Indian birth rituals



In an Indian household, as with all cultures, the arrival of a new baby is an occasion for much joy and celebration. The customs and traditions start before the baby is born and may continue for up to a year after birth. Various rituals and customs mark this period of time.

Valaikaapu

Valaikaapu
, or the pre-natal bangles ceremony, is performed during the seventh month of the mother’s first pregnancy. The pregnant mother returns to her parents’ home and remains there until one to three months after the baby is born.1 At this ceremony, the expectant mother dons her wedding saree and jewellery and sits on a special dais. Close female relatives perform the nalangu, which entails placing sandalwood paste on the mother’s arm and flowers in her hair. They also place a thilagam, or red dot of saffron powder, on her forehead and sprinkle rose water on her.2 They adorn her arms with glass bangles (valayal) of all colours and designs and sing songs wishing her beautiful children.3 Towards the end of the ceremony, the bangles are given to female guests and the expectant mother is blessed by the elders.4 This seventh-month pregnancy ritual is also known as the simantam.5

Confinement period

The confinement period for the Indian woman after she gives birth is 40 days. She spends this period at her parents’ house, especially if it is her first child. This is to ensure that she has the best care and gets enough rest, as all meals would be prepared for her.6 Further, the new mother may feel more at ease with her own mother.7 During this period, the new mother may be given a special oil massage to tone her body.8 Her diet would usually comprise fish, green vegetables and milk. Ghee is sometimes used to prepare meals as it is believed to improve the quality of breastmilk.9 The special dishes prepared include dishes with more ginger and garlic, which is believed to help get rid of “wind”.10 A special ceremony to cleanse the home is usually held on the 11th day. Known as the punya dhanam, this ceremony is conducted by a priest who chants prayers and sprinkles holy water in the house.11 

Thottil and namakarana

A cradle, or thottil, ceremony is performed usually on the 11th, 12th or 16th day of the baby’s birth to signify the baby’s independence from his or her mother. In this ceremony, a black spot is put on the baby’s forehead to ward off evil.12 Some also hold a prayer ceremony asking the goddess Periyachi to bless and protect the child. The naming ceremony, or namakarana, is sometimes conducted on the same day.13 While some families might consult an astrologer for a suitable name for the baby, others might choose an ancestor’s name, or name their child after their favourite Hindu deity.14 On this occasion, relatives and friends are invited to celebrate the baby’s birth. The guests usually present the baby with cash gifts or jewellery.15 

Annaprasana
Annaprasana
is the ceremony where the baby first tastes solid food and usually takes place about six months after birth. Until then, the baby would have subsisted entirely on milk. At the ceremony, which can be held at home with the assistance of a priest or performed at the temple, rice is cooked with milk, mashed well and sweetened. This sweet rice pudding is known as payasam. The goddess Lakshmi, who symbolises wealth and prosperity, is invoked, and after praying that the baby will be blessed with a healthy life, the child’s father feeds it a little rice pudding.16 

Mudi irakkuthal

Another significant event in an Indian child’s life is the ceremonial shaving of hair known as the mudi irakkuthal, or choodakarna, ceremony. The tonsure17 of the head is usually performed during the first year after birth. The removal of hair is said to promote the healthy growth of hair. An auspicious day is chosen for the ceremony and the child sits on the father’s lap while his or her hair is shaved. Mantras are also chanted, praying for long life, health and prosperity for the child. This is usually done in the temple and some Hindus choose to do it during the Thaipusam festival at the Sri Dhandayuthapani Temple.18 



Author
Anasuya Soundararajan



References
1. S. V. Krishnan. (1987, July 24). When a child is born. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. A matter of tradition. (1990, April 6). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Srivatsa. (1982, July 16). Pre-natal ceremonies. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. S. V. Krishnan. (1987, July 24). When a child is born. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tham, S. C. (1985). Religion and modernization: A study of changing rituals among Singapore’s Chinese, Malays and Indians. Singapore: G. Brash, pp. 78–79.  (Call No.: R 301.295957 THA); Flueckiger, J. B. (2015). Everyday Hinduism. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, p. 170. (Call No.: 294.5 FLU)
6. Gifts of gold for girls, while boys get clothes. (1997, September 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. The Indians. (1989, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Gifts of gold for girls, while boys get clothes. (1997, September 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Gifts of gold for girls, while boys get clothes. (1997, September 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. The Indians. (1989, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. The Indians. (1989, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tham, S. C. (1985). Religion and modernization: A study of changing rituals among Singapore’s Chinese, Malays and Indians. Singapore: G. Brash, pp. 78–79. (Call No.: R 301.295957 THA)
12. The Indians. (1989, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. The Indians. (1989, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Srivatsa. (1982, August 20). Naming the new born. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Gifts of gold for girls, while boys get clothes. (1997, September 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Srivatsa. (1983, February 11). Feeding of rice. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tham, S. C. (1985). Religion and modernization: A study of changing rituals among Singapore’s Chinese, Malays and Indians. Singapore: G. Brash, pp. 78–79.  (Call No.: R 301.295957 THA)
17. Tonsure is the practice of shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp.
18. Srivatsa. (1983, February 11). Feeding of rice. The Straits Times, p. 16; Srivatsa. (1988, August 12). Hindu rites to attain purity and prosperity in life. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Jagannathan, M. (2005). South Indian Hindu festivals and traditions. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, pp. 32–34; 38–40. (Call No.: R 294.536 MAI) 

Pascale, H. P., & Pragathi, V. (2007). Ethnographical views on Valaikappu. A pregnancy rite in Tamil Nadu. Indian Anthropologist, 37 (1), pp. 8–9. Retrieved 2018, September 21 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/32225405_Ethnographical_views_on_valaikappu_A_pregnancy_rite_in_Tamil_Nadu

Wells, Y. O., & Dietsch, E. (2014). Childbearing traditions of Indian women at home and abroad: An integrative literature review. Women and Birth, 27, pp. 1–6. Retrieved 2018,September 21 from https://www.womenandbirth.org/article/S1871-5192(14)00086-9/fulltext

Soundar, C. (2003). Gateway to Indian culture. Singapore: Asiapac, pp. 68–71. (Call No.: R 305.891411 CHI)



The information in this article is valid as at November 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Heritage and Culture
Ethnic Communities>>Customs and Traditions
Religious life and practices
Birth customs
East Indians--Singapore--Rites and ceremonies