The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Birth Ceremonies of the Prabhus


T the last meeting of the Bombay Anthropological Society, Dr. Kirtikar read a very interesting paper on the birth ceremonies observed among one section of the Hindoos:

He began by observing that his remarks were confined to the Prabhu community of Bombay, to which he had the honour to belong. "When it was apparent that the Hindoo lady was expecting her first baby, her "special" wishes or tastes were consulted, and she was treated with great tenderness. Nothing that would frighten her was allowed to approach her. The sight of a serpent or of a corpse was avoided; the news of a sudden and horrible death, or of a terrible accident, was studiously kept away from her. She was not permitted to be out of doors at dusk, lest the evil spirits hunting the peepul might do her harm. She was presented with flowers and sweetmeats. All the delicacies of the table, especially the various rich sweetmeats so numerous among the Hindoos, were specially prepared for her. About the fifth month, the muhurt ceremony was performed. It had no religious significance. It was a gathering of the lady relatives of the house. Sugar and flowers and new clothes were presented by the visitors. The lady concerned and the visitors were presented with sugar. The ceremonial was purely a social one. It clearly showed that Hindoo ladies had their own sphere of independent action, and that they were not the slaves foreigners painted them through sheer want of knowledge. In some families the Sohola ceremony was performed. It was a religious ceremony, in which Gunpati was invoked as the averter of evil and destroyer of all danger. Ganga and Varuna were also worshipped to ensure peace and plenty. Offerings of rice and ghee were made to the sacred fire. Supposing the confinement natural, Dr. Kirtikar said, after the birth of the baby, it was received in a bamboo tray, and honey was dropped into its mouth. The Putravan ceremony was performed by the father of the child on the first day, or reserved to the fifth day, when the Sashti-pujan ceremony was due. The chief event of the Putravan ceremony was the preparation of the birth-paper or horoscope, which was done by the caste astrologers. The family priest was also in attendance on the occasion. Friends, male and female, were invited and presented with sugar and cocoa-nuts. The Sashtipujan ceremony includes the worship of Jiwatee. Shasti or Sati was a goddess akin to the Roman Parcae, or Fates, who the Hindoos believed wrote the fortune of the new-born baby on its forehead on the fifth night after birth. Jiwatee was the protecting goddess, and acted as a counteracting agent to the mischievous propensities of Shasti, or Sati. On the twelfth day, the father's sister proceeded to the house of the new-born babe to exercise her right of naming the child. This Dr. Kirtikar mentioned as another illustration of the authority the Hindoo woman exercises in her household. The horoscope name was determined from the hour of the birth, the moment of birth rather, and from the grahas, or stars, by the astrologer, but the pet name was always given by the aunt. If this right was infringed, the aunt had a just right to complain. It was she who put the child into the cradle for the first time, for up to that time the child lay by the mother's side. This also was a ladies' ceremony strictly. About the twenty-first day the mother worshipped a pail of water, which was equivalent to worshipping the well, implying that from that time she was free to attend to the linen of the child herself, washing it herself if necessary.

Mr. Sitaram Vashnu Sukhthanker rose to mention a few matters which he thought had either escaped Surgeon Kirtikar, or had been purposely omitted by him as being of small importance. In the first place, he called attention to certain matters connected with the treatment of the infant on its birth; and, secondly, to the reading of the Shanti Path and the Ram Raksha, every evening during the ten days of confinement. A small quantity of ash being pulverised, a finger mark of the same is applied to the head of the mother and to that of the child, and the rest being tied in a piece of rag, is placed near the head and under the bed of the lady. This reading of the Path consists in repeating the name of God, and is intended as a prayer for the welfare of the mother and the child. The last point which he would mention was the practice of placing a crowbar along the threshold of the room of confinement, as a check against the crossing of any evil spirit. This was owing, he believed, to a belief among Hindoos that evil spirits always kept themselves aloof from iron, and even now-a-days pieces of horseshoe could be seen nailed to the bottom sills of doors of native houses. The bar is kept in situ for ten days. On the eleventh day a preparation of milk, sugar and rice, is prepared, and a small quantity of the same is placed near the spot where the umbilical cord is buried, and the rest is partaken of by the members of the family. On the same day the lady worships the sun, as, owing to her being confined for the ten days in almost a dark room, she could not see the sun, and the first time that the sun appears to her after her confinement she considers it her duty to offer prayer and thanksgivings.