Annaprashan Ceremony – the First Rice-eating Ceremony for an Infant
By Jass Narang
The ‘Annaprashan Ceremony’ is the first rice-eating ceremony for an infant. The literal meaning of the word ‘Annaprashan’ is feeding rice. This is a traditional Hindu ceremony in which the infant is first fed with rice apart from milk. It is a very important ritual in the Hindu religion. There is a similar tradition followed by the Parsis too.
This tradition is also followed in many parts of the country with different names and slight variation in customs and rituals. The basic concept is the same. In Bengal, it is known as ‘Mukhe Bhaat’ and in the Garhwal Hills, it is called the ‘Bhaatkhulai Rasm’. The Malayalis refer to it as ‘Choroonu’. The word ‘anna’ means grain and the word ‘prashan’ means to feed.
The Infant gets ready to move to a Solid Food Diet
The annaprashan ceremony marks the start of the weaning period of an infant’s life. The right time for this ceremony is when the infant gets ready to move to a solid diet from a liquid diet. It is a transition phase from liquid food to solid food.
The infant gradually adapts to solid food diets. This ceremony takes place from five months to one year and before the infant’s first birthday. There is a ritual that if the baby is a boy then it should be celebrated in the even months of the year. If the baby is a girl then it should take place in the odd months of the year.
This ceremony can be performed at one’s home. Some people perform the ceremony at the temple as well. The Malayalis prefer to conduct it at the Gurvayur. The people of Bihar and Bengal prefer the ceremony at their homes.
When conducting this ceremony in the home, one invites a priest. The priest performs all necessary rituals of the ceremony. Many relatives, friends and neighbors are invited. The guests also have a large feast.
This important ceremony is done on an auspicious date and time. It is decided in consultation with the family priest. On the day of the ceremony, the infant is bathed properly and then finely dressed with new clothes.
Usually the infants wear traditional clothes. They are mainly dhoti kurta for the boys and lehnga choli for the girls.
Offerings are made to the Deities
A havan or a religious fire is conducted and offerings are made to the deities. The Gods are asked to give health and joy to the child. The ‘prasad’ is the offering made to the deities. It is the first solid food fed to the infant after the puja is over. It is a ceremony in which family members gather together to celebrate the joyous moment of a family.
The rituals in the ceremony are different for both the male and the female child. In case of a girl, it means the worship of Lord Vishnu. Then water is offered to the ancestors. After that it is concluded by feeding the ‘prasad’ to the baby girl.
In case of boys, it is a very elaborate custom. Many gods and goddesses are worshiped. They include the Shashti after which the Markeondo Puja takes place. Then follows the ‘Shoras Matrika’ which means worshiping Lord Ganesha along with the sixteen deities. The Prasad is a sweet dish made of rice and milk. Generally it is called ‘Kheer’ or ‘Payash’. Many other dishes are also cooked along with the sweet dish.
Another ritual is performed along with the Annaprashan ceremony in order to complete this ceremony. It is the worship of Lord Brahma in front of the sacred fire. It is done to inform the Lord of the position, time and date of the infant’s stars.
The Future of the Child is Predicted
Books, pen, food items and some other things are kept on the different trays. The infant is asked to pick one thing from these. The future of the child is predicted depending on the object he/she picks up.
The Annaprashann ceremony is a very religious ceremony which is mandatory for nearly all the infants belonging to the Hindu community. It is a ceremony which also marks the welcome of a baby into its social life. These kind of religious ceremonies bring family members and relatives together.
They celebrate their happy occasion and also build a religious atmosphere in the home and its surroundings. This is necessary in the modern hustle and bustle of the society. A society in which the traditions and culture of the Indian society seems to be minimized or lost. Celebration and conduction of such traditional ceremonies helps to revive the lost rich heritage and culture of our Indian society.
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