HINDU BABY SHOWER --
PUMSAVANAM ; SEEMANTONNAYANAM ; POOCH-CHOOTTAL; VALAI_KAAPPU
(By Kamala Raghunathan and N.R.Srinivasan)
The arrival of a new baby to an Indian household is a joyous occasion, associating the changes with better fortunes to the family. In the olden days an addition to the family was considered augmentation of wealth, since more members would carry the lineage of the family forward. Parents felt secure to pass on their property and their wealth to their biological sons and daughters with the anticipation that these children would take care of the economic prosperity of the parents, in their golden years.
In the olden days when medicine was not so advanced, pregnancy was considered a very difficult time in a woman's life, giving birth and remaining alive was considered rebirth. Unfortunately many women died at childbirth, due to complications that were not diagnosed. In order to fulfill the desires of expectant mothers, family members and friends, usually go out of their way, to fulfill the desires of the pregnant mother, just in case the mother did not survive the pangs of childbirth.
Pregnancy is a time when the parents go through psychological changes. These changes can be fairly intense for the expectant mother. The Mother-to-be is preparing for the role of motherhood while the father for fatherhood, neither of them fully knowing what added responsibilities, surprises and fulfillments, it will bring. These expectations while on one hand kindle joys and expectations, on the other hand they can also evoke apprehensions, anxieties and conflicts. During pregnancy, both the mother and father count on each others support and presence. This is reaffirmed during the samskara of Pumsavanam and Seemantonnayanam. The well being of both mother and child is crucial as it is known, that a developing fetus can be adversely affected by the physical and mental state of the mother. These samaskarams are also performed to maintain the mother's healthy physical condition, a positive and happy disposition.
There are three stages of baby showers celebrated in the Hindu tradition--Pumsavanam, Valai-Kaappu and Seemantonnayanam (Seemantham).
Once the desirability of having a child is established by the parents, the samskaara for pumsavanam is performed in the third month, when the pregnancy becomes visible. Male children carry the lineage, gothra, traditions and the wealth of the family, while the females adopt the family lineage of the spouse. The reason for wanting male issues was to continue one's lineage. In the vedic culture, the first son (Seemantha Puthran) in the family has the responsibility of performing many of the rituals and duties connected to one's parents and forefathers. He is looked upon as a future source of economic prosperity and support. The first born daughter is called Seemantha Puthri.
Therefore this samskaara is performed, wherein the couple seeks to be blessed with a son as their first child. This does not imply that a female child is unwanted. Although not practiced today, part of the ceremony involved the intake of certain herbal medicines which were believed to prevent miscarriages and other medical problems which tend to occur during the early months of pregnancy.
In the olden days, men grew beards as a sympathetic gesture to his pregnant wife, for the duration of the pregnancy, as a mark of enduring and experiencing some of the discomforts his wife has to deal with. As custom directs the beard was shaved off, when the baby arrived. This is called "Diksha-visarjanam" (culmination of the vow).
The derivation of the word "Pumsavanam" is
"Pumaan prasooyate yena karmanaa tat"
meaning "the act by which a male child is borne". On the day before the Pumsavana samskaaram, the ritual, "Nandi Shraddha" is performed to obtain the blessings of one's ancestors. Pumsavanam is done only for the first conception.
The Pumsavanam is performed on a day of male Nakshatra (star). In the ritual a few drops of the juice of the banyan stem is poured into the nostril of the pregnant lady with a prayer for the birth of a son or a worthy child. According to Sushruta the great Ayurvedic writer, the juice of the banyan tree has all the properties to relieve troubles during pregnancy.
A sanctified thread (kankanam) is tied to the left wrist of the lady by way of protection. The mantras freely rendered pray:
"May God Eesaana fulfill our wishes,
May Dhaata bless the world with children and wealth,
May he bless this house hold too with children.
May the immortals live in this house,
May Agni bless me with sons,
May Indra bless me with children,
May I have handsome children".
The meaning and object of this ceremony is to "quicken a male child" in the woman.
