Garbadhanam is a conception ritual wherein a Husband transfers his Semen to his wife with chanting of mantras for the purpose of conceiving a child.
After the marriage ceremony, when the couple returns to bridegroom’s house the bride is made to sit on a Bull’s hide facing east or north. The husband and wife together lights a fire and perform a simple fire ritual giving oblations to Agni, Vayu and Surya. Later in the evening, the husband takes her out and shows her the Pole star and other stars and both make a commitment to have a firm, stable and happy life.
For three nights they do not have conjugal relationship. Further they should sleep on floor and should not consume saline food (1). They can eat Boiled rice with curd (2). Then, on the last part of the fourth night, they will make a fire sacrifice with expiatory oblations of ghee/clarified butter to Agni, Vayu and Surya. These expiatory oblations are given to remove any “dosha” (3) or Karmic faults in the Prarabda Karmas of the Bride that may become obstacle in their marriage.
Then the husband makes her sit down to the west of the fire, facing the east, and pours some ghee of the remains (of those oblations) on her head with three Vyahritis (i.e. Bhuh, Bhuvah, Svah) and the fourth with all three Vyahritis combined and hence purifying her. Then, the husband and the wife become intimate with each other with the mantra (4)-
सं नाम्नः सं हर्दयानि सं नाभिः सं त्वचः | सं त्वा कामस्य योक्त्रेण युञ्जान्यविमोचनाय |
United in name, united in our hearts, united in our navel, united in our skin. I will bind thee with the bond of love; that shall be insoluble.
For the purpose of conception, when the husband and wife co-habit with each other on the fourth night after the monthly cycle has started, the husband should chant mantra for Vishnu, Thvasta, Prajapati and Dhaatri for preparing the womb of the mother, for the proper formation of frame (fetus) of the child upon conception, for the healthy and potent sperm that can cause conception and finally for successfully causing the conception respectively (5). Then after chanting few more mantras, the Husband must enter the wife by praying to Prajapati by uttering the Vyahritis for an offspring. (6). This cohabiting of a couple for the conception of child by purifying the act with mantras is called as “Garbadhana”.
The Samskaras like Garbadhana helps to remove the faults that may be present in the father’s seed and mothers egg (i.e. faults can be biological/genetic or/and subtle/karmic ) and hence making sure that the child born is physically, mentally and spiritually healthy (7).
The scriptures suggest the husband and wife to conceive between the 4th day of the monthly cycle and 16th day of the monthly cycle except on the 4th, 11th and 13th day (8). The Garbaadhana procedure i.e. reciting of Mantras before cohabiting is to be practiced, not only when the couple gets intimate for the first time after marriage but also after every monthly periods (9). Some also opine that, it should be performed every time the couples get intimate for the sake of conception (10).
1. Apastamba Grihya Sutra 3.8.8
2. Shankhayana Grihya Sutra 1.17.7
3. The dosha’s that are expiated are that of causing death of Husband, being without offsping, destruction of cattle and wealth (Shankhayana Grihya Sutra 1.18.3), any other faults that are terrible and blameful. (Hiranyakeshin Grihya Sutra 220.127.116.11)
4. Hiranyakeshin Grihya Sutra 18.104.22.168
5. Hiranyakeshin Grihya Sutra 22.214.171.124
6. Hiranyakeshin Grihya Sutra 126.96.36.199
7. Manu Smriti 2.27
8. Manu Smriti 3.46 & 3.47
9. Paraskara Grihya Sutra 1.11.7 Hiranyakeshin Grihya Sutra 188.8.131.52
10. Hiranyakeshin Grihya Sutra 184.108.40.206
It is said that for those who cannot follow the path of Jnana (i.e. Nivritti or Sanyasa), the path of Karma (i.e. Pravritti consisting of Karma Anushtana- performance of all Samskaras and Yajnas) are suggested. And for those who cannot perform Karma according to rules must practice Bhakti. That is, if one cannot perform Karma by adhering to all its rules then one must perform certain rituals and Sadhana with Bhakti to best of one’s ability.
Scriptures prescribe a total of 41 Samskaras that include 15 Grihya Karmas, 5 Maha Yajnas (to be performed everyday) and 21 Yajnas (occasional performance) for those who are able to perform Karmas by following all rules. But, if a person cannot perform the 5 Maha Yajnas and 21 Yajnas, he must at least practice “Japa” of Om, Gayatri or some other mantra with devotion. Further, he must perform the 15 Grihya Karmas which are popularly called as “Samskaras” that are done at various stages of life.
Samskaras are very important and relevant at all times. The rituals, its relevance, and why and for what reason a certain ritual is conducted are all well-documented. For example, the Samskara of Garbha-adhana is performed at the time of conception. The main part of it is very simple, the husband utters some mantras just before entering the wife. This is done for the sake of proper conceiving and for purification of the male semen and female egg. There are few other portions of Garbhadhana that must be done only once after marriage and before conception. Similarly, the Samskara of Pumsavana that has purpose of begetting male child is performed in the third month, before the sex of fetus is formed. So, the relevance is indeed there.
If, it is complained that, different people perform it different way, what is to be considered right? The answer is, scriptures must be considered authority. Further, though the exact methods may vary, the essence behind them remains same. This variation in methods can be seen in scriptures too. Take Grihya Sutras for example, for the same ritual of Samskara like Pumsavana or Simanantonayana, if you browse through 4-5 Grihya Sutras, you would find that all of them often differ in details. In fact, sometimes the mantras used are also different. Yet, all of them have common elements and based on common essence. The Dharma Shastras themselves mention that, people should practice rituals as they are practiced in their time and place. Grihya Sutras etc are a guide in terms of general prescription or when there is confusion/contradiction. Otherwise, people can follow various different ways of doing as long as essence as prescribed in scriptures are maintained.
The much of the problem today is, most people are simply ignorant. Neither the common masses nor the priest, purohit etc most of them are ignorant. The Brahmanas who once had in-depth knowledge of all shastras, all rituals and essence, today have only surface understanding. Most are just parroting. But all is not lost, even today there are few who are well versed with the scriptures and understand their essence. If such a person who is well versed in Vedas and the Dharma Shastras and Kalpa Shastras, will come forward and compose a new Dharma Shastra and a new Grihya Sutras etc where the same tenets of Dharma, the same samskaras, the same rituals could be written, explained and adapted in much simpler and useful way as applicable to present times it may immensely help the masses. But, for that to happen, the masses should first show genuine and overwhelming interest to learn and practice Dharma.