Posts Tagged ‘samskara’


Continuing on the topic of names this month, what of the Namakarana (or Namkaran) – the baby naming ceremony?  As one Sanskrit scholar put it, “Name is the primary means of social intercourse, it brings about merits and it is the root of fortune.  From name man attains fame.  Therefore, [the] naming ceremony is very praiseworthy.”  (Brhaspati).  It’s only befitting then, that an entire ceremony is devoted to naming a child!

The Namakarana is the 5th of the 16 Hindu Samskaras – and is typically performed between the 10th and 12th days following birth, although timing varies widely depending on family customs and observations.  Naming was so important that the historical custom evolved into giving the child 4 names:

1- Nakshatra Name:  this name was derived from the nakshatra (constellation) under which the child was born.  Certain of the 52 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are ascribed to each of the 27 constellations, and the child was to be given a name starting with that letter.  In some families, the nakshatra-name is given on the actual day of birth, but was kept secret by the parents up until the time of he Upanayana (a later Samskara).

2- Month-Deity Name:  The second name was connected with the deity of the month the child was born in.

3- Family-Deity Name:  The third name was given according to the family deity.  It was believed that the child would receive special protection of the deity.

4- Popular Name:  Finally, of course, was the popular name.  This name was to be auspicious and signficant.  It was believed that the name should have certain qualities – that it be easy to pronounce and sweet to hear, indicate the sex of the child, and be significant of fame, wealth, power or some other desireable quality.

The actual procedure varies again by family custom, but the cermony is a very simple one.  First, the house is cleaned and preliminary prayers and rites performed.  The mother and baby bathe and dress in new clothes.  The mother then wets the head of the child with water (as a symbol of purification) and hands it over to the father.  More offerings and prayers are made, and the father then “touches the breaths of the child” and speaks the name into the child’s right ear.  Relatives are invited to bless the child and requisite feasting ensues…

Some families have a tradition of a cradle ceremony, or ooyala ceremony as we call it in Telugu.  This is also performed on the 11th or 21st day, which can also encompass the Namakarana.

Whatever the practice, it is undoubtedly a special time to celebrate the new baby and the family’s good fortune.  For me as a mother, the ceremony was very emotional both times around – I was very thankful to have healthy babies and to celebrate with our near and dear.  As I reminisce, here is a snap from my daughter’s ooyala.

Significance and procedure of Namakarana ceremony taken from Rajbali Pandey’s Hindu Samskaras.
Top image: letterpress birth annoucement by Sweet Beets


Some moments in life are so filled with emotion that it’s impossible to supress the tears – whether of joy or of sadness.  The birth of a child, a first haircut, a wedding – they are all pivotal events in a person’s life.  In Hinduism, we celebrate these pivotal events –  samskaras – with big fanfare.  There are 16 of these samsakaras – the first of which starts with conception and the last of which is the death ritual.  Together, they mark the stages of a complete human life – a truly beautiful concept.

The 10th Samskara is the Vidyarambha – performed to mark the beginning of a child’s formal education (vidya means “knowledge” and aarambham means “beginning”).  The child traces akshara (letters) in either the sand or a tray of rice grains (or with gold – if you’re wealthy!) – meant to invoke Saraswati Devi – the Goddess of Knowledge.

I know each family performs the Vidyarambha differently (some when the child is 2 or 3 years, others when the child is 5, and still others perfom some aspect of this ceremony annually on the Vijaydashami day of the Navratri celebrations), but I thought there was no better time to do this than my son’s official First Day of School:  today he starts in his primary class at his wonderful montessori school.

My Vidyarambham “ceremony” was a bit more modern – I had my son trace the word “OM” with Do-a-Dot markers on a template I prepared.  (I got this idea from his Montessori toddler class – where they do this with the English alphabet – it encourages pre-writing skills since children who can’t hold a pencil yet are really “writing” with the dots).

So this morning, amidst the tears and the pictures, I spent a quiet moment with my son – where he “wrote” and recited OM, and I blessed him with a kiss.  And so he embarks on the journey of knowledge…

(If you are so inclined, you can download our “OM” template here.)