Annaprashan (first rice-eating ceremony)
Annaprashan is a Sanskrit term, which literally means "grain initiation". It's commonly known as your baby's first feeding or first rice-eating ceremony and called choroonu in Kerala, mukhe bhaat in Bengal andbhaatkhulai in the Garhwal hills. A popular Hindu custom, annaprashan marks the beginning of solid food in your baby's life. Following this ritual, you can slowly start to introduce other weaning foods into your baby's diet. While the rites of the ceremony may differ according to the region, annaprashan essentially celebrates your baby's transition to solids.
Why is the annaprashan performed?
Annaprashan is conducted when your baby is ready to make the transition from a liquid diet to solids. It can be performed anytime from six months until before his first birthday. Annaprashan is performed during the even months for boys, generally in the child's sixth or the eighth month. For girls, it is performed during the odd months, usually the child's fifth or the seventh month.
Where can I perform the annaprashan?
Annaprashan is mainly done at home or at a temple. However, some parents prefer to hire a banquet hall or community centre for the function. In Kerala, many parents prefer to perform the ceremony at Guruvayoor, a famous Hindu temple. Alternatively, many families in central or eastern India perform annaprashan at home. If you're performing the ceremony at home, you may want to contact a priest to help with the religious rites.
How is the annaprashan performed?
The annaprashan ceremony is performed on a specific day and time after consulting a priest. The baby is dressed in new clothes, often traditional ones such as a dhoti kurta or a lehenga choli. Annaprashan begins with a puja or a havan for your baby's health and happiness, followed by the symbolic feeding of the prasad or the first bite of solid food. It is an occasion for celebration, and family and friends are invited to attend.
The religious ceremony is often followed by a fun game where a number of symbolic objects are placed on a banana leaf or silver tray which your baby can then pick up. The objects include:
- books symbolising learning
- jewels symbolising wealth
- a pen symbolising wisdom
- clay symbolising property
- food items symbolising a love for food
Family and friends have a great time cheering the little one while he makes his choice. It is believed that the object your baby picks up from the tray represents his area of interest in future.
What kind of foods are offered to the baby during annaprashan?
A variety of food is served on the baby's plate. Food for the prasad is usually rice pudding (kheer or payash) if you want to offer your baby something sweet. Or it is plain mashed rice with ghee and some well-cooked dal if you want to include savoury fare. Some also choose to have an elaborate celebration and serve fried rice, pulao, vegetables, meat and fish along with kheer.
Tips for safe annaprashan
Here are some ideas to help you and your baby enjoy this special time.
- Ensure your baby is well-rested before the ceremony. Some parents prefer to have the annaprashan after their baby's morning bath.
- It is best to limit the gathering to just a few close family members and friends as your baby may feel overwhelmed.
- Choose clothes that your baby will be comfortable in, preferably made from natural fabrics. Outfits with mirror work, heavy embroidery, embellishments or metallic threadwork may irritate your baby's tender skin.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before feeding your baby.
- Ensure your baby's food is prepared fresh and hygienically.
- Keep a small towel handy to wipe any excess food around your baby's mouth.
- Make sure your baby doesn't eat more than a few spoonfuls of the sweets and desserts as he may get indigestion or an upset tummy.
- During the havan, ensure that your baby is not too close to the fire. Keep your baby's face away from the smoke. Open doors and windows to ensure proper ventilation.
It'll be easier to manage children if you can arrange for a separate area for them to play in. Put some toys and games to keep them busy in the play area. It's a good idea to get a willing relative or a maid to help out with keeping your little guests safe.
If you'd like to give 'thank you' gifts to your guests, a box of sweets (mithai) or dried fruits is a popular option.
Don't forget to record the occasion. Take lots of photos!