India is a land of celebrations. And what better reason to celebrate than the arrival of a new baby?
The third trimester is particularly eventful for the first-time mother, as close family and friends gather together to wish her well for the impending delivery. Every community in India has its own custom of making the expectant mother feel special. And these pregnancy traditions vary from region to region.
For the uninitiated: If you are invited to one of these ceremonies, please note that most of these ceremonies are for women only and, certain communities do not appreciate gifts for the unborn baby.
Valaikappu is the ceremony performed during the fifth or seventh month of pregnancy. It is also known by the name seemantham. This is one of the samskara that done for the well being of mother-to-be and the foetus, in spirit of celebrating motherhood. On this occasion women are invited and pregnant women is gifted by bangles and sarees.
In the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a traditional ceremony called the Seemandam is held during the fifth, seventh or ninth month of pregnancy. Hosted by the husband's parents, only married women (close relatives and friends) are invited to the ceremony. The expectant mother is gifted a new sari by her parents and in-laws, turmeric paste is applied on her face and hands and her hair is decorated with flowers. Few drops of a special herbal juice is squeezed into the nostrils of the expectant mother and mantras are chanted to protect the baby. The women then fill her sari pallu with 5 kinds of sweets and fruits.
Another colourful ceremony called the Valakaapu (vala meaning bangles and kaapu meaning security) is also performed with the Seemandam, when the mother-to-be is presented with glass bangles. Five married women then decorate her hands with glass bangles in three auspicious colours - an even number of bangles in one hand and an odd number in another. The remaining bangles are distributed among the guests. Soft music is played, and this along with the jangle of bangles, is believed to be good for baby's developing ears.
In Kerala, Puli-Kuti (literally meaning 'drinking tamarind juice') is a pregnancy ceremony of the Nair community. It is performed on a particular day in the ninth month, at a time fixed by the local astrologer. The pregnant woman, after having bathed and properly attired, is seated facing eastwards in the principal courtyard (natu-muttam) of the Tharavaad (ancestral family house). The Ammayi or maternal uncle's wife and the brother of the pregnant woman conduct this ceremony.
Among the other Malayalee communities, the pregnancy ritual is fairly simple. The mother-to-be's parents and relatives come to her house during the seventh month to take her back to her maternal home. They bring traditional sweets and are offered a traditional meal.
During the seventh and ninth months of pregnancy, a grand function called the 'Dohal Jevan' is held in Marathi homes. 'Dohal' means craving for certain foods and this ceremony originated as a means to satisfy the food cravings of the expectant mother.
On this occasion, the mother-to-be is adorned with flower garlands on her wrists, neck, waist, and head and is photographed. Wholesome nutritious food and sweetmeats like pedhas, burfis, etc. are arranged on plates and covered with a cloth. The expectant mother is asked to select and then the selected food is exposed and announced to all present there. There is good-natured speculation on the gender of the unborn baby, depending on the selected item and its gender. In Marathi, each food item is referred to as having a gender. For example, 'Bhat' (rice) is masculine and 'Poli' (chappati) is feminine. Similarly, among the sweetmeats Pedhas are masculine and Burfis are feminine.
The 'Dohal Jevan' would be conducted first at the expectant mother's maternal home and then at her in-law's. And everywhere, the procedure would be the same.
In Gujarat, Godh Bharna ('godh' meaning the lap of the woman and 'bharna' meaning to fill) is the most important pregnancy ritual.
During this ceremony, the expectant mother is dressed in bridal finery - with garments presented by her mother. Her maternal relatives bring five colourfully decorated metal thalis (round plates) and the ceremony begins with the mother-to-be's entrance through the front door of her in-law's house. The participating ladies sing traditional songs. For each step the expectant mother takes as she enters the house, a piece of coloured silk is placed under her feet along with a little supari (betel nut), a one rupee coin and a quarter rupee coin till she reaches the place where the puja (worship) will be performed.
The mother-to-be is made to sit on the baajotth (a low, four-legged wooden seat) and a small red dot is put on her forehead for good luck. After this, both her mother and her mother-in-law fill her godh (the palav of her saree) with gifts and jewellery. The elders bless the expectant mother and her unborn child to the accompaniment of traditional festive tunes.
The Punjabi ceremony is quite similar to the Gujarathi tradition, and it is called Godhbarai. All close relatives are invited during the seventh month for a special Puja. The mother-to-be sits on the floor and after the puja, her mother-in-law wraps coconuts and fruits in a red dupatta and puts it on her lap. The other women place gifts on her lap too and at the end, a small child is left to play on her lap - as a sign of things to come.
The Bengali swad (taste or longing) revolves around a lunch, and is held in the ninth month of pregnancy. This ritual originated in an age when childbirth was a potentially dangerous process with no certainty of the mother's survival. It was a way of ensuring that the pregnant mother had no unfulfilled wish - for food, clothes or jewellery - before she went into labour. It was also a way of making sure that she was well fed and strengthened for childbirth.
The expectant mother wears an elaborate new sari and jewellery given to her for the occasion by the swad's hostess (the mother, mother-in-law or an aunt). Specially prescribed food - including a cooked fish's head - one of the most auspicious foods in the Bengali tradition, five types of fried food, including banana fritters - the banana is also auspicious and a mixture of vegetables called shuktois - is set out in front of her on a huge silver platter. The first mouthful that she takes has to include a pinch of everything on the platter and as she puts it into her mouth, the conch shells blow alerting the Gods that the swad has begun and a future mother is now under their care. The mother's meal ends with payesh, a sweetened dish of rice and condensed milk.
In Muslim homes, a ceremony called Satvasa is held during the seventh month of pregnancy. During this ceremony, seven varieties of fruits and a green saree set are presented to the mother-to-be, while the husband is garlanded as a gesture of honour. Parents and relatives are then served a special meal.
There is no compulsion to give gifts, though sweets and eatables are acceptable.
True to the Goan way of life, baby showers are fun in Goa. The mother-to-be is taken to her mother's house during the seventh month. During the party, the expectant mother is decked up and a special sweet called dodal and cakes and other goodies are prepared.
Gifts for the mother-to-be-ranging from gold to clothes are given - but you are not supposed to give anything for the baby at this point of time.