Sunday, April 21, 2019

Purificatory Rites (Samskaaras)

Article in Kannada: Tarodi Suresha
English Rendering: Padmini Srinivasan

Even though the word Samskaara is in use here and there, aptness of its usage is questionable.  Quite a few are apprehensive, as they believe that funeral rites are the only Samskaara!
In Bhaarata, this word is in common use from times immemorial. In our tradition, this word is valued as a purification process. Samskaara is regarded as the process of cleansing all defects in an object and filling-in good qualities so as to bring it back to its original form. In other words, removing all the stains and restoring the lustre of an object is Samskaara. Through this refining process an object regains its innateness, immaculateness, sanctity as well as beauty.
Through their deep penance,Maharshis have handed down comprehensive Samskaaras to us. These are actions bound by Vijnaana (i.e. special and deep knowledge of Jnaana,the root of all creation), and help us reach the primary goal of life viz. JnaanaSamskaaras exist for the human body, for the mind as well as for the seven Dhaatus(vital elements). Samskaaras are religious rites, which eliminate the Rajas and Tamascharacter from the body and restore the soul to its original form, while replenishing its lost lustre. Samskaaras bring back the memory of the True self (Smruti) by eliminating forgetfulness (Vi-Smruti).
What is purity? Complete purity may be regarded as a state of being engrossed with the Transcendental Truth, existing at the root of all creation (Jnaana) and getting immersed in the principles from tip to toe. The purity attained by the seven Dhaatusof our body as well as the mind, intellect and sense organs, through the usage of materials, purified through Samskaara, is greatly valuable. It is apparent that, these end results are achieved through the appropriate and effective usage of Mantra(chant), Tantra (religious procedure), Kaala (auspicious time) and Dravya (raw material).
Parabrahman is the only one, who can purify everything, as he is free from all kinds of deformity or distortion. The verse “Avikaaraaya Shuddhaaya Nityaaya Paramaatmane …” substantiates this statement. This aspect is fundamental. It includes meditation on Paramaatman, while performing the religious procedures handed down to us by Rshis as per their visualization of Vijnaana.

Impurity is not our innate nature. Even by experience we are able to say that purity represents our natural form. Good health is originality, not ill health. Ill health is like a foreign body. This example was cited often by Shriranga Mahaaguru. Hence Samskaaras are essential. Though the Atman (soul) is pure, He appears impure due to bondage accruing from Paapa karmas (sinful acts).Samskaaras restore purity by cleaning and clearing the Paapas, and serve as stepping stones in pursuit towards Self-realisation.
Right from conception to the final funeral rites, Samskaaras have been classified as sixteen. Keeping in mind the benefits expected in different phases of life, Samskaaras are designed to encompass the entire life of an individual. The most important among them are: Garbhaadhaana (conception),Pumsavana and Seemanthonnayana (pre-natal rituals), Jaatakarma (birth rites), Naamakarana (naming celebration), Nishkramana(Child initially setting out),Anna Praashana (first solid food-feeding), Choodaakarma(first tonsuring), Upananyana(Sacred thread initiation),Four veda vratasSnaana(holy bath on completion of vedic studies), Vivaaha(marriage) and Antyeshti(funeral rites). Some of these are replaced with a few others too by different Gruhya Sutrakaaras (Law-givers). Further a classification as pre-Samskaara and post-Samskaara too exists. It is not that this list is exhaustive and ultimate. Evils abounding, it is necessary to have equally endless Samskaaras which are capable of cleansing these evils.
These once-in-a-lifetime rituals, while purifying the seven Dhaatus of the human body, have a cumulative effect over a lifetime. They eradicate any demerits associated with the womb (Stree-prakrti or the feminine component which has the ability to assist in evolution) as well as the seed (Purusha or the masculine component which initiates growth of a progeny). This paves way for the growth of a healthy lineage. Purity starting from the outer body up to the inner soul, leads to the realisation of the natural self.  A noble society thus takes shape. Yet another valuable gain through Samskaaras is acquiring the eight Atma-gunas (great basic qualities of the Atman) such as Dayaa (compassion), Kshamaa (pardon), Anasuya(free from envy) etc. Through Samskaara these qualities get a boost and lead to a sense of awakening. For Samskaaras to make a good impact, everyone should necessarily possess these qualities. It is also true that a group of such noble people makes a virtuous society. Those who participate in the Samskaara celebrations also derive Samskaara. Good deeds such as Anna daana(feeding people), Dhana daana(gifting wealth) accrue Punya(merits).
As these Samskaaras culminate in obtaining the grace of the Almighty, they are regarded as a Yajna. Purity is obtained through Mantra(hymns), Tantra (rituals),Dravya (materials), and Kaala(appropriate time of conducting celebrations). Not just grace of God, these are great boons granted to us by Maharshis in order to attain communion with Paramatman (The Supreme Being).
Note: The Kannada version of this article can be viewed at AYVM blogs