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Childbirth and Childhood
Page Two

Namakarana (Name-giving ceremony): The Hindus at­tach great importance to the naming of the child. According to them the name should be of two syllables or four syllables beginning with a consonant, with a semi-vowel in it, and with a long vowel at the end. According to their belief, one who is desirous of holy lusture, his name should contain four syllables. For boys, names with an even number of syllables are prescribed. For naming a girl, a different basis is adopted. The name should contain an uneven number of syllables.. It should end in aa or ee. The name of a girl should contain three syllables. It should be easy to pro­nounce, pleasing to hear, of clear meaning, charming, auspicious, ending in a long vowel. The naming ceremony is performed on the 10th/ 11th/12th day after the birth of the child. The syllables of the name are also based on the science of numerology.

Annaprasana (First solid feeding): The feeding of the child with solid food is the next important stage in the life of the child. TiIl now it is being fed on the mother’s milk. After six or seven months the child will require a greater amount and different types of food, while the quantity of the mother’s milk is diminished. So for the benefit of the child and the mother the child should be weaned away from the mother, and some substitute for her milk should be given to the baby. The first feeding ceremony is performed in the sixth month after the birth of the child.

The significance of the Annaprasana ceremony is that the children are weaned away from their mothers at the proper time.

The chudakarma (Tonsure): The purpose of this ceremony is the achievement of long life for the child. According to Hindu scriptures life is prolonged by tonsure; according to susruta, shaving and cutting the hair and nails remove impurities and give lightness, prosperity and courage to the child. Charaka opines that cutting and dressing of hair, beard and nails give strength, vigour, life, purity and beauty. At the basis of this ceremony the idea of health and beauty is prominent.

Tonsure ceremony is normally performed on the thirteenth month, third or fifth year of the child. It is performed only in the daytime. The obvious reason is that hair cutting in the night is dangerous. The system of keeping tuft on the top of the head has significance. This is meant for the long life of the child. The question may be asked why did the Hindu sages suppose that the keeping of tuft hair on the top of the head would prolong one’s life? Is there any connection between longevity and the top-hair? According to susruta, inside the head, near the top, is the joint of a sira (artery) and Sandhi (a critical juncture). There in the eddy of the hairs is the vital spot called Adhipathi (overload). Any injury to this part causes sudden death. The protection of this vital part by keeping a tuft of hair just over the vital part serves this purpose.

Karnavedha (Boring the ears): Boring of different limbs for wearing ornaments was prevalent among ancient peoples all over the world. Even when civilization pro­gressed, ornamentation continued. In the case of boring ears, it is undoubtedly ornamental in its origin, but later on it proved to be useful. Susruta says, the ears of a child should be bored for protection from diseases and decoration. He explicitly prescribes boring of ears for preventing hernia. This should not be too difficult to accept now that medical science has taken notice of acupuncture.

This ceremony is performed at a very early age of the child because boring the ear would be easier and less painful to the child.

Vidyarambha (Learning of Alphabets): This ceremony is performed in the fifth year of the child. When the sun is in the northern hemisphere an auspicious day is fixed for per­forming this ceremony. The child takes his bath and is properly dressed. He worships the Gods and a Homa (Yajna ritual) is performed. The ritual consists in writing and reading. Saffron, and other substances are scattered on a silver plate and letters are written with a gold pen, or on rice with any pen suitable for the occasion. The following phrases are written: “Salutation to Ganesa. Salutation to Saraswati, Salutation to family gods and goddesses. Salu­tation to Narayana and Lakshmi.”

This shows that the child was introduced to educa­tion along side the divinities worshipped by the family. The child would soon be old enough to start his formal educa­tion. Soon he would leave his parents after the thread ceremony and proceed for the Guru’s ashram.

After his formal education was completed, the ancients would have the Samavartana ceremony or the Convocation Function.

The Samavartana ceremony was somewhat corre­sponding to the modern convocation function. It is only those who have passed their examinations who are at present admitted to the convocation. Similarly only those who had finished their education and observed all the vows were permitted to undergo the Samavartana ceremony.

Before the student would take his bath, he would take permission of his master to end his student career and satisfy him with a gurudakshina (an offering of cash or kind of the master as a token of appreciation for his effort In educating him.)

The Ceremonies and their Significance: The ceremonies opened with a very strange procedure. The student was required to shut himself up in a room throughout morning. It was done so that the sun would not be insulted by the superior lustre of the Snataka (learned student) as the former shines only with the light borrowed from the latter. At midday the student would come out of the room, embrace the feet of the teacher and pays his last tribute to the Vedic fire by putting some fuel in it. Eight vessels full of water were kept, indicating the eight quarters of the earth and suggesting the idea of honour and praise being showered on the student from all over the earth. Then the student would draw water out of one vessel. The body of a student was heated with the fire of austerity and penance; hence for the comfortable life of a householder the body required a cooling influence, which was symbolised by bathing.

After the grand bath, the student casts off his entire outfit e.g. the Mekhala, the deerskin, the staff etc. into water and puts on a new loincloth. He cuts his beard, lock of hair, nails and cleanses his teeth. The symbolism of the bath was that the student had practiced continence both in food and speech, and now he was going to prepare himself for a fuller and more active life of the world. The austere life of the student was over and the many comforts and luxuries of life denied to him during his Brahmacharya were presented to him. He was given a bath in fragrant water. He put on new garments and received flowers and garlands. Dressed in his new attire the student would proceed to the nearest assem­bly of the learned in a chariot or on an elephant. There he was introduced as a competent scholar by his teacher.

A survey of the Samavartana ceremony shows how high was the respect in which scholars, who had completed their education, were held by society in ancient India.


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