Hindu Rituals & Samskaras
Sandhyopasana literally means ‘worship at the junctions of time.’ It is a prayer and worship offered to the Lord at the junction (Sandhi) of night and morning, forenoon and afternoon and at the junction of evening and night.
The Arghyapradana to the sun and the meditation on and recitation of Gayatri, form the heart of the worship. Properly understood, the whole Sandhya is an earnest prayer addressed to the Lord to forgive all one’s sins committed during one’s routine, daily activities and to bestow illumination and grace.
Sandhyopasana must be performed at the proper Sandhyas. Then only the performer can derive much merit. There is a special manifestation of force at Sandhyas. This force disappears when the Sandhya is past.
An Obligatory Duty
Sandhyopasana is the daily religious practice of the Hindus whose investiture with the holy thread has been performed. Sandhya is a Nitya Karma or an action that is to be done daily. Sandhya is an obligatory duty to be performed daily for self-purification and self-improvement.
Sandhya should be performed by all followers of the Sanatana Dharma. Every Brahmachari and every householder must perform it every day. If he fails to perform it, there is Pratyavaya Dosha or the sin of omission. He loses his Brahma-Tejas.
According to the Hindu Sastras, a Brahmana, a Kshatriya and a Vaisya will get hell, if they do not perform three times Sandhyopasana (Traikalika Sandhya) daily. It is for the purpose of Sandhya only, the law of Yajnopavita-Samskara is laid down in the Yajnavalkya Smriti which says: “The Brahmana in his eighth year, the Kshatriya in his eleventh year and the Vaisya in his twelfth year are fit to be given Yajnopavita.” Because, only after this particular Samskara, they are supposed to be worthy to worship Sandhya and take to Vedic rites. They should keep themselves pure internally and externally. They can nicely understand the sacred glory of this divine science.
Benefits Of Sandhyopasana
Sandhya is a combination of Japa, Upasana, Svadhyaya, meditation, concentration, Asana, Pranayama, etc. He who does Sandhya daily has Brahma-Tejas or spiritual lustre, in his face. A man who performs his daily Sandhya, according to the prescribed rules, at the appointed time as laid down in the scriptures, attains purity and success in his every effort. He becomes powerful as well as calm. Regular Sandhya cuts the chain of old Samskaras and changes everybody’s old situation entirely. It brings purity, Atma-Bhava, devotion and sincerity.
The important features of this ceremony are: (i) Achamana or sipping of water with recitation of Mantras (viz., Achyutaya Namah, Anantaya Namah, Govindaya Namah, etc.), Marjana or sprinkling of water on the body which purifies the mind and the body, Aghamarshana or expiation for the sins of many births, and Surya Arghya or oblations of water to the Sun-god, (ii) Pranayama or control of breath which steadies the wandering mind, and silent recitation of Gayatri, (iii) Upasthana or religious obeisance.
The first part up to Arghya consists of hymns addressed to water and its benefits. The sprinkling of water on the face and the head and the touching of the different organs (the mouth, nose, eyes, ears, chest, shoulders, head, etc.) with wetted fingers, are meant to purify those parts of the body and invoke the respective presiding deities on them. They also stimulate the nerve-centres and wake up the dormant powers of the body.
The Arghya drives the demons who obstruct the path of the rising sun. Esoterically, lust, anger and greed are the demons who obstruct the intellect from rising up. The intellect is the sun.
Pranayama and Japa
The second part of Sandhya consists of Pranayama and Japa of Gayatri.
The third part of Sandhya is the Suryopasthana. It is a prayer for forgiveness, mercy and grace. The prayer is: “Let me not go down to the earthly house. Have mercy, O Lord! My strength was very weak, O Lord! I did wrong actions. Have mercy, O Lord!” These are Vedic hymns addressed to the sun in the morning, noon and evening. The sun is the intellect in man. Ignorance is the night. Knowledge is the light. When you rise up from the darkness of ignorance, when the eye of intuition is opened through the grace of Gayatri, the Blessed Mother of the Vedas, you attain eternal bliss, supreme peace and immortality. It is that divine light which dispels delusion and the darkness of ignorance. It is that adorable splendour with which the world is glowing. It is that holy lustre which graciously fills the heart of a devotee with eternal bliss. It is this supreme Light which the aspirant craves from God through the Gayatri Mantra. He begs of God this Knowledge for his Realisation.
