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What are the 16 Sanskars in Hinduism (Part 4)?


The 16 Sanskars are the rites of passage of a human being from conception to cremation. The main purpose of these Sanskars are to inculcate virtues leading to the ripening and perfecting the human journey of life. In this final chapter of our series, we take a look at Vanprastha, Sanyas and Antyeshti. These form the final three stages in the life of a person. Let us look at them in more detail.

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14. Vanprastha (Entering the forest) – On completing the Grihastha Ashram, around the age of 50 or 60, one enters the stage of Vanprastha wherein one lives the life of a forest hermit. This is the stage when one withdraws completely from his worldly activities and duties, passing them on to the next generation and prepares for Sanyas. In this stage, one leads a life of Tapasya and meditation. After Brahmancharya and Grihastha Ashram, this is the third main Ashram (stage). Here the pursuit shifts from Artha and Kaam to Moksha (liberation)

15. Sanyas (Renunciation) – Leading the life of discipline and renunciation in the Vanprastha stage, one enters the stage of Sanyas where one attains liberation from worldly entanglements and revels in the ultimate reality. It is when one attains enlightenment. One lives a very simple life and lives on alms. One’s existence is completely purified and one has realised the self.

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16. Antyeshti (last rites) – Also called Antim Sanskar, these are the rituals related to funerals of a person. The first ritual after death is to place a few tulsi leaves and a few drops of water in the mouth of the dead person.The dead body is then washed, perfumed, wrapped in a white cloth and laid with the head towards the north. It is performed by the eldest son by taking a purificatory bath, amidst the chanting of the mantras. The body is offered to fire with the aim of freeing the soul from all Rins (obligations). The perishable body is considered a vehicle of the soul, which is eternal and moves on. The last rite signifies returning the body to the five elements of which it is made of. The next life of the soul is determined by the karmas accumulated over the past and present life.

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The Sanskrit verse summarises the life of a soul well – 

“Dhanãni bhumau pashavashcha goshthe,
Nãri gruhadware sakhã smashãne,
Dehashchitãyãm paraloka mãrge,
Dharmãnugo gachhati jiva ekaha.”

“Wealth will remain buried, cattle will remain in the pen, (his) wife will accompany (him) to the doorway, friends will accompany him to the crematorium, the body will come till the funeral pyre, but on the path to the next world, the jiva goes alone (with his karmas).”

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