The samskaras or sacraments form an important section of the karma-kanda,
because they are believed to reform and sanctify the person for whom they
are performed, marking various occasions of his life from conception in the
mother’s womb to the cremation of the body at death; they have influence
even beyond death, as they determine the course of the soul.
Meaning of Samskara
The nearest English word by which the term samskara may be translated is
sacrament. The common word ceremony does not give the full and precise
meaning; for samskara does not mean merely ‘an outward rite or observance
which is religious or held sacred’. It has been defined as ‘a peculiar
excellence accruing from the performance of the rites ordained (by the
sastras)—an excellence residing either in the soul or in the body’. Thus it
may be seen that the Hindu sacraments aimed at not only the formal
purification of the body but also at sanctifying, impressing, refining, and
perfecting the entire individuality of the recipient, producing a special merit
in him.
Scope and Number of Samskaras
The first systematic attempt at describing the samskaras is found in the
Grihyasutras. But they do not use the term samskara in its proper and
peculiar sense, as they include the samskara proper in the list of the domestic
sacrifices. In these Sutras there seems to be no clear distinction drawn
between sacrifices in general and the samskaras performed to sanctify the
body and perfect the personality. It is in the Vaikhanasasutras that a clear
distinction between the samskaras relating to the body and sacrifices in
general is met. The twenty two sacrifices separately mentioned are also
included there in the list of the bodily samskaras, but which are, really
speaking, daily and occasional sacrifices.
    The Grihyasutras generally deal with the bodily samskaras beginning
with vivaha (marriage) and