When a baby crosses his/her fourth month of birth they are fed with solid food in the Hindu tradition and the ritual is called Annaprashana, which is a Sanskrit word and translates to “food feeding”. A baby boy is fed with solid food at the even months such as 6th month or 8th month while a baby girl is fed during odd months such as 5th or 7th month.
Our Vedas have prescribed 40 Samskaras out of which 16 Samskaras are in practice these days, meant to cultivate positive qualities in humans. These samskaras preach the way of life from the prenatal period to death which we see as the union with God. And one of these is Annaprashana, which is carried out to develop a positive eating habit in a human child, as it is said ‘we are what we eat’, this ritual of feeding the first solid food to children reflects a healthy eating habit to be adopted by them.
For us every occasion should be held in an auspicious time and so is this ritual. Before confirming the date, the family priest is consulted, an auspicious day is recognized when all the planets and stars are aligned rightly which is called muhurta, and then only the date is confirmed. Some opt for a bigger celebration for their child’s first bite of food while others choose a smaller ceremony with family only but in both cases, the family wholly celebrates their child’s first day of weaning.
On the chosen date, a pooja is conducted with Havan, the deities are worshipped faithfully and asked for their blessings for the child. The food to be fed to the child is first offered to the deities and then to the child as Prasad. The main aim as provided by the Vedas for Annaprashana is to nullify the sins committed by the child for the ingestion of feces and urine inside the mother’s womb so that the child receives pure food, radiance, long life, power of sense organs, and the love of the Supreme God.
For the ceremony, the child is clad in a beautiful traditional dress and seated on the lap of a maternal uncle in Bengali tradition but in other traditions, it is mostly the child’s mother and is then fed the first bite of their solid meal. The other family members, relatives, and guests then follow the same, feeding the child with a silver spoon, the food served on a silver plate in desire for the kid to have a prosperous life ahead, they shower the child with blessings and offerings reciting various kinds of mantras.
In Nepal, a tradition is that the maternal side has to give jewelry, a set of plates, a bowl, a spoon, and a glass to the child. ‘Payesh’ (rice pudding) is the star food during this ritual feast served with different kinds of vegetables.
Significance of Annaprasana
The weaning ceremony signals the mother about the child’s growing needs and one of those is that her breastmilk is not enough for the child’s development from that time onwards. Since Annaprashana is carried out during the fifth or sixth month of an infant when the teeth start to grow out and this manifests the changing need of the child and adaptability of the body for semi-solid and solid food. Samskara is connected with the satisfaction of the physical needs of the child.
Food Feeding in different community
Followed by Hindus, the ritual is observed in different parts of the world with different names; “Mukhe Bhhat” in Bengali Community, “Chorunaal” in the Malayali, “Bhaatkhulai” in Garhwal, and “Pasni” in Nepal. Whatever the name the objective is the same which is directing a child towards a path of consuming healthy and satvik food.
Feeding is followed by different fun games especially in the Bengali tradition; different objects are placed in front of the child which is pens, books, food, and clay or soil. Everything has its own significance, pen stands for wisdom, books for vast knowledge, food for child’s love for food and feeding people, and clay/soil for his/her good luck with the properties. Whatever the baby chooses between these symbolizes his/her future prospects.
The customs of Chorunaal are similar however it is the father who feeds the child first with a gold ring dipped in every food placed on a banana leaf in front of the child and then others follow the same. The ceremony is usually concluded with Thulabharam in which a child is weighed against an offering to be presented to the lord.
Thus, what we can draw from the rituals like Annaprshana is that every ritual bestows meaning to life so as to teach humans to lead a positive and healthy life physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Science is now working hard to make exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding conspicuous to people but if we take a glance at our Vedas, it’s been preached for centuries and centuries. Food consumption is seen spiritually in Vedas and the day a baby starts consuming food properly, it is believed that half of the success in life has been achieved. As a whole, it is an occasion for the celebration of love, happiness, and blessings.