Samskars as per Kashmiri Traditions

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Samskaras, in Hinduism, can loosely be understood as milestones in an individual's journey of life, from conception to cremation. The word Saṃskāra (Sanskrit: संस्कार) has various context-driven meanings, including preparation, purification, and perfection from one’s past state to one's future state, the purification of the body by cleansing and mind by education. The term appears in the Śrutis, and in the Smritis of diverse schools of Hinduism as well as the texts of Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism (all Indian origin schools of thought). The term appears in Jaimini Purvamimamsa-sutra (500-200 BCE) many times, where it again means to “prepare, perfect, polish" something, either through action, speech, or mind training.

The traditional Hindu code of conduct places emphasis primarily on two qualities in a human being, which distinguish him from animals- education(vidya) and proper social and religious conduct (samskar). Of the two, education is more important because the other(samskar) does not come without it. Samskara gives shape to such excellent qualities as inner balance, refinement, and polished and civilized behavior. In Hindu traditions, a human being is born at least twice (Dwij) – once at the time of physical birth through the mother's womb, and second by intellectual birth through Guru’s guidance. The first is marked through the Jatakarman samskara ritual, the second one is marked through Vidyarambha or Upanayana samskara ritual.

Samskaras, as rituals, vary in number and detail according to regional traditions. These range from 40 samskaras listed in the Gautama Dharmasutra to 12-18 in certain Grhyasutra texts while Manusmiti mentions only 13. Various Grhyasutra texts, it appears, were drafted by various Rishis and were followed in different geographical areas across India, attaining some local color, over time! We find mention of Kaushtaki, Agniveshya Grhyasutra, Sankhayana Grhyasutra, Asvalayana Grhyasutra, Paraskar Grhyasutra, Katyayana and Khadira Grhyasutra. Kashmir is said to follow the Grhyasutra propounded by Laugakshi(Laukakshi) Mahamuni, also known as the Kathaka Grhyasutra. While, most of the Grhyasutras list out 16 Samskaras, the Laugakshi Grhyasutras list out 24 Samskaras, namely:

बीज़वापनम, सीमन्तकरणम, पुंसवन, जातकरणम, नामकरणम, सूर्यदर्शनं, चन्द्रदर्शनम, अन्नप्राशनम, चूडाकरणम, उपायनम, त्रविध्यकम, उपाकर्रम, चातुर्होतृकम, चातुर्होतृकापवर्गः, प्रवर्ग्यव्रतम, प्रवर्ग्यव्रतापवर्गः, अरूणव्रतम, अरूणव्रतापवर्गः, औपनिषदव्रतम, श्रीकामः, यशस्कामः, औपनिषदव्रतापवर्गः गोदानम् , त्रैविध्यकापवर्गः 

The main Samskaras as recognized all over India (including Kashmir) are:

  1. Garbhadan/ Bijwapan Samskar (decision or intent to have a child)
  2. Pumsavana Samskar
  3. Simantonnayana Samskar
  4. Jatakarman Samskar (Kah Nyether – at birth)
  5. Namakarana Samskara (10th or 12th day)
  6. Nishkramana Samskara (Baby’s first day out, after completion of 1 month of age)
  7. Annaprashanam Samskara (First solid food at 6 months age)
  8. Chudakarana Samskar (Zarr Kasay, in Kashmiri, @ age 1 or 3)
  9. Karnavedha Samskar (Kan Tchombun -@ age 3 or 5)
  10. Vidyarambha Samskar (age 5, first exposure to lipi, ganit or musical instrument)
  11. Upanayana Samskar (age 8)
  12. Vedarambha Samskar
  13. Keshanta Samskar (first shave for boys at puberty)
  14. Ritusuddhi Samskara (for girls at menarche)
  15. Samavartana Samskar
  16. Vivaha Samskar
  17. Antyeshti Samskar

Some Samskars may involve formal ceremonies, yajna (fire) ceremonies with the chanting of Vedic hymns. Others are simple, private affairs involving a couple, with or without friends or other families or a religious person such as a priest or a pandit.

