Anna Prashan is one of the 16 Hindu sanskars to be performed for every person born. It is a Sanskrit word which literally means “food consuming”. The word “Anna” here does not refer to rice only but to food, in general.
It marks the transition of the newborn from liquid to solid foods. Most babies are exclusively breastfed or formula-fed until 6 months of age. So, Anna Prashan ritual is usually performed after the baby turns 4 months old and within 9 months of age. In some communities, this ceremony is conducted for girls during odd months such as 5th or the 7th month and for boys in the even months such as 6th and the 8th months.
This is an important ceremony that is performed across most communities and regions of the country but in different ways. In major parts of India, it is called as Anna Prashan, in West Bengal it is called as Mukhe Bhaat and in Kerala, it is called as Choroonu.
Why is Anna Prashan celebrated?
In Hinduism, there are 16 sanskars marked for every individual and each one denotes a transition from one phase to another.
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A newborn is usually breastfed and hence, derives all the nourishment from the mother. As the baby approaches 6 months, the nutrition provided by the mother is no more adequate and it has to derive nutrition from consuming solid foods.
From the fetal stage to the newborn stage, a child would have derived energy or nutrition from different sources such as from umbilical cord in fetal phase, through breast milk after birth, from oxygen in the atmosphere etc.
If you observe, all these sources correspond to 3 elements of nature.
When the baby receives nutrition through umbilical cord blood and breast milk, it is water-based i.e. Jal/Water element.
When the baby breathes for the first time after birth, it learns to breathe oxygen from the atmosphere which is essential for survival. This breathing corresponds to Vaayu/Air element.
When the baby receives nutrition from the mother through breastmilk or through cord blood, it converts it into energy through metabolism. This corresponds to the Agni/Fire element.
As you can see, your baby would not have taken any form of nutrition from the Earth directly. Through Anna Prashan ceremony, the child is initiated to derive nutrition for its physical body from the Pruthvi (Earth), which is the fourth element.
It is this marked transition of the baby to start deriving nutrition from its environment is what is celebrated through Anna Prashan ceremony. In Hinduism, food is viewed as the ultimate nutrition to the physical body. So, when a child starts consuming solid foods, it is a celebration to mark a milestone in the child’s life.
How and Where to conduct the Anna Prashan ceremony?
The venue largely depends on your personal choice. It is a celebratory ritual that is performed in the presence of family and friends.
Some people celebrate it at home, some rent banquet halls and some perform it at temples. In some families, the baby is taken to the temple of the family deity for the ceremony. The prasad given from the temple is fed to the baby first.
The date and time for the ritual is determined by consulting a priest and the ceremony is also led by a priest. The child and the parents dress up in traditional clothes. The ceremony begins with a puja or havan praying for health and long life for the baby.
Various dishes are prepared for the baby such as payasa/kheer, ghee rice, khichdi, etc. by elders in the family. All the dishes are arranged in silverware newly bought for the child. The child is made to sit on the father’s lap. The father dips a silver spoon or a gold ring in each of the dishes and touches it to the tongue of the baby.
In many communities, the maternal uncle or paternal aunt performs this ceremony. In some regions, the grandparents and siblings of the parents are also called later to feed the baby.
What to feed the baby on Anna Prashan?
In most communities and regions, rice is a must dish on the Anna Prashan menu as it is soft and easily digestible.
The usual items served for the baby are mashed rice, khichdi, payasa, dal, vegetables, and fruits. However, some communities include fish and meat also.
Some tips for smooth Anna Prashan ceremony.
Below are some tips to ensure that you have smooth Anna Prashan ceremony:
1. It is preferable to have a separate menu for the guests and for the baby. Any family member can cook for the baby at home for safety and hygiene reasons.
2. Prepare the food for the baby without any spices. Mash the food thoroughly without any lumps.
3. Don’t expect the baby to even eat few spoonsful. It is a difficult transition for the baby as well and has to happen gradually. You can start with few spoonsful a day after the Anna Prashan.
4. If you are having the ceremony outside home or at a temple, ensure that the food is prepared in hygienic conditions and the baby is fed with clean hands.
5. If the baby is dressed in traditional clothes, ensure that the outfit or the fabric does not cause discomfort. Avoid any jewelry that hurts the baby.
6. Have a few toys handy or a cradle ready if your baby gets uncomfortable with the crowd. A few familiar things will help it calm down easily.
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