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. Although, the number of major samskaras fluctuates between 12 and 18 in the Grhya Sutras, later, it became 16 in number, generally known as "Shodasha Samskaras" (Ṣoḍaśa Saṃskāra). They are illustrated below:
Garbhadhana (IAST: Garbhādhāna) (literally, gifting the womb), is the act of conception. This is the first sacrament which followed immediately on every martimonial 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).
The different Grhyasutras differ in their point of view, whether the garbhadhana is to be performed only once, during the first conception, or every time the woman conceives. In the first case it is considered as a kshetra-samskara (once the kshetra, or 'field', has been purified, it remains pure), and in the second case as a garbha-samskara (every time the garbha, or 'womb' conceives, it needs to be purified).
Pumsavana (IAST: Puṃsavana) (literally, engendering a male issue) 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.)
The time prescribed for the pumsavana differs in different Grhyasutras, and can be extended up to the eight month of pregnancy, according to some. Some grhyasutras also give a later date for pregnancies after the first (which might be related to the fact that the signs of pregnancy are less prominent during the first few months, if the woman has already given birth once).
Simantonayana (IAST: Sīmantonnayana) (literally, parting the hair) sacrament is performed in the fourth month of a woman's first pregnancy. Simantonnayana is conducted for the protection of the mother at the critical period of gestation. This samskara is performed to both invoke protection of the mother and unborn child from demons and spirits that might want to cause harm to the mother and child, as well as to ensure good health, success and prosperity for the unborn child.
Fragnant oil is poured on the head of pregnant 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.
Jatakarman (IAST: Jātakarman) (literally, natal rites) 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)
Namakarana (IAST: Nāmakaraṇa) (literally, naming) ceremony is performed to name the child. It is performed on the12th day after birth.
Nishkramana (IAST: Niṣkrāmaṇa) (literally, first outing) is taking the child for the first time outside the house. The child is usually taken out into the open only in the fourth month after birth.
Annaprashana (IAST: Annaprāśana) (literally, feeding food) ritual, which takes place when a child is six months old, is the first time the child eats solid food, in India - Rice. 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).
Chudakarana (IAST: Cūḍākaraṇa) (literally, literally, arrangement of the hair tuft), also known as choulam or mundana (literally, 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. (Cited in Mn.2.27,35)
Karnavedha (IAST: Karṇavedha) (literally, 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.)
Vidyarambha (IAST: Vidyāraṃbha) (or Akshararambha) (literally, 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)
Upanayana (IAST:Upanayana) is the ceremony of wearing the sacred thread called Yajñopaveetam. When male child attains eight years, the wearing of the sacred thread “Yajñopavita”, is ceremoniously done. 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)
Praishartha (or Vedarambha) is the learning of Vedas and Upanishads in‘Gurukulam’ or ‘Pāṭhaśāla’. In the beginning of each academic period there is a ceremony called Upakarma and at the end of each academic period there is another ceremony called Upasarjanam. ( Mn.2.71)
Keshanta and Ritusuddhi
Keshanta (IAST: Keśānta) (literally, 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 menstruation.
Samavartana (IAST: Samāvartana) (literally, graduation) is the ceremony associated with the end of formal education of Vedas in ‘Gurukula’ or ‘Pāṭhaśāla’. This ceremony marks the end of student hood. This also marks the end of Brahmacharyaasrama of life. (Citation: Mn.3.4)
Vivaha (IAST: Vivāha) (Marriage) (Citation: Mn.3.4). The Ritual of marriage.
Antyeshti (IAST: Antyeṣṭi) (literally, last rites), sometimes referred to as Antim Sanskar, are the rituals associated with funeral.
This samskara is not mentioned in the lists of samskaras in most of the grhyasutras and other texts that speak about samskaras. The details and procedures of this rite are given in separate texts, dealing only with this topic. The reason for leaving this rite out is that it is not considered as a pure and auspicious rite, and it should therefore not be mentioned along with the other, pure, samskaras.