Two major fallacies, unfortunately, have taken root in contemporary discussions:

  • Samskaras are prescribed for men only – not girls/ women. Nothing could be farther from the truth, whether one studies Dharma Shastras or observes traditions followed in different societies.
  • Samskaras are prescribed only for Brahmins or Upper castes. Another myth perpetuated to create divisions in Hindu society.

Special Samskars Observed by Kashmiri Pandits:

  1. Truy (rituals performed on Day 3 of birth)
  2. Shraan Sunder (First bath with water boiled in medicinal herbs on 7th/ 9th or 11th day)
  3. Tsatjihim Doh (Ritualistic bath on 40th day of birth)
  4. Vohorvod: First Birthday Celebration
  5. Mangyith Anun: Rituals associated with child adoption (Dattak)

While each Samskar has its importance and value, in Kashmiri Pandit society the Upanayana, (Mekhala or Mekhal in Kashmiri) probably was considered as important as the marriage samskara. In fact, marriage before Mekhal was not possible!

Upanayana Samskar represents a child's entrance into school. Upanayana (Sanskrit: उपनयन) literally means "the act of leading".  The rite symbolizes drawing towards ‘self’ of a child, in a school, by a teacher. It is a ceremony in which a Guru (teacher) accepts and draws a child towards knowledge and initiates the second birth (Dwij). Yajñopavita ceremony announces that the child has entered into formal education and would start living with the Guru at his Gurukul (boarding school of the Guru). Several texts such as Sushruta Sutrasthana, mention that education and Upanayana samskara was open to everyone, including girls. Girls who underwent this ritual to pursue studies were called Brahmavadini. For those who did not study, Upanayana ceremony was performed at the time of their wedding. Upanayana is an elaborate ceremony, that included rituals involving the family, the child, and the teacher. During this ceremony, a child receives a sacred thread called Yajñopaveetam (Yoni in Kashmiri), which he wears lifelong. 

Upanayana ceremony is different from Vidyarambha Samskar signifies the" beginning of study", the child's formal attempt to learn means of knowledge at the age of 5. The ceremony is observed for all children of age 5, on Vijayadasami, the tenth day of Shukla Paksh( bright half) of Ashvin Masa (September–October). It includes a prayer to goddess Saraswati and deity Ganesh, a teacher is invited or the parents themselves work with the child, to write Lipi (alphabet), draw Samkhya (numbers) or pictures, and sometimes play with a musical instrument.

Education of a student was not limited to ritual and philosophical discussions found in the Vedas and the Upanishads. It included several arts and crafts, which had their specific though similar rites. Aitareya Brahmana, Agamas, and Puranic literature describe these as Shilpa Sastras, covering diverse arts such as sculpture, pottery, perfumery, painting, weaving, architecture, dance, music, etc. Ancient Indian texts assert that the number of the arts is unlimited, but each deploys elements of 64 kala (कला, techniques) and 32 vidyas (विद्या, fields of knowledge). The training of these began in childhood and included studies about dharma, culture, reading, writing, mathematics, geometry, colors, tools, as well as traditions (trade secrets). The rituals during apprentice education varied in the respective arts and crafts.

The Upnayan Samskar (Mekhala)
Kashmiri Yagneopavit Ceremony, as we see it today:
Today, the Upanayana rite is open to anyone at any age in our community. In fact, due to changed socio-economic conditions, the ceremony is performed only for male children, usually just before Vivaha Samskar(marriage).

This has certain ‘important’ financial benefits - various rituals get clubbed, especially Mehndiraat and Devgon, saving time, money, and effort! Since Family Pandit Ji (Kul Brahman) as an institution has vanished, particularly post 1990 Exodus, Pandit Jees are invited to perform the Mekhala Samskar on a specific job basis. Not sure if all Samskaras that precede Upanayana have been performed by the family, currently Pandit Ji’s also perform Garbhadan, Pumsavana, Simantonnayana, Jatakarman Samskar, Namakarana Samskara, Nishkramana, Annaprashana, Chudakarana, Karnavedha and Vidyarambha at the time of Upanayana ceremony. I saw this first hand at a recent Mekhal cum wedding ceremony of a close relative.

