The Namakarana Samskara is a rite of passage and also one of the most important of the sixteen Hindu rituals. The word is derived from the sanskrit roots 'nam' = name and 'karan' = create. This ceremony enters an individual formally into the Hindu fold by presenting the name of the person to God for blessings. A function of the ceremony is also for guardian devas (angels) to connect with the individual so they can start guiding him or her in their life. The Namakarana samskara can be a simple or elaborate ceremony.
This is the first ceremony that the child attends after birth. According to Hindu tradition, after birth, the child, the parents and everyone else living in the household is imposed a curfew. This tradition is akin to todays maternity or paternity leave. During this curfew the household is barred from long travels, they do not attend social functions nor fulfill religious obligations in the temple or at home. It is a time of rest and adjustment. It is also meant to limit the exposure of the newborn to disease during its first days. During this time time the parents will decide on the name of the child. The duration of this curfew varies from a minimum of 7 days to a maximum of 31 days, depending on the traditions of the community.
The end of the curfew period is celebrated by visiting the temple with the child. During the temple visit an archana is offered to God in the name of the child. During the archana the name of the child and his or her birth star (nakshatra) is chanted by the priest to God. After the archana, the sacraments from the ceremony, vibhuti (holy ash), kungkumum (red powder) and tirtham (blessed water) is given to the child. This concludes the Namakarana samskara.
Alternatively the ceremony can also be done at home. A priest from nearby temple can be invited to do the ceremony in the house. The priest will do a puja in the house, inviting God to give blessings to the new child. After the puja, the child's father will whisper the name of his child in his or her right ear while the child rests on the mother's lap.
More elaborate Namakarana Samskaras are usually done for converts to Hinduism. This ceremony was first introduced by Sri Adi Shankarachariya about two thousand years ago (a time after the advent of the Buddhist and Jain religions) when conversions in and out of formal religions started in India. This ceremony is done in a temple and includes a homa. In the middle of the ceremony, a vessel of water that was blessed during the ceremony (during the kumbha puja and homa) is poured on the devotee as a symbolic sign of transformation. After that the devotee puts on new clothing (usually traditional Indian attire) and then returns for an archana where the new name of the devotee is ceremoniously conferred upon him or her.