Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Punjab

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Birth

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.

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