The various steps involved in the Mekhala ceremony include:
Fixing of Pandit Ji to perform the ceremony:
In happier times, every family used to have a Kul-brahmin, a dedicated Pandit Ji who was akin to being a family member. The Kul-brahmin would be the ‘go-to person for all matters concerning religious ceremonies (Karm Kand) of the family – from conducting Shivratri Pooja, birthday pooja for each family member to performing marriages, Yagneopavit, Shraad rituals, etc. With the decline in the availability of Kul-Purohits, one has to identify a Pandit Ji well versed in rituals. All decisions and preparations have to be made as per his guidance.

Date Fixation: The Ceremony has to be performed as per a given set of planetary configurations (Saath in Kashmiri or Muhurta in Hindi). This obviously is an Expert’s job and the Pandit Ji is consulted. Currently, the ubiquitous Vijyeshwar Panchang (‘Jantri’ or ‘neche pater’) also lists out Mekhala Saath for each Moon Rashi, month-wise!

Team for conducting Mekhala: The Kul-Brahmin would need a team, including a senior Veda-Pathi Brahmin (known as Chandra Tarukh in Kashmiri) for reciting Mantras. Till the 1960s, the ceremony also used to be attended by Pandit Ji from Matamal (mother’s family), Poff (Bua), and Massi’s family. Thus, the event would have the august presence of 3-4 well-versed Pandit Jis, giving it a grandeur missing from our current events which appear to be rich in cosmetics and aesthetics but limited in scholarship. Currently, responsibility for bringing his ‘team’ rests with Pandit Ji only.

Venue Fixation: This used to be a tricky proposition since Mekhala entails a large-scale homa and Kashmir weather is notoriously fickle. Most people would perform the ceremony in their own ‘aangan’ or in the courtyard of a neighbor. Covered spaces were not available commercially or in community centers like those are available today – so to minimize chances of rain-induced damage/ disturbance, a Shamiyana (‘sayebaan’ in Kashmiri, a ceremonial tent) with a ‘tarpal’(tarpaulin) as the roof would be used. A big havan kund would be prepared and decorated (with paper buntings, in my days!). Now, of course, we have well-appointed venues in Temples or Community Halls of various Kashmiri Samitis where excellent arrangements exist for conducting Mekhala. In 2019, I was lucky to perform Mekhala of my son at the Kashmiri Bhawan, Sect 37, Faridabad; the venue has a large and well-covered Havan Kund with adequate sitting space for relatives and guests.

Listing out and buying Material for Mekhala: The procurement would start from an auspicious day/ muhurta. The material needed for this big event can be classified into three sub-categories:

  • Hom-Havan related material: Primary is the Agnevether – material to be used for hom-havan. The list for this set was provided by Pandit Ji (quantity + variety). Since Mekhala involved a pooja extending between 24-36 hours, adequate quantities of wood, ghee, and other material would be listed and procured specifically for the event.
  • Material for the Waza: Cook (Waza in Kashmiri) would provide a list of masalas, rice, dal, vegetables, etc needed for the event, quantity depending on the expected guest list. Currently, a caterer provides these facilities, eliminating the need for buying materials!
  • Material for Distribution amongst Relatives: Used to be listed in consultation with senior ladies of the clan. Most important would be the clothes for the extended family, particularly saris for the clanswoman known as Kalvalyun. Currently, instead of traditional Sari + Athoru, expensive gifts are planned for important guests and clanswoman.

Fixing an auspicious day/ date (Saath) for sending out invitations to neighbors, relatives, and clansmen. This is, of course, preceded by the printing of invitation cards. Currently, the trend has changed to sending out an ‘e-invite’ over WhatsApp or email. Invitation Cards in ‘physical’ form can now be considered an endangered species!

