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Babies are fed breast milk until around six months of age after which it is recommended to start feeding them solid food. As this is a momentous occasion, this event is often celebrated in the form of a traditional Hindu ritual known as Annaprashan.
What is Annaprashan?
Annaprashan is a popular custom amongst Hindus. Literally meaning ‘rice initiation’, it marks the transition a baby will undertake from consuming only liquid food to solid food. Annaprashan is performed across India; it is known as Mukhebaat in West Bengal, Choroonu in Kerala, and Bhaath Khulai in the Garhwal hills of Himachal Pradesh. After this ritual, the baby is weaned off breastmilk and will begin to consume only solid food.
Why is the Annaprashan Ceremony Performed?
The Annaprashan ceremony signifies the next step in the growth of a baby. Dating back to the Vedic ages, Annaprashan is known to be practised in South Asia, Iran, as well as amongst the Parsi people. Depending on the culture or region the parents are from, it can happen anywhere between five and nine months of age. Traditionally, babies below four months or above one year do not undergo Annaprashan. The importance of Annaprashan is such that the event includes several guests, a large venue, and food catering. Priests are present to conduct the Annaprashan mantra at the auspicious time chosen for the occasion.
Where is the First Rice-eating Ceremony Performed?
Annaprashan was initially conducted at home. However, these days, people prefer to rent a venue like a banquet or a party hall for the ritual. Annaprashan can also be performed at a temple to obtain the blessings of the family deity. It lasts for one day but can be extended to two if the parents wish to have a more elaborate celebration with fun and games.
The Annaprashan ceremony procedure starts with the baby being seated on their maternal uncle’s lap, who is supposed to give them their first solid bite. After the baby eats the initial serving, other family members feed him more food and shower him with gifts. Finally, the Annaprashan Vidhi is performed. Items such as soil, gold jewellery, pens, books, and food are placed in front of the baby, who is required to choose one of them. Their choice is meant to symbolize their path in the future.
- If they choose the gold jewellery, it means they will be wealthy.
- If they choose the pen, it means they will be wise.
- If they choose the book, it means they will be learned.
- If they choose the soil, it means they will be lucky with property.
- If they choose the food, it means they will be empathetic and charitable.
Kinds of Food Offered to Baby
Aside from the first bite of rice, there is a large variety of food that is offered to the baby during the Annaprashan ceremony. Some of them are:
- Fried rice or pulao
- Meat dishes
- Dal, sambar or rasam
- Kheer or payasam
Why is Kheer or Payasam Important in Annaprashan?
Kheer or payasam is a sweet rice dish popular across India and is the first solid food fed to the baby. It is generally made by the mother or grandmother and served in a silver vessel.
Food Safety Precautions to Keep in Mind
As your baby is still very young, there are some precautions that must be taken when introducing them to solid food.
- Kheer is not compulsory as you can feed your baby rice.
- Hygienic food preparation is crucial as the baby could fall sick due to pathogens in the food.
- Talk to the paediatrician to learn about foods safe for a baby to eat.
Tips for Safe Annaprashan Ceremony
The Annaprashan sanskar is a safe ceremony, but please ensure you follow the following tips, so the event is fun for everybody.
- Feeding your baby with clean hands is very important as they can contract infections quite easily at this age.
- Let your baby sleep well beforehand so they are not cranky during the ritual.
- You should avoid inviting too many guests as it might be overwhelming for the baby.
- Dress your baby in soft, comfortable clothing like cotton or linen.
- Try to avoid decorative work or metallic threads as it might cause skin irritation.
- Make them wear loose clothing so it won’t constrict their belly.
- Keep a sweater or cardigan nearby if it gets too cold.
- A towel or box of napkins can be kept nearby to help you clean up if any food is spilt.
- A separate location for children can be provided to keep them occupied.
- Keep your baby away from the ritual fire as the smoke could cause burning in their eyes and throat.
- Ensure the venue is well-ventilated so the guests don’t have to inhale the smoke or endure the heat.
- It is polite to offer snacks to all the invited guests in the form of sweets or dry fruits.
- Don’t forget to document the celebration by taking lots of pictures or by filming the event.
Annaprashan is an important event in your baby’s life. This is the first step of several your baby will take in their life’s journey. It is a reminder that your baby is growing up.