Sandhyopasana—An Exact Science
Man naturally wants to realise the Truth. He wants to know the secret of Creation. In this connection, scriptures emphatically declare: “Only at the moment when all doubts are cleared, ignorance is destroyed, hypocrisy and cruelty are rent asunder, and when a man sees Him in the abode of his heart, the real and ultimate Truth is revealed.”
Sandhya-Vijnana or the Science of Sandhya is an exact science to attain success in the realm of Truth. One need not have any kind of superstition to learn this divine science. One need not prove its greatness. Its greatness, its glory, is open truth. Even the materialistic society of today agrees with the truth of Sandhya-Vijnana. In the scriptures, it is laid: “Brahmanhood is the tree, Sandhya is its root, Vedas are its branches, religious acts are its leaves; therefore take care of its root, i.e., Sandhya.” Now the glory of Sandhya is very clear. Sandhya is absolutely necessary for a man who is treading the path of Truth. Aharahah Sandhyamupasita, i.e., a Brahmin should perform regularly his daily Sandhya at any cost—is the injunction of the scriptures.
Prerequisites For The Practice Of Sandhya
If you want to learn this science, you must be careful about your diet. Take regular and light Sattvic food. Man is much influenced by his diet. See the difference between a small lion and a big elephant. You will be able to improve yourself by adjusting your diet. Idleness is due to a variety of rich diet only. Therefore, be strict in your daily diet. You will be ever active and strong.
A man who performs Sandhya does not care about his sitting pose. He sits in any posture. This is not much beneficial. He should daily sit in a perfect posture, Padmasana or Sukhasana, facing the particular direction. As far as possible, he must finish his Sandhya in one sitting. He must have perfect mastery over Asana. Then he will have concentration in his Sandhya.
Faith and Devotion
You must do your Sandhya with faith and devotion. Mere repetition will not bring much good. Pray from the core of your heart to the Lord to forgive your sins.
A Word To The Younger Generation
Our young college students, who are under the influence of wrong Samskaras and wrong education and evil company, have forgotten all about the glory and high efficacy of Sandhya.
They are not doing Sandhya. Sandhya has no meaning for them. They have become Godless men.
They want laboratory tests and scientific proofs for the usefulness of Sandhya, before they begin to do Sandhya. It must be supported by the statements of western scientists. The words of ancient Rishis do not appeal to them.
Dear youth! Do not ruin yourself by neglecting Sandhya. Regular performance of Sandhya will give you success in life and material and spiritual prosperity, good health and long life, purity of heart, and help you to attain God-realisation. Do it from now at least. Yet there is hope for you. Wake up. Be sincere.
Begin it from this very moment. Do not delay. Reduce your useless activities. Talk little. Do not mix much. You will get plenty of time for your Sandhya.
Be strict in your Sandhya. Let there be rain or wind. Even if the Pralaya comes, do not leave it half-done.
Many people say that they have not got time to perform Sandhya. They have to attend several functions. This is due to their weakness and lack of good Samskaras.
They do not know the glory of this divine science. If they see one of their friends sitting on the banks of the river and performing Sandhya, they will begin to shout or they will play some sort of mischief. But these people do not know what secret is hidden behind the Sandhya.
The Secret of secrets is hidden in this sacred performance. This is why ancient Rishis say: “One who does not perform daily Sandhya is a real animal.”
May God give us the mind to perform daily Sandhya at any cost. May We follow the rules of Sandhya. May We realise the glory of Sandhya-Vijnana and be free from all tribulations and torments. May the divine science named Sandhya-Vijnana bestow purity, immense joy and immortality on us!
The Ten Scriptural Samskaras
The rites that pertain to the stages of life of man are called Samskaras.
The Samskaras are purificatory rites which sanctify the life of the Hindu. They give a spiritual touch to the important events in the life of the individual from conception to cremation.