Now the functions – each of them is celebrated with great happiness and enthusiasm:
Saat Livun and Livun:
The Ceremonial start of festivities, as per Shubh Muhurat(Saath). It is used to convey preparing the house by ceremonial Lipan/ cleansing. If the gap between an event and a proper muhurta was large, then the family would go in for a saat livun – a symbolic start as per an auspicious muhurta.

The event is marked by a drawing of auspicious symbols and floral designs on the main door and wall of the house by the Poff (Bua), called KROOL KHARUN in Kashmiri!

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Krool Kharun – Decorating the Main Door, mostly done by Poff( Bua) and her daughter! Poff (Bua) painting a vine scroll on the outer door of the house. The design has a flower-laden creeper with Sacred Symbols of Om and Swastik on top. Ladies sing auspicious songs and a dish called Ver is distributed.

A traditional dish of rice mixed with walnuts, called Ver is cooked and later distributed amongst relatives and neighbors.

Livun is a family event – all close relatives and neighbors would join for a traditional vegetarian meal followed by the singing of Leelas(traditional songs) accompanied by ‘tumbakhnaer’, (a typical musical instrument made of clay and sheep skin membrane). This singing would be carried out every night till the Maanzyiraat.

Maanzyirat: Maanzyiraat is a community dinner (vegetarian) for family, neighbors, and relatives followed by a night-long musical session of Kashmiri singing and application of Mehndi (Henna) to the Mekhle-Maharaza(the person whose Mekhala is being performed) by the Poff( Mami/ Massi would only wash the feet of the groom or Mekhala Maharaza while Poff would collect cash from people to whom she would distribute Mehndi). Mostly participating ladies would hold the fort for singing, but professional singers are occasionally invited to make the night more enjoyable!

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Maas (Maasi) washes the feet while Poff(Bua) applies Maenz(Mehndi) to the groom as relatives burn Isband (Harmala) to ward off the evil eye. Mehandi is bought in Maenz Dul which is a decorated brass pot. Mehndi is applied on both palms/feet of the groom – a hallowed Tradition. Once the mehandi is applied to the groom, then the Poff distributes it among the guests. The tradition is to pay ‘money’ in lieu of mehandi.

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Maenz raath is the celebrated – authentic Kashmiri food and songs that enliven the night. In Kashmir, we used to have Bache Nagme where the professional singing parties used to sing and dance.

Devgon: Marks the beginning of serious pooja, heralding the arrival(sthapna) of gods, particularly Ganapati and Sapt Maatrikas.

The groom receives a ceremonial bath (Kanyi Shraan) as 4 unmarried girls hold a muslin cloth over the ‘groom’ while Pandit Ji pours consecrated water. Post bath, Mama carries the groom in his lap for further ceremonies, including getting his head tonsured to prepare him for the life of a Bramhchari.

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Kanye Shraan. Young, unmarried girls holding a muslin cloth as Yazman or Pandit Ji pours ‘abhimantrit’ (consecrated)water, amidst mantras. Maam(Mama) carrying the Mekhyl e Maharaza in his lap, post Kanye Shran. An adoring Maej( Mom) looks on.

Poff has to symbolically prepare Kheer, Mongwor, Vaer, Chochwor on a typical clay stove called Varidaan.

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Devgon Pooja! 7 Tok with Kheer, Chochvor, Mongvor and Kaslhe Doon – arranged by Poff( Bua)

In current times, Pandit Ji performs various samskaras which are supposed to have been performed prior to Upnayan, not knowing if those have been performed or not. Kheer and Mongwor in glittering new steel bowls are offered to close relatives (in simpler times, the prasad was offered in an earthen bowl called Tok).

Another peculiar feature is the Tekytal - the figure of the Shrichakra over a rectangular configuration painted with vermilion or saffron paste on the top of the ladies’ headgear for all close relatives. As an option the design may be cut out on colored or golden paper and pasted on the headgear; currently, ladies pin it to the pallu of their saris.

