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Karnavedha (Sanskrit: कर्णवेध, Karṇavedha) or Karnavedham is one of the sixteen major samskaras (sacraments) known as "Shodasha Samskaras" of Sanatana Dharma. It is an ear piercing ceremony that is typically performed between the first and fifth year of life. This can also be performed during later years.
Brahmins, especially those studying the vedas, usually undergo karnavedha and the other samskaras during the course of their lifetime. The samskaras are mentioned in the Brahmana portion of the vedas. Some scholars advise that the performance of karnavedha should be considered just as important as upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony - another major samskara ) and the other sacraments as each holds its own symbolic spiritual value.
While equally recommended for males and females, in modern times, karnavedha has become an uncommon practice amongst males.
Karnavedha is considered a vedic rite of passage with symbolic spiritual significance. Some believe that it is intended to open the inner ears for receiving sacred sounds. Hearing of sacred sounds with concentration is considered meritorious in that it cleanses the mind and nurtures the spirit.
During certain medieval periods, "karnavedha" became associated with religious attire and its performance became obligatory to the extent that its non-performance became regarded as sinful among some communities. According to a medieval writer, "All the accumulated merits of listening to sacred sounds disappear at the sight of a "Brahmana" through whose ear lobes do not pass the rays of the sun. No gift should be given to him at Sraddha ceremonies. If one does so, he/she becomes equivalent to an `asura` or demon."
- Pandey, R.B. (1962, reprint 2003). The Hindu Sacraments (Saṁskāra) in S. Radhakrishnan (ed.) The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol.II, Kolkata:The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, ISBN 81-85843-03-1, p.402