Rishi Mitakshara opts this ceremony to be performed for the first pregnancy alone. Other Rishis are divided in their opinion whether this ceremony must be performed before each child birth. There is an option to perform this ceremony along with the Seemantonnayana ceremony.
VALAI_KAAPU and the Pooch-chootal is a social tradition celebrated in South India. Valaikaappu literally means
adorning/decorating with bangles.It is more of a social function than having any vedic meaning. Women of the family and friends are invited to participate. A seller of bangles usually waits in attendance. The day before this function, the pregnant girl's hands and legs are decorated with henna and mehendi designs, on the morning of the day, she is treated to an oil bath and dressed in new clothes and jewelry. The pregnant girl is then ceremoniously seated on a chair with all sorts of festivities around her. The family cooks sweets and savories, which are all tied up in a bag and placed in the pallu of the girl's sari and secured around her waist (called appam samaitthu kattal in Tamil). The oldest Sumangali (married matriarch) will be bestowed with the honor of slipping the first gold and silver bangles on to the wrist of the pregnant women, furnished by the mother. The women folk select bangles for themselves from the vendor. Other members of the husband's family also join in this honor, slipping bangles of various colors and designs on to the wrist of the girl. The husband's sisters usually play an important role by giving gifts and clothes to the brother's wife and placing flowers on the girls hair which is called "Pooch-chootal" (meaning of which is adorning with flowers). At the end of the day the girl usually ends up with bangles from her wrist to half way across her elbow sometimes. Usually a feast follows all these functions.
A HINDU SAMSKAARA
This is performed between the fifth and eighth month of pregnancy.
This ceremony derives its name from the parting of the hair of the pregnant lady at the centre of the head, which has also the etymological meaning of the term. The parting of the hair symbolizes the removal of undesirable shocks to the would-be mother and for keeping her psychologically cheerful and free of care, and for the child to be well proportioned.
"Seemantamunneeyate yena karmana tat" meaning "the act by which the hair is parted"
This ritual is performed in the second/third/fourth trimester of pregnancy and is meant for the well being of the mother and the child. By this time the fetus has come a long way in its development. Premature infants born in the seventh month are considered viable and able to survive outside the womb. The parents are grateful that the child has survived thus far and pray for the child's continued well being. It is a profound experience to be bearing an individual who is at once a part of her and a part of her mate, symbiotically attached to her and who will separate from her to become an individual in the outside world. The pregnant lady is the centre of all attention.
A line is drawn by the blunt end of a porcupine's quill, from the navel of the pregnant woman (over her sari) straight up across to the centre of the nostril, then up to the parting of the hair on the forehead – seemantam buds of aalai maram (banyan) and arasa maram (fig tree) are packed in a small plastic pouch and put on the stone masher (ammikkkal) and pounded by a virgin to squeeze out the juice. The pounded buds are tied to the end of the new sari worn by the woman and the juice is mechanically squeezed out into the right nostril of that woman. This is called "Mookkuppizhitthal" in the Tamil language.
The deity invoked generally is Raaka, presiding goddess of the full moon. Their implications are that the pregnancy should be fruitful that the child should be beautiful like the full moon. The gist of the mantra is as follows:
"I beseech the goddess Raaka,
May she bless this ceremony!
May my son be sharp of intellect!"
In some traditions, the husband parts the wife's hair. This is to invoke Goddess Lakshmi for the protection of the mother and child.
Music especially on the Veena is indicated to be played on this occasion. This is supposed to increase the mother's suckling power besides conferring other psychological benefits. It is also believed that the child inside the womb can hear the fine instrumental music. Ladies are asked to sing "Be a mother of heroic sons" thus creating a heroic atmosphere. The mother fasts and keeps silent after the ceremony till the rise of stars and at the close of the ceremony she touches a male calf symbolizing a son.
Naandi Shraddham is performed on the previous day, during this ceremony. Rituals and homas are also performed on the Seemantoennyanam day. This samaskaram is only performed once
Since the results of this act are considered to bless the future conceptions as well. This samaskaram is performed by the parents of the child to be born, and therefore it is considered parental samskaaram.