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Mekhala: As per authorities, Pooja associated with Mekhala is elaborate (minimum 24 hrs), replete with symbolisms.

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Shaving off his tresses – to look like a Bramhchari. Tonsured Maharaza with his Mamayn (Mami)
It is important to notice that in any KP ceremony, every relation, be it Mama, Bua, Maasi – have a vital role to play and have to perform a set of important activities. This also shows that how much important & vital the family ties are in KP families.

It is an initiation into the Bramhcharya Ashram by Guru, preparing the Bramhchari for the realities of life through education and living in his Guru’s ashram, performing all duties needed in a commune living set up.

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An important ceremony called ‘Naryivan Kharun” is performed when Pooja starts. The hair of the married ladies of the groom’s gotra (mother, grandmother, other clanswomen) is parted using a Mulberry twig; two pleats(bunches) are made and tied with a Narivan by respective husbands.

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Narivan Kharun amongst clanswomen of the same Gotra – one of the events during Pooja

This process is accompanied by singing of hymns in Kashmiri called Vanvun. In fact, Vanvun is carried out by elderly ladies in a typical, elongated manner of recitation right through the Mekhala pooja. We also have typical and specific lyrics called ‘Vatchun’ for each step – distribution of Kal Valyun, Naryivan Kharun, Tek Taal distribution, Varidaan Pyavun, Yoni investiture, Abeed that have been recorded by Pt SN Pandit, in his book” Kashmiri Hindu Sanskars”

The main event for the public is when the Bramhchari starts seeking alms (abeed in Kashmiri) to pay for his studies. The first person of whom he seeks ‘abeed’ is his Massi (mother’s sister). Rest of the clans follows.

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Seeking Abeed(Bhiksha) to pay his Guru – Bhamhchari with his Mulberry Dandam.

Offering ‘abeed’ is considered an obligatory social duty by every Kashmiri Pandit; if someone is unable to attend personally, he/ she, requests someone close to offer ‘abeed’ on his/her behalf. The process of ‘abeed’ can also be seen as part of a person’s obligation towards society – helping a child get his education and hence, everyone contributes.

Seeking alms is also a way to inculcate humility in the Bramhchari – be it the child of a rich person or of a person with humble financial background, everyone goes through the same process, seeking help from society. Incidentally, a record of the cash offered by each person is kept by the host – probably this is reviewed later to note who offered how much; it also helps the Pandit ji keep an eye of the proceeds!

Earlier close relatives (Massi, Bua, Matamal) would offer milk, tea and sweets to the visiting guests as refreshments (Masse Dod, Poffe Dod). Now, the system has become more ‘sophisticated’ – proper food stalls are put up (minimum 5) offering exotica like Kadhai Kesar Doodh, Cut seasonal fruit, Ice Cream, Lassi, Juice, Luchi-Nadurmonj, Dahi Bhalla, Veg Manchurian, Spring Rolls, noodles, Ras Malai, Jalebi with Rabdi, Vegetable Pakoda, Chilli-Paneer and a few more! A ‘take home’ facility for the exotic snacks too is often available! Besides, there is an uninterrupted service of teas (Kehwa, Lipton). Of course, a typical Kashmiri Vegetarian Lunch is also available for those interested! Family would prepare ‘Shakkarparas’ – sweet, rectangular poori like structures, made of ‘singara atta’ (water chestnut flour +shakkar) and fried in Desi Ghee, in bulk quantities. These would be distributed as ‘prasad’ in small packets to each person offering ‘abeed’; family members observing fast during the Pooja would also consume these. A salted version would also be available, aptly called, Namakpara or Noonpara! Nowadays, shakkarpara or noonpara packets have been replaced by beautiful satin or shaneel pouches containing dry fruits! This is progress!