They mark the important stages of a man’s life. Just as the outline of a picture is lighted up slowly with the filling in of many colours, so also is Brahmanya with scriptural Samskaras. There are the Samskaras of childhood, of boyhood, of manhood and of old age and death.
There are fiftytwo Samskaras. Among these, ten are important. The ten principal and generally recognised Samskaras are: Garbhadana, Pumsavana, Simantonnayana, Jatakarma, Namakarana, Annaprasana, Chudakarma, Upanayana, Samavartana and Vivaha. Of these ten, only some are now performed. Some of the Samskaras pertain to infantile life and early childhood. Some are ceremonies which may be performed daily or on special occasions. The whole life of the Hindu is thus consecrated and protected from the cradle to the grave.
The Garbhadana sanctifies the creative act. The husband prays fervently from the core of his heart that a child may be conceived. He repeats sacred Mantras during Ritu-Santi ceremony or nuptials.
The new child is conceived amidst the vibration of Mantras. Good impressions are impressed in the brain-cells of the embryo. For a real Hindu who is endowed with pure intellect and right understanding, the sexual union is not for the sake of mere enjoyment.
He utilises the divine, creative, vital energy for the formation of a human body. Husband and wife should be cheerful and pious when they have intercourse.
When their minds are perturbed or agitated, or when there is anger or hatred, they should avoid copulation. They should study holy scriptures. If they have the image of Arjuna, they will have a chivalrous and wise son. If they have the image of Lord Buddha, they will bring forth a son with mercy and other good virtues. If they have the image Of Dhanvantari, they will get a son who will turn out to be a reputed Ayurvedic doctor. If they think of Surya or Sun-God, they will bring forth a lustrous son with splendour and effulgence.
In the third month, the Pumsavana is performed with Mantras. The food-sheath and the vital-sheath of the child are formed.
The Simantonnayana is performed at the seventh month with recitation of Veda Mantras. This protects the mother from evil influences and bestows health on the child. The above three Samskaras protect the mother and the child. The body of the child develops nicely. The harmonious vibrations set up by the recitation of Mantras and the performance of the ceremonies help in shaping the body of the child beautifully.
The next Samskara, the ceremony performed immediately after the birth of the child, is the Jatakarma. The father welcomes his new-born child. He prays for its long life, intelligence and well-being, and feeds it with honey and butter.
Then comes Namakarana or the naming ceremony. The new-born child is given a name on the tenth, eleventh or twelfth day with recitation of Mantras.
The Annaprasana comes in the sixth month when the child is given solid food for the first time. Mantras are recited and oblations are offered to the various deities.
The Chudakarma, the tonsure or shaving of the head, is performed in the first or third year. The Karnavedha or ear-boring ceremony is performed in the fifth or the seventh year or at the end of the first year with the Chudakarma. The body of the child is protected and harmonised by these ceremonies. Any hereditary defect that arises from defect of semen and embryo is removed.
Vidyarambha also is another Samskara. Alphabet is taught to the child. This is also known by the name Aksharabhyasa. These Samskaras pertain to the child stage of life.
The most important ceremony which marks the beginning of the next stage of life—the stage of youth—is Upanayana. Upanayana is a very important Samskara. It is a landmark in the life of the child. It is his second or spiritual birth. The word Upanayana means bringing near.
The boy is brought near his Guru, spiritual teacher. The preceptor invests him with the sacred thread, Yajnopavita, and initiates him by giving him the Gayatri Mantra, and gives him a staff.
This is the beginning of Brahmacharya Asrama, during which Brahmacharya—perfect or entire celibacy—is enjoined. He is to begin the life of study. The initiation makes him a Dvija, twice-born. The father and the mother gave birth to him from mutual desire. This is his physical birth. Initiation into Gayatri Mantra is his another, true birth. According to Yajnavalkya, the Upanayana ceremony is performed at the eighth year for a Brahmana, eleventh for a Kshatriya and twelfth for a Vaisya. Manu gives the age at the fifth year for a Brahmana, the sixth for a Kshatriya and the eighth for a Vaisya.
Significance of the Sacred Thread and Other Symbols
The sacred thread or Yajnopavita consists of three threads knotted together. He who wears the thread should have a triple control, over his mind, speech and body—thought, word and deed.
