for twice-born (high-caste) Hindu males when they are between ages eight and 12.Perhaps the two most important samskaras for Hindus are the wedding ceremony and the sraddha, or death ceremony. The sraddha can be performed only by a male child. It ensures that a soul does not remain as a ghost but goes on either to liberation or to its next birth. A yearly ritual is performed to feed the deceased, in particular Brahmins, lest they fall from heaven. This ancient ritual of feeding the ancestor seems to conflict with the belief that nearly everyone is reincar-nated, and that few proceed directly to heaven.Further reading: R. B. Pandy, Hindu Samskaras: Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1969); Prem Sahai, Hindu Marriage Sams-kara (Ahmedabad: Wheeler, 1993).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.