India is a land of different cultures and in this blog we will talk about the rites and rituals performed at the birth of a child in a Hindu family. Hindu society is loaded with customs, conventions, and traditions that try to improve the lives of the people. These ceremonies are detailed, making the person start with one phase of life then to the next.
According to the Hindu philosophy, the term Sanksara refers to the rite of passage which marks the change from childhood to adulthood and the ultimate freedom that an individual achieves from the different stages of life. It is because of the concept of karma that an individual behaves in a certain way. There were 48 sanskaras in the Dharmashastras (about middle of 1st millennium BCE) to about 16 sanskaras in the Grhyasutra from hundreds of year later. The word sanskara is often replaced by the word Samskara which means purification of the body and soul. The word samskara often appears in the Rig Veda hymns and Jaimini Purvamimamsa-sutra (500-200 BCE). In Hinduism, sanskaras can be expressed in terms of internal as well as external rituals. External rites include marking the birth of a child or a child’s name giving ceremony and inner rituals include determination towards having a calm and positive attitude. It is not surprising to hear that birth of a child revolves around endless rituals which includes involving family, friends and the priest.
Garbhadhana is a personal rite that is a stepping stone for a couple to have a child and before the conception and pregnancy (8.35.10 through 8.35.12 of the Rigveda). It signifies that the couple have had sex and they want to womb to stay healthy. After two to three months of pregnancy, another ritual is performed which quickens the growth of the foetus. Pumsavana is usually performed to prevent from miscarriages and in a lot of cases wanting to have a baby boy. It is done in different ways. Either the husband serves the wife or the priest chants the Veda hymns in front of the yajna fire.
Simantonnayana is similar to the baby shower but it also involves parting of hair upwards. This rite signifies the healthy growth and safe delivery of the baby. After this ritual, the mother is not allowed to overexert herself and stress over anything. Upon the birth of a child, another ritual is performed which is called Jatakarman. It is a celebration whereby the father touches honey and ghee (clarified butter) on the lips of the baby while the Vedic hymns are chanted. This implies the father-child bonding. According to Hindu culture, a baby is born twice, once from the womb of the mother and second by performing Jatakarman which gives knowledge and wisdom to the newly born. On the tenth or eleventh day or sometimes the full moon day from the birth of the baby, a Namakarana ceremony is organized. On this day, parents announce the name of the child in the presence of the priest and the family members. Several guidelines had to be followed for the name of the child according to ancient Sanskrit texts. Inauspicious, disruptive and evil words that were stated in the Gryhasutras were eliminated and words related to deity, nature and luck were preferred.
After forty days of the birth, the child is taken for the first outing where he or she is in direct contact with the outside world, in specific the nature. This ritual, Nishkramana, involved in father to chant the hymn from the Veda when they are in contact with the sun and the Moon. The child’s first meal or eating of solid food after six months of birth is also regarded as a ritual in the Hindu tradition. Annaprashana means the rite of passage whereby the baby is fed with cooked rice, in a paste of honey, curd and ghee (clarified butter). Mundana or Chudakarana ceremony represents the first haircut of the child or shaving of the head and trimming of the nails. Sometimes, a tuff of hair is left as a tail. It signifies the purity and cleanliness of the child’s body.
Karnavedha as a rite of passage means the first ear piercing of the child; it is regarded as an optional ritual. It enhances the beautification of the body and is usually done with a gold or silver needle. For a boy, the left ear is pierced first. And for a girl, the left ear is pierced first and the left nostril is also pierced with it. Upanayana ritual is celebrated when a boy starts his formal education. In this rite, the Guru (teacher) guided the child towards knowledge and the boy receives a thread called Yajñopaveetam.
Boys from all the four varnas were allowed to carry this samskara and enter the special school called Gurukul to finish their formal education. There was a special ritual for girls, Ritusuddhi, which announced the beginning of their menstruation cycle. Girls wore sari and family, friends and relatives would gather to highlight this milestone of her life.