The holy thread signifies the various triads which exist in the world, viz., Sat, Chit and Ananda; creation, preservation and destruction; the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep; the three qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas; the Trimurtis Brahma, Vishnu and Siva; etc.
The staff signifies that the student should have control over his thoughts, words and actions. He who practises control over his thoughts, words and actions, and he who practises Brahmacharya in thought, word and deed, attains perfection.
The boy wears a Kaupina, a small yellow cloth and a girdle of Munja grass. The Acharya puts on him a deerskin. The new yellow cloth represents the new body. Yellow colour is a symbol of spirituality. Wearing of Kaupina indicates that the boy should lead a pure life of perfect celibacy. The girdle is wound round thrice. This indicates that the boy has to study the Samhitas, the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. The deer-skin represents the ascetic life he should lead.
Then comes the end of the student stage, the Samavartana. The student, having completed the Vedic studies and the Vratas, presents his preceptor with a gift and obtains permission to take the formal bath which marks the close of his student-career. He returns home and performs the Samavartana, the returning ceremony. He is now ready to marry and enter the second stage or Grihastha Asrama, the life of a householder.
Vivaha is marriage or entry into the second Asrama. The life of the householder begins. Now he takes up his duties as man and pays his spiritual debts by sacrifice, by study and by procreating children. The bridegroom tells the bride: “I take your hand for good fortune.” They walk round the sacred fire hand-in-hand. The bride sacrifices grains in the fire and prays: “May my husband live long. May my relations increase.”
The Last Two Stages Of Life
There are two more stages, viz., Vanaprastha and Sannyasa, with their rites.
Man withdraws himself from all worldly activities, retires into the seclusion and prepares himself for taking Sannyasa. This is the life of a Vanaprastha.
A Sannyasin renounces the world and leads a life of study and meditation by living on alms.
Pretakarma is funeral rite. When a man dies, the funeral ceremonies are performed by his son and heir.
The Pancha Mahayajnas
There are five great daily sacrifices that are to be performed by every householder.
They are: (i) Brahma Yajna, called also Veda Yajna, sacrifice to Brahman or the Vedas or the sages; (ii) Deva Yajna, sacrifice to the celestials; (iii) Pitri Yajna, sacrifice to the manes; (iv) Bhuta Yajna, sacrifice to all the creatures; and (v) Manushya Yajna, sacrifice to men.
The performance of these five Yajnas is conducive to the spiritual evolution or growth of a man. He gradually learns that he is not a separate entity or isolated creature or isolated unit, but is a part of a great whole. He obtains knowledge by studying the sacred scriptures written by great Rishis. He gets help from his friends, relatives and fellow-beings. He parents gave his physical body. His body is nourished by the milk of cows, grains, vegetables and fruits. The five elements help him. He cannot live without oxygen and water. The Devas and the Pitris bless him. Therefore, he owes a fivefold debt to Nature.
He must pay back his debt by performing these five sacrifices daily. Further, numerous insects are killed by him unconsciously during walking, sweeping, grinding, cooking, etc. This sin is removed by performance of these sacrifices.
The Five Yajnas
The Rishis, the Devas, the Pitris, the Bhutas and the guests expect help from the householders. Hence, they should perform these five sacrifices daily. Teaching and study of scriptures is Brahma Yajna; Tarpana or offering of water to the ancestors, and Sraaddha, form Pitri Yajna: Homa or oblations into the fire is Deva Yajna; Bali or offering of food to all creatures is Bhuta Yajna; and hospitality to guests is Manushya Yajna or Atithi Yajna.
Brahma Yajna or Rishi Yajna
Every man should study daily the sacred scriptures. He should share the knowledge with others. This is Brahma Yajna or Rishi Yajna. By so doing, he pays the debt to Rishis.
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Having, in ancient times, emanated mankind together with sacrifice, the Lord of Creation said, ‘By this shall ye propagate; be this to you the fulfiller of desires. With this, nourish ye the shining ones; and may the shining ones nourish ye. Thus nourishing one another, ye shall reap the highest good. For, nourished by sacrifice, the shining ones shall bestow on you the enjoyments you desire. A thief verily is he who enjoyeth what is given by them without returning them anything.
