Jatha karma

(Birth ceremony)

welcomes the child into the family; mantras are recited for a healthy and long life. Samskar is performed to create a pleasant atmosphere for both the newly born child and mother.

             This ceremony should be performed immediately after the child is born.

                A month before the expected date of delivery, a maternity room (Sutika-griha) is selected on an auspicious day.  The room should be in the south-west corner of the house, the ground should be even.  The would-be mother enters the room a couple of days before the expected date, after worshipping the elders, family-deities and accompanied by auspicious sounds like ringing of bells or music, with experienced and pleasant mothers.  They cheer and otherwise prepare the lady for safe delivery by means of approved diet, ointments etc.  The room is made comparatively dark, because it is said, the sunlight, will be too sharp for the new-born babe and for ensuring for it a black retina.  When the time arrives, the would-be mother is made to lie on her back.  Mantras are chanted outside to ward off evil spirits.  An elderly person at home unties several knots of a rope suggesting the loosening of muscles tying the child in the womb.  The turyanti leaves are placed near the lady to ward off evil forces and also to expedite delivery.  It the delivery is difficult, the verse from Atharva Veda meant for it, is chanted.  On safe delivery a small fire called Sutika-fire is lighted in the room to purify and protect the child and its mother.  Mustard seed and grains are thrown into that fire to counteract evil forces and evil eyes.  Or is it anti-bacterial?

                      The Jatakarma proper must be performed (unless prevented by other impurities like death in close family circles)  before the umbilical cord of the child is severed.  The father looks at the face of the new-born babe and at once redeems his debt to his ancestors!  He must immediately bathe in cold water with his clothes on.  Actually, he must jump into a river or lake so as a palm tree in the air.  He is then enjoined to perform dans, dharmas etc., as the merit earned by him at that time is immense.  Moreover it protects the child from early evil and ensures prosperity.

Time of Performance

The Jatakarma ceremony was performed before the severing of the naval cord. This seems to have been the original time, but later writers state that if the time expired it was performed at the end of the ceremonial impurity of ten days, or, if the birth took place during the impurity caused by a death in the family, the ceremony was postponed until its expiry. In later times the moment of birth was noted with meticulous care for preparing horoscope, as it was thought to be a determining factor in the life of the child. Then the good news was brought to the father. Different sentiments were expressed at the birth of a boy and a girl, as different prospects were depending on them. The first born was liked to be a boy, as he freed the father from all ancestral debts. But for a sensible man a girl was not less meritorious, because her gift in marriage brought merits to the father. After this, the father went to the mother in order to see the face of the son, because by looking at the face of the new born son the father is absolved from all debts and attains immortality. Having seen the face of the child, he bathed with his clothes on. Invited the elders and performed the Nandi Sraddha and the Jatakarma ceremonies. Generally speaking, Sraddha is an inauspicious ceremony. But the one performed here was an auspicious Sraddha. It was meant for entertaining the Father. Harita says, "Merits arise from the happiness of the Fathers at the birth of a son. Therefore,one should offer Sraddha to them with pots full of sesame and gold, after having invited the Brahmanas." The Brahma purana also enjoins to perform the Nandi Sraddha at the birth of a son.

Ceremonies and their Significance

Now the Jatakarma ceremonies proper commenced. The first ceremony was the Medhjanana or production of intelligence. It was performed in the following way. The father with his fourth finger and an instrument of gold gave to the child honey and ghee or ghee alone. Others add to it sour milk, rice, barley and even whitish black and red hairs of a black bull. The formula employed was, "Bhuh I put into thee: Bhuvah I put into thee; Svaha I put into thee: Bhur bhuvah svaha every thing I put into thee." The Medhjanana ceremony speaks of the high concern of the Hindus about the intellectual well being of the child, which they thought their first business with it. The Vyahrtis uttered on this occasion were symbolical of intelligence; they were recited with the great Gayatri mantra which contains prayer for stimulating talent. The substances, with which the child was fed, were also conducive to mental growth. According to Susruta, the following are the properties of ghee: "It is producer of beauty; it is greasy and sweet; it is remover of hysteria, headache, epilepsy, fever, indigestion, excess of bile; it is increaser of digestion, memory, intellect, talent, luster, good sound, semen and life." The properties of honey and gold are equally favourable to the mental progress of the child. According to the Gobhila Gruhyasutra, at this time, a name was given to the child, while the phrase, "Thou are the Veda," was being uttered in its ear. This was the secret name known to the parents only. It was not made public, as they were afraid that enemies might practice magic on it and thus injure the child.

