The Samskāra are a series of Sacraments, Sacrifices and Rituals that serve as rites of passage and mark the various stages of the Human life and to signify entry to a particular Ashrama. All Human beings, especially the Dvija or twice-born are required to perform a number of sacrifices with oblations for gods, Ancestors and Guardians in accordance with the Vedic dictums for a Dharmic or righteous life.
Sanskar is a commonly used variant of the Sanskrit word ‘Samskara’ and signifies cultural heritage and upbringing in modern Hindi. Apart from the practices, the word “Samskāra” is used in communication denoting the upbringing criteria of a hindu. For example- It is said that a boy with good Samskāra does right and it is supposed that he will not fall in sin, i.e Lust, Anger and Wine. It may be concluded that Samskāra is a word to denote the qualitative quality among Hindus.
Most Vedic rituals consist of Homa – fire sacrifies of elaborate and intrinsic designs and complex methodology, accompanied by recitation of Vedas by qualified Priests in honor of a particular Demigod or god, fire offerings of various ingredients, gifts to be given in charity, presence of elders for blessings, amidst sanctified sacrificial grounds, sacred herbs and good omens. Each important milestone of a Human life is to be celebrated by undertaking a particular Samskara wherein the significance of that milestone is ritualistically conveyed.
 The 16 Samskaras
Most of the Brahmins used to follow complex rituals in connection with major events in their lives, such as pregnancy, childbirth, education, marriage, and death. The majaor samskaras 16 in number; generally known as “Shodhasa Samskaras” (IAST:Ṣoḍhaśa Saṃskāra). They are illustrated below:
Garbhadhanam (IAST: garbhadhānaṃ) (literally, gifting the womb), is the act of conception. This is the first sacrament which followed immediately on every marimonial union. There are a number of rites performed before conception. The act of first sexual intercourse or insemination is known as Nishekam. (Garbhdhanasamskaram is cited in Manusmrti, 2.27)
Pumsavanam (IAST: puṃsavanaṃ) is a ritual conducted in the third month of pregnancy. If it is the first pregnancy, it can be in the forth month also. The pregnant woman consumes one bead of barley and two beads of black grain, along with a little curd. This is accompanied by religious chanting. (in SED Monier-Williams cites Grihya-Sutra,MBh.)
Seemantam (IAST: sīmantaṃ) or seemantonayanam (IAST: sīmantonayanaṃ) sacrament is performed in the fourth month of a woman’s first pregnancy. Seemantam is conducted for the protection of the mother at the critical period of gestation.
Fragnant oil is poured on the head of pregnent woman. A line of parting is drawn three times through her hair from the forehead upwards with three stalks of ‘Kusa’ grass bound together. The Pranava mantram “OM” and the sacred words called Vyahritis (Bhur, Buva, Sva) are chanted during each operation.
If the child is still-born, this has to be repeated during the next pregnancy.
Jatakarmam (IAST: jātakarṃaṃ) is meant for the development of the intellect of the child. When a male child is born, the ritual connected with birth is performed immediately (within 90 Naazhika). A small portion of a mixture of gold, ghee and honey is given to the new born infant. This rite symbolises good fortune. (Cited in Manusmrti 2.27)
Namakaranam (IAST: nāmakaraṇaṃ) (literally, naming) ceremony is performed to name the child. It is performed on the12th day after birth. The father calls the child’s name in its right ear three times. At this time, male children are given the surname ‘Sharma’ and female children are given the surname ‘De’. Then the mother takes the child by calling him (her) without surname. (Cited in Manusmrti, 2.30)
Nishkramanam (IAST: niṣkrāmaṇaṃ) is taking the child for the first time outside the house. The child is usually taken out into the open only in the 4th month.
Annaprasanam (IAST: annaprasanaṃ) (literally, food-giving) ritual, which takes place when a child is six months old, is the first time the child eats solid food. A few grains of rice mixed with ghee are fed to the infant. This is an important ritual among all sections of Hindus. (Cited in Manusmriti 2.34)
Chudakaranam (IAST: cūdākarṃaṃ), also known as ‘choulam’ or ‘mundanam’ (literaly, tonsure) is the ceremony of cutting child’s hair for first time. In the child’s third or fifth year, the head is shaved, leaving behind a small tuft of hair. (Nowadays this ritual is not practiced.) (Cited in Mn.2.27,35)
Karnavedham (IAST: karṇavedhaṃ) (literaly, ear-piercing) is piercing the ears. This is done with a particular thorn. Butter is applied to the wound. It is applicable to both male and female children. (MW cites Purāna-Sarvasva.)
Vidyarambham (IAST: vidyāraṃbhaṃ) (literaly, commencement of studies) is done either when the child attains three or five years. On the tongue of the child the letters “Hari Sri Ganapataye Namah Avignamastu” and all the alphabets are written with a piece of gold. The child is made to write the same letters from “Hari Sri” onwards with its index finger on raw rice in a bell metal vessel and the child is made to utter each word when it is written. Either the father of the child or an eminent teacher officiates at this ritual. (Citation Mn.2.69)
Upanayanam (IAST: upanayanaṃ) is the ceremony of wearing the sacred thread called Yajñopaveetam. When the child attains eight years, the wearing of the sacred thread “Yajñopaveetam”, is ceremoniously done. This is only in the case of the boys. It is taking the child to the teacher for initiation of formal education. Along the sacred thread, the hide of the antelope called Krishnajinam is also worn by the boy. The upanayanam ceremony is followed by brahmopadesham – teaching Gayatri mantra to the boy. (Cited in Manusmrti 2.27)
Praishartham (Vedarambham) is the learning of Vedas and Upanishads in‘Gurukulam’ or ‘Pāṭhaśāla’. In the beginning of each academic period there is a ceremony called Upakarmam and at the end of each academic period there is another ceremony called Upasarjanam. ( Mn.2.71)
 Kesantham and Ritusuddhi
Kesantam (IAST: keśāntaṃ) (literaly, getting rid of hairs) is the first shave. It is ceremoniously performed for a boy at his age of 16. (Citation: Mn.2.65)
Ritusuddhi is a ceremony associated with a girl’s first mensturation.
Samavartanam (IAST: samāvartanaṃ) (Snanam) is the ceremony associated with the end of formal education of Vedas in ‘Gurukulam’ or ‘Pāṭhaśāla’. This ceremony marks the end of student hood. This also marks the end of Brahmacharyaasrama of life. (Citation: Mn.3.4)
Vivaham (IAST: vivāhaṃ) (Marriage) (Citation: Mn.3.4). Nishekam is the ritual associated with first sexual intercourse. It is performed in the night of 4th day after marriage.
Antyesti (IAST: Antyeṣti) (literaly, last rites), sometimes referred to as Antim Sanskar, are the rituals associated with Funeral.