Samskaras of Childhood


Origin and Early History Age and Time of Performance Performer
Types of Needle A Compulsory Ceremony Ceremonies
Susruta on the Boring of Ears Later Phases  

Origin and Early History

Boring of different limbs for wearing ornaments is current among savage people all over the world. So its origin is very ancient. But even when civilization progressed, ornamentation continued, though it was refined. In the case of boring ears, it was undoubtedly ornamental in its origin, but later on it proved to be useful, and for emphasizing its necessity, it was given a religious colouring. Susruta says, "Ears of a child should be bored for protection (from diseases in his opinion) and decoration." He, again, explicitly prescribes the boring of ears for preventing hydrocele and hernia. Thus it was a precaution taken early in life, so that the chances of the above diseases may be minimized.

The recognition of the Karnavedha as a Samskara and the ceremonies attached to it are of a late origin. Almost all the Gruhyasutras omit it. It is described only in the Katyayana sutras incorporated in the Parisista of the Paraskara Gruhyasutras. The later day Paddhatis describing this Samskara quote their authorities, "The Yajnaikas say so," which suggests it had no scriptural authority in the origin. The cause of the late inclusion of this ceremony in the list of the Samskaras is that its original purpose was decorative and there was the absence of any religious idea associated with it. It was only in a very wide sense that it entered the holy precincts of the Samskaras.

But there is one hymn in the Atharvaveda which refers to earboring. This hymn is, however utilized by Kausika in the ceremony of marking the ears of cattle, and is never quoted on the occasion of the Karnavedha ceremony by any later authority.

Age and Time of Performance

This ceremony was performed on the tenth, the twelfth or the sixteenth day after the birth of the child according to Brihaspati. Garga regards the sixth, the seventh, the eighth or the twelfth month as suitable periods. In the opinion of Sripati, the Karnavedha ceremony should be performed before teeth of the child come out, and while it is still creeping on the lap of the mother. The Katyayana sutra, however, prescribes the proper time of performing the ceremony in the third or fifth year of the child. The idea underlying the early age was that the boring would be easier and less troublesome to the child. Taking physical facility into consideration Susruta prefers the sixth or the seventh month. The Gruhyasutra of Paraskara is certainly of a later day when the Samskara became a ceremony and it must be performed without paying any heed to the comfort of the child. The third and the fifth years coincided with the periods of the Chudakarana ceremony. In this case both the Samskaras would have been performed together. At present, in many cases both the Chudakarana and the Karnavedha are performed with the Upanayana.


In the opinion of the Katyayana sutra father performed the ceremony, but it is silent as to who should bore the ears. According to Susruta a surgeon should pierce the ears. But Sripati, a mediaeval writer, allows this privilege to a professional needle maker, more often a goldsmith. Susruta was more reasonable in his prescription than Sripati. The goldsmith, however, has acquired a hereditary experience and in the majority of cases it is he who is invited to bore the ears.

Types of Needle

The types of needle with which the ears were bored are also determined by writers on ritual. "Gold needle lends elegance, but one can use silver or even iron needle according to his means."

The Smriti maharnava prescribes copper needle for all, "One should pierce the ears with copper needle covered with white yarns." Discrimination was made according to the caste of the child. "The needle for a prince should be made of gold, that of a Brahmana and a Vaisya made of silver and that of a Sudra made of iron." The basis of this differential treatment was economic.

A Compulsory Ceremony

When the Karnavedha assumed a religious garb, its performance became compulsory and its omission was regarded a sin. The defaulter was thought to be fallen from his status. Devala, a mediaeval Smriti writer, says, "All the accumulated merits disappear at the sight of a Brahmana through whose ear holes do not pass the rays of the sun. no gift should be given to him in the Sraddha ceremonies. If one gives, he becomes an Asura or demon."


The Karnavedha ceremony described in the Katyayana sutra is very simple. On an auspicious day the ceremony was performed in the first half of the day. The child was seated facing towards the east and given some sweet meats. Then right ear was bored with the verse, "May we hear auspicious things through ears etc." and the left ear with the verse, "Vaksyanti etc." The ceremony closed with the feasting of the Brahmans.

Susruta on the Boring of Ears

Susruta gives a very cautious procedure of the ceremony. He says that the ceremony should be performed in the sixth or seventh month, in the bright half and on an auspicious day. After the preliminaries the child should be put on the lap of the mother or the nurse. Then the child should be fondled and persuaded by means of toys. Now the surgeon should pull the ears with his left hand and bore them slowly at the natural holes which are visible in the sunlight. If the ears are tender they should be pierced with a needle, if stiff with a probe. After boring oil should be applied to the ears by means of a cotton thread or bougie.

Later Phases

The later writers on the Samskara introduced more religious elements and social mirth in the ceremony. On the day of performance Kesava (Lord Vishnu), Hara (Siva), Brahma, the sun the moon, deities of quarters, Nasatyas, Sarasvati the Brahmanas and cows were worshipped. The teacher of the family was decorated and offered a seat. Then the nurse, wearing white garment, brought the child well adorned, with its ears painted with red powder. The child was persuaded and kept still. The surgeon pierced the ears in one stroke but very lightly. The right ear of the boy and the left of the girl was bored first. In the end, presents were given to the Brahmans, astrologers and the surgeon. Ladies, friends, the Brahmans and relatives were paid respect and entertained.

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