With a new baby, every moment is special. The first time they smile, the first time they try to walk and the first time you feed them solid food. Indians celebrate that moment in a ceremony called the Annaprashan.
It is exciting and nerve-wracking being a parent. You have to constantly worry about taking care of them, feeding them and looking after them. You are bonding and a moment like the first solid feeding of the baby is a vital moment in your relationship. Annaprashan is celebrated across India in different ways and manners. The baby can now have more than breast milk or pureed food and it is a Hindu rite of passage. Annaprashan is Sanskrit and translates to ‘feeding food’ in English.
Popularly celebrated in West Bengal or Kerala, the ceremony or ritual is performed with great fervor and pomp once the baby turns 6 months or older. The ritual is a way to signify that the baby is ready to be weaned off breast milk and can be introduced to other solid foods over time. Parents and close family gather at a temple, hall or home to mark this event. A priest is invited home to conduct the ceremony. The Guruvayoor Temple in Kerala is also a popular and respected venue to hold the Annaprashan. It is also known as ‘mukhe bhaat‘ in West Bengal.
If you have a baby girl, the ceremony is performed in odd months such as the 5th, 7th or 9th and for a baby boy, it is done in even months like the 6th, 8th or 10th. A priest or astrologer is requested to fix the date and time to hold the feeding ritual. The baby and the parents are decked in their new and traditional clothes to symbolize the start of something new and good. Women of the house, including the child’s mother prepare dishes and food, including the sweetened rice (kheer/payesh) for the baby to consume. Fried vegetables, dals, curries and fruits are served to the guests as a part of their meal. Some communities also include meat or fish as a part of this joyous day.
Nowadays, parents consult their pediatrician before starting their baby on solids. Doctors also consider rice as the safest food to help the baby transition to solids. If kheer or sweetened rice is too much for the baby, you can swap it with plain or boiled rice. It is essential that you don’t overfeed the baby and just offer 1-2 teaspoons as their first meal. Ensure everybody’s hands are clean and sanitized as babies can get infected easily.
A small puja is done to signify the start of the ceremony. A havan follows and then the child is ready to have his/her meal. Annaprashan is usually served in a silver bowl or plate and offered to the baby in a silver spoon. In Kerala, the meal is served on a banana leaf. The priest has to bless the food before the baby can have it. Some families weigh the baby and make an offering to the local temple or priest amounting to the baby’s weight. The maternal Uncle is the first to feed the baby. The guests and elders of the family follow along with their blessings and gifts.
Parents have started blending tradition with modern thoughts and this ceremony now resembles a party or gathering of close family members and relatives. Fun, cute invites are send to inform them about the Annaprashan. A photographer is also hired to record the day for posterity. Return gifts such as sweets, fruits or mementos are given to guests so they can remember this ceremony. It is their way of merging their culture with the new age trends.