The righteous, who eat the remains of the sacrifice, are freed from all sins; but the unpious who cook for their own sake, they verily eat sin,” (Ch. III-10, 11, 12, 13). Manu says: “Let a man ever engage in the study of the Vedas and in the rites of the Devas; engaging in the rites of the Vedas, he supports the movable and the immovable kingdoms.” These sacrifices turn the wheel of life in accordance with the divine will and thus help the evolution of man and the worlds.
Offering libations, etc., to the forefathers, regularly, is Pitri Yajna.
Distribution of food to cows, dogs, birds, fish, etc., is Bhuta Yajna.
Feeding the poor is Manushya Yajna. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, comforting the distressed, etc., are all forms of Manushya Yajna. Any kind of service to the suffering humanity is Manushya Yajna. Feeding a guest is Manushya Yajna.
Benefits Of The Pancha Mahayajnas
By daily doing such acts of kindness and sympathy, man develops mercy. Hatred vanishes. His hard egoistic heart is gradually softened. He cultivates cosmic love. His heart expands. He has a wider outlook on life. He tries to feel his oneness with all beings. His old feeling of separateness on account of selfishness and egoism is gradually thinned and eventually eradicated.
He learns that he can be happy only by making others happy, by serving others, by helping others, by removing the sufferings of others and by sharing what he has with others. The five great daily sacrifices teach man his relations with his superiors, his equals and his inferiors.
Man has no separate individual existence. He is connected with the world. He is like a bead in the rosary. His whole life must be a life of sacrifice and duties. Then only he will have rapid evolution. Then only he will realise the supreme bliss of the Eternal. Then only he will free himself from the round of births and deaths and attain immortality.
Sraaddha And Tarpana
Sraaddha is the name of the ceremonies performed by relatives to help the Jiva who has cast off his physical body in death. A Jiva who has cast off his physical sheath is called a Preta. The part of the Sraaddha performed to help him at this stage is called the Preta Kriya.
How Sraaddha And Tarpana Benefit The Departed Souls
Gifts to deserving Brahmanas for the benefit of the Pitris, in the proper time and place and with faith, are known as Sraaddha. Sraaddha gives satisfaction to the Pitris. By the offering of the sixteen Sraaddhas, the son helps his father to dwell in joy with the Pitris. The son should perform the Sapindikarana rites for his father. Performance of Sraaddha and Tarpana relieves the hunger and thirst of the departed soul during its journey to the Pitri Loka.
Those who go to hell are extremely oppressed by hunger and thirst. Performance of Sraaddha and offerings of rice and oblations to them, relieve their sufferings. Hence, performance of Sraaddha is indispensable. Those who dwell in heaven also get satisfaction, strength and nourishment.
The Advantages Of Cremation
Cremation is the best way of destroying a dead body. This is highly beneficial for the departed soul. If the body is not burnt; the Jiva is linked to the earth. The soul hovers round or hangs about the dead body on account of Moha or attachment to the physical body. Its journey to the celestial regions is interfered with. The vibrations set up by the recitation of Mantras and the offerings and oblations of water, bring solace and comfort to the departed soul. The Sapindikarana ceremony helps the Jiva to pass from the Preta Loka to the Pitri Loka. He is then enrolled among the Pitris or the ancestors. The son walks three times round the dead body of his father before fire is set to the pyre and sprinkles water once, reciting the Mantra: “Go away. Withdraw and depart from here.” The bones are collected on the next day and thrown into a river. Those who can afford take them to Benares or Haridwar and throw them into the Ganga. It is believed that the soul whose mortal remains are consigned to the sacred Ganga attains to the higher regions of spiritual light and splendour and, in the end, salvation.
The Two Classes Of Pitris
Immediately after death, the Jiva obtains the Ativahika body which is made up of fire, air and ether. Later on, it may have a Yatana Deha for suffering the tortures of hell if it had done great sins on the earth-plane, or a celestial body for enjoying the pleasures of heaven if it had done virtuous actions while living in the world. In the Yatana Deha, the air-element preponderates; while, in the celestial body, the element of fire is dominant. It takes one year for the Jiva to reach the Pitri Loka.
