The expectant mother is put in a separate room where
no one else except the midwife and some elderly women of the family are
allowed to go. When the midwife comes, some lentil and salt are taken
over the head of the mother-to be and made over to the midwife. A small
pitcher of water, some grains and a small lighted lamp made of flour are
kept in the room. An iron knife and an iron bangle are kept under the
pillow as a protection against malignant spirits.
When the child is born, the women present at the time, call out that a
baby girl is born even if its is a boy. This is done on purpose because
it is feared that with the happiness resulting from the birth of a son,
the mother's placenta may not be released thus spreading poison in her
body. If the infant is a son, shirin leaves are hung out side the house,
as an indication of the lucky incident. Often the happy event is announced
by the beat of a metal tray outside the main door by some female relative.
Among some clans, the mother after the birth of a son has to sleep on
the floor for four to five days, but among others she is made to lie on
the floor even at the time of confinement. Some people make the mother
count the beams of the roof after delivery in the belief that she
will bear as many sons.
Shortly after its birth, the baby's navel string
is cut. If it is a boy, the Hindus in Malwa cut a piece of the holy thread
worn by an old person in the family and tie it round the severed part.
In case it is a girl, they take a piece of home-spun thread to tie it
with. When the umbilical cord dries up, it is thrown over a peepal tree
along with the thread with which it was tied. The placenta and the severed
cord are both buried in a corner of the house, for if someone unwittingly
steps over it, some calamity is expected to befall either the mother or
the child. A child's life is supposed to be greatly influenced by the
placenta. This belief is based on contiguous magic. If the child falls
ill during the early days of the mother's confinement, a flour lamp is
lit at the place where the placenta is buried. Light is the symbol of
life in Punjabi folklore. Otherwise also light is kept on, day and night
in the room of the mother and the baby for five, seven, eleven or thirteen
days after the birth. The lamp is generally kept on, an unused pitcher
containing some food grains, gur and money which are later given over
to the midwife.
The baby is made to taste its first liquid food (gurhuti)
which is generally administered by some elderly member of the family.
After that the 'breast washing" rite is performed. One of the father's
unmarried sisters or some other related girl soaks a few petals of grass
in milk-and-water and washes the mother's breasts with it. In return for
this performance, the girl is given some money as a gift. After this rite,
the baby is put to the mother's breast.
Making a baby wear its first set of clothes is also
done ceremoniously, though the ritual varies from clan to clan. If a child
is born after many daughters or long after marriage, the members of the
family go about from house to house virtually begging. Out of the money
thus collected, they buy clothes for the new-born. The Vij sub-caste of
Khatris has a different custom. For their new-born, no clothes from the
family or even those gifted by relatives or friends of the same sub-caste
are used. Generally all that the baby wears has to come from the parents
of the mother, or from friends belonging to different sub-castes.