Thursday May 23, 2019

Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies in Trinidad and Tobago

Among all ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago, Hindus perform the most intricate childbirth ceremony

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Diwali. Pixabay

October 23, 2016: In the Ramayana, the Hindu scripture written in 500 BC in India, the chatti [sixth-day childbirth ceremony] of Lord Rama, the son of a king, is described lyrically:

“There was happy music of festivity in every house because the very fountain of beauty had manifested himself. All the men and women of the city were full of joy, everywhere. The city was full of flags and banners and festal arches. …Showers of flowers dropped from heaven ….”

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“Women streamed forth in troops …. carrying jars of gold and salvers full of auspicious articles. They entered the grounds of the royal palace singing as they went along, waving lights and passing offerings round and round over the child’s head as an act of exorcism. They threw themselves at the babe’s feet again and again. Bars, minstrels, panegyrists and songsters chanted solemn praises to the Lord of the Raghus [dynasty].”

Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago, and elsewhere, have been profoundly influenced by the holy Ramayana, the longest epic poem in the world. The poem is dramatised in the form of Ramleela, which has been proclaimed as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2005. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Ramayana has also inspired participants of the chatti and barahe [12th day] celebrations in Trinidad even after the birth of Rama 7,130 years ago, and at such a great distance ((14,459 km (8,984) airplane miles)) from India.

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Among all ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago, Hindus perform the most intricate childbirth ceremony. The sixth-day postnatal chatti ceremony is both a cultural celebration and social proclamation of the safe return of the new mother and her newborn from the perils of childbirth. Some families prefer to observe the birth celebration on the twelfth day, in which case it is known as a barahe and is of greater magnitude than the sixth-day celebration.

Diwali
Diwali

This is one of the rare Hindu religious ceremonies in which a female [masseuse] officiates. She prepares and administers a brew made from the rhizomes of both the hardi and ginger plants. The masseuse [dhagrin or maidy] also gives the new mother and her newborn their first full-body ritualised herbal bath. The masseuse also performs other rituals such as gently tossing the baby into the air, dragging the newborn in a scoop (“soop”), applying kajal [lamp mascara] to the baby’s eyes, and dotting her forehead [tika] to protect the newborn from being infected by najar [evil eye]. For several days, the traditional masseuse massages the baby and the new mother, and she also attends to the maternal abdominal band.

On the evening of the celebration, guests arrive and are served food and drinks. A special dessert called halwa is prepared mainly with hardi [turmeric], a yellow, pungent “heating” herb which is a native of India. The evening begins a long night of noisy rejoicing when chutney and sohar songs are rendered in Hindi and English. The sohar songs, accompanied by a dholak[hand drum], majeera [cymbals] and a dhantal [metal rod], usually draw their sources from child-centred episodes in theRamayana. A sample of a stanza of a sohar is reproduced below.

ráma ke gūráwá gūngru á nīckālā gāīho

[Ráma loves the ghūngru (anklets) on his feet]

… gūngru á nīckālā gāī

… loves the ghūngru

… gūngru á nīckālā gāī

… loves the ghūngru

ráma díré díré chal á backání kausalyá rání mandilá mễi

[Ráma creeps slowly slowly with Queen Kausalyá into the palace]

The participation of relatives from both sides of the family emphasises the importance of birth in continuing family lines and cementing family bonds.

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The chatti and barahe ceremonies are observed as a triumph over infant mortality, particularly perinatal mortality. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines perinatal mortality as the number of stillbirths and deaths in the first week [7 days] of life per 1,000 total births. In 2013, about 2.6 million babies died before reaching their first month in the world.

– by Dr. Kumar Mahavir

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Hindu Icons Which Have Spiritual Significance

These icons have to be treated with extreme respect and should not be touched or removed without the owners consent.

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rangoli
Rangoli, Toran, Aum and Swastika – optional display inside or outside the home. Pixabay

Hindu Council of Australia has compiled a list of Hindu Icons that Hindus may wear on their body and which have spiritual significance. This list has been made to remove confusion among non-Hindus about what is sacred to Hindus.

Hindu Sacraments worn on the body

Hindu icons all year round

bangles
Bangles worn on wrists by women – a cultural item. Pixabay

Scared Hindu icons that can not be removed

  1. Nose stud – essential for girls during puberty, can not be removed for one year.
  2. Yajnopavit/Janaue – essential for boys after their Yajnopavit right of passage, once worn can not be removed and worn again without extensive rituals (not even during swimming lessons)
  3. Sindoor/Mangalsutra – essential for married women. Removal is not permitted while husband is alive.
  4. Choti/Shikha – small hair tail for boys during a right of passage.
  5. Pagdi (Turban, A cloth wrapped around the head) – touching or removing it is disrespectful. It can be removed for a short period in privacy, like when having a shower and must be worn as soon as possible.
  6. Sivalingam (Veera and Adi Shiva people, Lingayat) or other Hindu Gods as pendant in a necklace.

Sacred Hindu icons that can be removed by the wearer

  1. Bindi – optional for women and girls, it can not be removed by others.
  2. Bangles worn on wrists by women – a cultural item
  3. Kondhani – a bracelet made of black thread worn around the waist
  4. Anklets (Pahjeb, Payal) – a metal bracelet worn on ankles
  5. Ear rings/studs for boys and girls in some families
  6. Gem stone on rings for special effects of planets
  7. Hindu Sacraments worn on Special Occasions

    Anklets (Pahjeb, Payal) – a metal bracelet worn on ankles
    Anklets (Pahjeb, Payal) – a metal bracelet worn on ankles. Pixabay
  1. Tulsi Mala – A necklace of Tulsi beads. During special religious observations.
  2. Teeka, Tilak, Vibhuti – essential during Hindu prayers, optional otherwise
  3. Mehendi/henna/turmeric – essential when getting married or when a close family member gets married, optional for married women during karva chauth day. