Baby Rites in India

Hinduism is a huge and complex religion with many variations in traditions, ceremonies and beliefs. Ceremonies may be performed during pregnancy to ensure the health of the mother and growing child. The ceremony of Punsavana is performed at the third month. The father parts the hair of the mother three times from the front to the back to assure protection of the foetus and assure its strong growth. Charms are also used to deter evil forces or demons. The Simantonnyanna is performed during the seventh month of pregnancy. This is somewhat equivalent to a Western style baby shower. Prayers are offered for the mother-to-be and unborn child with emphasis on the healthy mental development of the foetus. In common with some other religions, Hindus believe that the mental state of a pregnant woman has a direct impact on unborn child.

The Jatakarma ceremony welcomes the baby into the world. The father uses a gold spoon or ring to place a small amount of ghee and honey on the baby’s tongue while at the same time whispering the name of God three times in the right ear. Mantras are chanted to ensure a long life.

On the eleventh day after birth, the naming ceremony, or Namakama, is held at the parent’s house. This is the first Samskara, or sacrament, in a Hindu's life, and is used to name and bless the infant. For Namakama, the baby is ritually bathed and dressed in new clothes. During the ceremony, the priest offers to all of the gods and to Agni, the god of fire and the purifying factor, the elements, and the spirits of the forefathers, and entreats them to bless and protect the child. He also places the sheet on which the child's horoscope is written in front of the image of the deity for its blessing. The baby’s name is then spoken into the right ear by the father. Traditionally, the child's name is chosen according to the position of the moon in the birth chart. Songs and sometimes a Havan (fire sacrifice) accompany these rites, followed by the obligatory feast.

Other important rituals follow. Nishkarmana is the child’s first visit outside (usually to a temple about 2 weeks after birth) and Annaprasana is the child’s first taste of solid food (usually cooked rice when teething begins).

Mundan (first haircut) and Kamavedha (ear-piercing) are especially significant but occur much later. Mundan normally takes place between 1 and 3 years while Kamavedha takes place between 3 and 5 years. Hindus believe that the piercing of a hole in the lower lobes of the ear has the benefits of acupuncture while head shaving is associated with the removal of impurities. The first haircut often occurs at a temple or a festival and the hair is offered to a deity.