Ashta Samskara: Images of Eight Rites of Passage

indian wedding pattern on hands
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The Eight Rites of Passage: The Ashta Samskara

Sacraments are performed to celebrate and sanctify life's crucial junctures, inform family and community, and secure inner-world blessings. Here are eight of the essential rites or 'samskaras.' Others rites honor coming of age, the stages of child-bearing and attaining the wisdom years.

The following images, aimed at helping children appreciate the meaning of these rites, are reproduced with permission from Himalayan Academy Publications. Parents and educators may visit minimela.com to purchase many of these resources at a very low cost for distribution in your community and classes.

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Namakarana--the Name-Giving Ceremony

Namakarana – Name Giving Ceremony
Namakarana – The Name Giving Ceremony. Art by A. Manivel

This image depicts the Hindu name-giving ceremony, performed in the home or the temple 11 to 41 days after birth. In this rite, the father whispers the auspicious new name in the infant's right ear.

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Anna Prasana--the Beginning of Solid Food

Anna Prasana – Beginning of Solid Food. Art by A. Manivel

Here we see the first feeding of solid food to the child, a sacred event performed by the father in the temple or home. The choice of food offered to a child at this crucial time is said to help determine his or her destiny.

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Karnavedha--Ear Piercing

Karnavedha – Ear Piercing
Karnavedha – Ear Piercing. Art by A. Manivel

This illustration is of the ear-piercing ceremony, given to both boys and girls, performed in the temple or the home, generally on the child's first birthday. Health and wealth benefits are said to derive from this ancient rite.

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Chudakarana--Head Shaving

Chudakarana – Head Shaving
Chudakarana – Head Shaving. Art by A. Manivel

Here is the rite in which the head is shaven and smeared with sandalwood paste.  The rite is performed in the temple or home before the age of age. It is a very happy day for the child. The shaven head is said to denote purity and egolessness.

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Vidyarambha--the Beginning of Education

Vidyarambha – Beginning of Education
Vidyarambha – Beginning of Education. Art by A. Manivel

This illustration depicts the formal beginning of primary education for the child. In this rite, performed in the home or temple, the child scribes the first letter of the alphabet in a tray of unbroken, uncooked, saffron rice.

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Upanayana--the Sacred Thread Ceremony

Upanayana – Sacred Thread Ceremony
Upanayana – Sacred Thread Ceremony. Art by A. Manivel

Here we see the ceremonial investment of the "sacred thread," and the child's initiation into Vedic study, performed in the home or temple, usually between the ages of 9 and 15. At the conclusion of this rite, a  youth is considered "twice-born."

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Vivaha--Marriage

Vivaha - Marriage
Vivaha - Marriage. Art by A. Manivel

This illustration shows the marriage ceremony, performed in a temple or wedding hall around the sacred home fire. Lifetime vows, Vedic prayers, and seven steps before God and Gods consecrate the union of the husband and the wife.

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Antyeshti--Funeral or Last Rites

Antyeshti – Funeral or Last Rites
Antyeshti – Funeral or Last Rites. At by A. Manivel

Finally, we see the funeral rite, which includes the preparation of the body, cremation, home-cleansing, and dispersal of the ashes. The purifying fire symbolically releases the soul from this world that it may journey unhindered to the next.