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Celebrating Pregnancy

Highlights
  • Pregnancy traditions vary from region to region
  • In India, most pregnancy ceremonies are for women only
  • If invited to a Hindu pregnancy ceremony, do not carry gifts for the unborn baby

Pregnancy customs and traditions have been around ever since once can remember. While they may have witnessed many changes along the way, the spirit and vibrancy with which it is celebrated remains much the same. Though no two pregnancy and childbirth customs across the world are alike, each tradition has its own interesting story and significance attached to it. In fact, in India alone, the traditions vary from region to region and are referred to by many names. However, all of them have one common underlying motive – to wish the expectant mother well for the impending delivery and make her feel special. Here are some popular pregnancy customs from different regions of India.

Celebrating PregnancyTamil Nadu Seemandam
In Tamil Nadu, South India, 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 (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 hair 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=bangles; kaapu=security) is also performed with the Seemandam, when the mother-to-be is presented with glass bangles. Five married women 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.

Custom in Kerala
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 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.

Maharashtrian 'Dohal Jevan'
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' (sweet 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.

Gujarati Godh Bharna
In Gujarat, Godh Bharna('godh' meaning the lap of the woman and 'bharna' meaning to fill) is the most important pregnancy ritual.

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.

Punjabi Godhbarai
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 too place gifts on her lap. At the end, a small child is left to play on her lap - as a sign of things to come.

Bengali Swad
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.

Indian Muslims
In Muslim homes, a ceremony called Satvasa is held during the seventh month of pregnancy. During this ceremony, seven varieties of fruits along with 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.

Goan Baby Shower
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.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • In China gift-giving before birth is considered unlucky. The mother-to-be's own mother is typically responsible for the new baby's entire clothing. A month before birth, the maternal grandmother sends a gift of clothing for the newborn to hasten delivery, then three days after the baby arrives, she visits with the remainder of her grandchild's wardrobe and gear.
  • In Japan, friends and family don't meet the new addition or bestow gifts of money on the new parents until mom and baby have had ample time to bond and heal.
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