There are two classes of Pitris, viz., the celestial Pitris who are the lords of the Pitri Loka, and the human Pitris who go there after death. Brahma is the paternal grandfather of all. Kasyapa and the other Prajapatis are also Pitris, as they are the original progenitors. Pitri Loka or the Abode of the Pitris is also called by the name Bhuvar Loka.
The word Pitris primarily means the immediate ancestors, viz., father, mother, etc. Sraaddha proper is performed for three generations of Pitris, or to all Pitris. Three cakes are offered to the father, the grandfather and the great grandfather. Two Brahmins are fed first. Seven generations can mutually influence one another by the giving and receiving of food.
Pitripaksha And Mahalaya Amavasya
The dark fortnight of the month of Asvayuja is known as the Pitripaksha or the fortnight of the month specially sanctified for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. And the last day, the day of the new moon, is considered as the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and like rites.
Now, ordinarily, the orthodox Hindus offer oblation of water—Tarpana-Arghya—to the departed every new-moon day. The prescribed rites are also performed every year on the anniversary of the day of death. This is the Sraaddha ceremony. What, then, is the special import of these observances particularly during the Asvayuja Krishna Paksha? The reason is that such ceremonies done during this fortnight have a very special effect. The offerings reach the Pitris immediately and directly, due to a boon from Lord Yama. The occasion for the boon arose as follows:
Origin Of The Pitripaksha
A Story from the Mahabharata
The renowned hero of the Mahabharata, Danavira Karna, when he left the mortal coil, ascended to the higher worlds and reached the region of the heroes. There, the fruit of his extraordinary charity while upon earth came to him multiplied thousandfold, but it came to him in the form of immense piles of gold and silver. Karna had done limitless charity of wealth, but had neglected to do Anna-Dana. Thus he found himself in the midst of wealth and plenty, but with no food to appease him. He prayed to Lord Yama. The Great Ruler responded to Karna’s prayer and granted him a respite for fourteen days to return to the earth-plane once again and make up for his former neglect. Karna came down from the Mrityu Loka, and for fourteen days, he fed the Brahmins and the poor, and made offerings of water, etc. He performed the prescribed rites also on the last day. On his return once again to the higher world, the effect of Karna’s observances during this fortnight removed all his wants there. The time of this occurrence was the dark fortnight of Asvayuja.
Due to the grace of Lord Yama, it came to be so ordained that such rites done at this particular period acquired the following unique merits. Offerings made at this time reached all departed souls, whether they were kins directly in the line of the offerer or not. Even those who died without progeny received these oblations given on this Pitripaksha Amavasya day. All those who had failed to do deeds of charity and Anna-Dana and were thus denied these comforts in the Pitri Loka, benefited by these ceremonies. Those deceased whose date of death is not known and whose annual Sraaddha cannot be done, they also get these oblations of Pitripaksha. Souls whose life was cut off by violent, accidental or unnatural death and to whom, therefore, offerings cannot reach in the ordinary course, to them, too, the Pitripaksha offerings reach directly. All these the boon of Lord Yama made possible from the time the great Karna performed the Asvayuja-Paksha rites. The Hindus now observe this Paksha with great faith, with strict regulation, taking bath thrice, with partial fasting, etc. On the newmoon day, Sarvapitri Amavasya, the full rites are done and plenty of charity given.
Propitiation Of Departed Spirits
The day of Mahalaya Amavasya is a day of great significance and importance to all Hindus. It is the annual festival for propitiating the spirits of our ancestors, with devout prayers for peace. The Hindu Itihasas say, that on the Mahalaya Amavasya, there is a conjunction of the sun and the moon and that the sun enters the sign Virgo (Kanya). On this day, the departed manes, i.e., our ancestors, leave their abode in the world of Yama and come down to the world of mortals and occupy the houses of their descendants.
The fortnight preceding the new moon is specially consecrated for the propitiation of such departed spirits. The ceremonies performed in honour of the manes or ancestors during each day of this fortnight are considered to be equal to those performed at Gaya. The principle in all such rites is the worship of the departed souls and the satisfaction of their wishes so that they might be in peace during the rest of the year.
Om Tat Sat ! ! !