The next item of the Jatakarma ceremonies was the Ayusya or the rite for ensuring a long life for the child. Near the naval or the right ear of the babe the father murmured, "Agni is long-lived; through the tree is is long-lived. By that long life I make thee long-lived. Some is long-lived; through the herbs etc. The Brahman is long-lived; through ambrosia etc. The Risis are long-lived; through observances etc. Sacrifice is longlive; through sacrificial fire etc. The Ocean is longlive; through the rivers etc." Thus all the possible instances of long life were cited before the child, and by the association of ideas it was believed that through the utterance the life of the babe would be also lengthened. Other rites were also performed for long life. The father thrice recited the verse, "The threefold age," thinking that it would three times lengthen the span of child’s life. If the father desired that the son may live the full term of his life, he touched his with Vatsapra hymn. Not satisfied with the single will of his own, the father invited five Brahmans, placed them towards five regions and requested them to breathe upon the child in the following way. The one in the south said "Back breathing", the one to the west, "Down breathing", the one to the north, "Out breathing" and fifth one looking upwards said "On breathing". If the help of the five Brahmans could not be secured the father himself recited the above phrases, going round the child. The breathing was thought to be productive of life. Therefore, this magical ceremony was performed to strengthen the breath of the child and prolong its life.

The earth, where the child was born, was naturally believed by the simple folk to be instrumental in the safe delivery of the child, and therefore reverenced. So the father offered his grateful thanks to it: "I know, O earth, thy heart, thy heart that dwells in heaven, in the moon. That I know; may it know me." He further prayed to it: "May we see a hundred autumns; may hear hundred autumns."


The father next performed another rite for the hardy, Strength martial and pure life of the child. He asked the babe, "Be a stone, be an axe, be an imperishable gold. Thou indeed art the self called son; thus live a hundred autumns.After this the mother was praised for bearing a son, the hope of the family. The husband recited the following verse in her honour : "Thou art Ida, the daughter of Mitra and Varuna; thou strong woman hast borne a strong son. Be thou blessed with strong children, thou who hast blessed us with a strong son."

Then the naval cord was severed and the child washed and given the breasts of the mother. The father put down a pot of water near the head of the mother with the verse, "O waters, you watch with the gods. As you watch with the gods, thus watch our this mother, who is confined, and her child." The waters were supposed to ward off demons. Hence the mother was commended to their protection. Having ceremoniously established near the door of the maternity house the fire that had been kept burning from the time of the wifes’s confinement, the husband offered into that fire mustard seed mixed with rice chaff, every morning and evening until the mother got up from the child bed, in order to scatter away goblins and demons. The following magical formula was used. "May Sunda, and Marka, Upavira and Saudikeya, Ulukhala and Malimulcha, Dronasa and chyavana, vanish, hence. Svaha! May Alihata, Animisa Kimbadanta, Upasruti, Haryaksa, Kumbhina Satru, Patrapani, Nirmani, Hantrumukha, Sarsaparuna, Chyavan Vanish, hence Svaha!" The above are the names of diseases and deformities that attack an infant. They were conceived and addressed as goblins and demons by early people. Here, as their conception is fantastic but picturesque, so their remedies were magical but useful.

If the disease bringing demon Kumara attacked the child, the father covered it with a net or with an upper garment, took him on his lap and murmured. "Kurkura, Sukurkura, Kurkura, who holds fast children. Chet! Chet! doggy! Let him loose. Reverence be to thee, the Sisra, barker, bender etc." It was an euphemism to placate the supposed demon. The father at the ceremonies expressed his last wish with the words. "He does not suffer, he does not cry, he is not stiff, he is not sick when we speak to him and when we touch him." It was the expression of the heartfelt solicitude of the father for the child.

When the ceremonies were over, presents were offered to the Brahmans and gifts and alms distributed. The Brahma and the Aditya purana say, "On the birth of a son the gods and the Fathers come to witness the ceremonies at the house of a twice born. Therefore, that day is auspicious and important. On that day should be given gold, earth, cows, horses, umbrella, goats, garlands, bedding seats etc." According to Vyasa the merits of alms given on the day of a son’s birth are eternal.

                   The father caresses, saying “You are born from every part of my body, you are my heart, Atma.  Live a hundred years.  Then tips the tongue of the babe with a drop of honey touched by a gold ring, uttering mantras.  This action endows the child with Medha or intelligence.  Susruta praises honey’s properties in this respect. 

A name is also given to the child, in secret, lest his enemies should practice black magic on the child with that name.  Then the father utters a prayer for long life at the ear of the child.  Other Brahmins too bless the child with long life, by breathing upon it.  The father prays to Mother Earth “May we live a hundred years!”  By another hymn, which says:  “Be a stone; be an axe (unto enemies); be the imperishable gold”, the father prays for strength, valour and fame of the child.  After severing the umbilical cord, the child is handed over to the mother to suckle when the husband prays to the water-god and fire-god to protect the mother too. To relegate this significant and useful ceremony to the time of the marriage of the girl or Upanayana of the boy is to completely forego its advantages. 

By Rajagopala Ghanapatigal
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