A Samskara is a sacred ceremony performed for the welfare of the human being.
The two root words in Samskara are Sam and Kr. Sam signifies welfare, happiness, prosperity and Kr translates to activity or doing.
Samskara can also be roughly translated to impressions.
Shodasha Samskara are 16 traditions or series of rituals to mark the important points and stages of life.
These have been identified in Hindu scriptures.
Shodasha Samskara helps enter the next stage of life in a harmonious and successful manner.
They trigger spiritual curiosity and leave a positive impression on the mind.
Vivah samskara is the Shodasha Samskara of marriage. It is a transition into the married stage of life and the accompanying family commitments.
Antyeshti samskara is the Shodasha Samskara for funeral rites. It releases the soul from this body.
List of Shodasha Samskara:
Garbhodhona – Conception
Pumsavana – Asking for a good child
Seemanthonnayana – Fetus & mom’s good health
Jatakarma – Birth
Namakarana – Naming
Nishkramana – First outing
Annaprosana – First solid food
Chudakarma – Shaving head
Karnavedha – Ear piercing
Vidyarambha – Alphabet introduction
Upanayanam – Initiation to studies
Vedarambha – Beginning of Vedic studies
Godana – Giving a cow to the Guru
Samavartana – Graduation
Vivaha – Marriage
Antyeshti – Funeral rites
Different sampradayas and acharyas teach the Shodasha Samskaras in different orders and different names.
In today’s day and age, not all these Samskaras are followed by everyone.
While some Samskaras like Namakarana, Vivaha and Antyeshti are very common and performed by almost all practicing Hindus, others like Karnavedha and Goddna less common.
SCRIPTURES & RESOURCES:
Various elements of Samskaras are mentioned in the Vedas.
Extensive discussions on the Shodasha Samskaras can be found in the Dharmasutras Grihyasutras. More recently, Chapter 6 in Pandurang Vaman Kane’s treatise – History of Dharmasastras, Vol II, Part I cogently explains the 16 traditions in plain English. This book can be found on archive.org