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Pooja process commences on the previous evening, carries right through the night and next full day; offering of abeed too is a daylong affair and people come as per their convenience. To conclude the yajna, the priests summon everyone for the Poorna Ahuti, handing over a mixture of soaked barley(veshke) grains and flowers - called Athiphol in Kashmiri, literally meaning a handful of grains and flowers that are offered as oblation to the Hom Devta. People consider being present at the Poorna Ahuti as a ‘punya’! Hymns for the pacification of the gods and the planets are recited in a chorus led by the priests. Pandit Ji then sprinkles water from the Kalasha on everybody present (Kalsha lavv) and distributes walnuts from kalsha(Kalsha Doon) as naivedya. At the end of the process, the total amount of ‘abeed’ is handed over to the Pandit Ji – the amount can touch a decent figure (even 6 digit), depending on the financial and social clout of the family.

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Garetch Naanyn (Paternal grandma) holding a Chhattar over the Bramhchari. After the havan is finished, the maharaza is dressed in full glory.

Once Pooja ceremony concludes, the Bramhchari is dressed in all finery as befits a groom, symbolically signalling that having completed his education, he is ready to enter the world of responsibilities, including marriage.

He has to stand on a Vyoog (colourful Mandala or Rangoli), is fed sweets by his elders and amidst the sound of a conch, is carried in a procession to the river (Yaarbal) for a symbolic ‘snan’. These days, the groom is taken to a temple where he can wash his face and feet (a waterbody may or may not be available).

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Maam(Mama) taking the Mekhale Maharaza to Yarbal,( river front) mostly near a Temple, post ceremony, for a snan!! Picture of author’s own Mekhal (extreme left) at Srinagar, June 1963

As the groom leaves for the river/ temple, ladies of the clan dance around the vyoog, singing songs with very meaningful and poignant lyrics; first part of verse changes with the type of relation a woman has with the family – daughter, sister, mother, grandmother – the last part of the verse is constant,” Mye habi malyinitch cham be satha, Rath ha vanday maalyinyo”! Very moving, very touching, this love for Malyun!The last event, performed on the day after Mekhala, is known as Koshal Hom – a kind of thanksgiving homa, offering Teher plus non-Veg food. In fact, most people look forward to having non-Veg delicacies! Certain families, however refrain from non-Veg food since the event is a Homa, a Yagnya!

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A typical group picture of the extended clan, post Mekhala – Habba Kadal, Srinagar, 1977

Mekhala, constitutes one of the most important events in the life of a Kashmiri Pandit. Over the years, our knowledge base has suffered; decline of the knowledgeable Kul-Brahmin class has impacted the quality of ceremonies. Dilution in our knowledge about

the rituals and their significance, limited availability of scriptures (Logakshi Padhati in particular), and limited knowledge about procedures in our current set of practicing priests have also added to the decline in faith amongst the populace. From that stems the tendency to take shortcuts, both by the Pandit Ji and the Yajmaan(in the name of so-called ‘time constraints). Yet, the Ceremony has survived our 7 exoduses, the onslaughts by Sikandar Butshikan, Aurangzeb, and their current cohorts over the last 7 centuries!

Yes, there is a serious need for the revival of our hallowed traditions; our scholars need to discuss, debate and if needed, introduce reforms to make them more contemporary. There is a serious need for documentation – of both the scriptures and the procedures.

This write-up is an attempt at listing out certain social aspects associated with Mekhala and is certainly not a treatise on the Samskar as a whole. There would be several shortcomings in the text and/or, I would have missed listing out several procedures/ rituals. I referred to the writings of Dr. SS Toshkhani and Sh SN Pandit while drafting. I also sought guidance from two eminent scholars Sh Sanjay Raina (Jammu) and Sh Pawan Pandit (Delhi). Still, I seek advance apology for any errors or mix-ups in the write-up.

This write-up is essentially meant for the lay public, as an interest arouser or explainer. I hope this write-up can start some serious discussion amongst scholars.

 

Comments

    • Suniel Kumar Dhar
      Suniel Kumar Dhar

      These kind of articles written on our kashmiri religious and social traditions are the need of the present scenario as our younger generation is not aware of our rich and vibrant culture and it can provide them the necessary  inputs to get awareness of our past heritage.

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