My baby girl is five and a half months old and is just itching to get her hands on things. She particularly likes to grab drinking glasses or bowls of food. She’s eying every morsel of food we put in our mouths. She’s really starting to engage with us, as a family and as individuals. How perfect that she’s ready to begin exploring solid food right at this time!
The Hindu tradition has a ceremony called Annaprasana. It happens around the time the baby is six months old, give or take, depending on the individual baby’s constitution. For girls the ceremony occurs in odd months and for boys it occurs in even months. It’s a full puja, with priest and prayers and ceremony, followed by a festive party involving friends, family and some games, including family members feeding the baby a mouthful of sweet rice.
Obviously our ceremony was much simpler. On one hand it’s too bad there is no one around to help me do things ‘right’; on the other hand I’m making these ceremonies my own. I’m doing what I know, what I can, how I can, with what I’ve got.
We had our ceremony this past Saturday, at the end of July (an odd month) on the dark moon. While some might say that the dark moon is inauspicious, I’ve had an affinity for the dark moon for the last couple of years. There’s a wonderful, coiled energy to it. Much less frenetic than the full moon. We had invited a couple of friends over for the occasion but they couldn’t make it, so it was just our tiny family.
Upon waking I bathed myself and my son. I put on something nice, and dressed up my kids too. Baby girl was supposed to get a bath, but my husband dressed her before he realized that! I tidied the dining room, prepped our special breakfast and all the foods for baby girl: cubes of sweet potato, chunks of banana, and fingers of dry whole wheat toast (there was supposed to be a tree of broccoli, but I forgot!).
My son was hungry and saw the banana on the altar. He asked if he could eat it. ‘It’s the offering for devotions,’ I said. ‘I ask Kali?’ he said. ‘Kali,’ he says facing the altar, ‘I have the banana?’ ‘YES,’ he announces with a nod. ‘Thank you,’ he says reaching for the piece of banana. Ha! At least he has good manners with the gods!
My husband brought our daughter downstairs and I did a small devotion of offering water to the ancestors, lighting incense and a candle, saying a small prayer and asking for blessings on baby girl. Then we sat down to introduce her to solids.
First up, was papa offering a bite of banana. She did well and ate the whole piece! It was a slobbery mess, eaten in micro-portions, but she did it. Next, her brother tried to shove a piece of toast in her mouth. That wasn’t so successful! Finally, I offered her a cube of sweet potato. She liked that too.
Why did we choose not to introduce rice, as is traditional? Well…. I have a lot of ideas about food, see. My daughter is exclusively breastfed and I ‘follow’ (in as much as I follow anything) something called Baby Led Weaning (weaning meaning introducing foods, as per the use of the word in the UK), where children eat what they can pick up and eat on their own. So, with that in mind, rice wasn’t the best choice. I’m also a fan of introducing veggies and starches before grains and sugar.
After the feeding of the food we played a game that is traditional to ceremony. A selection of items are laid out in front of the child and what she chooses tells us what her aim in life will be: a bangle (symbolizing wealth – and I think beauty too), a book for learning, pen for career, and clay pot (we used a wooden bowl) for property. Seeing as how these reflect the society of an older India, I also added my iphone for technology and a modern addition. She went for the wooden bowl when her foot knocked it. She couldn’t quite pick it up. Then she grabbed hold of the bangle and wouldn’t let go! I’m not sure what this means for her, but it was fun. She completely ignored the iphone! Excellent! Because our son is already trying to use all the technology we have.
When the game was over we were all hungry and I served up a dish of kedgeree made with fresh mackerel. It was a good morning!
What’s neat about this ceremony is that I feel like baby girl definitely made a developmental step, but so did our family. We’re going to pull the booster seat out of storage and get it ready. Baby girl seems like she’s more fully a member of the family: she can sit up at the table and share in the communal act of eating food. I don’t foresee her eating a ton of solids anytime soon, but Annaprasana was blessing and I’m glad I – and my family! – could take part in this aspect of the Hindu tradition.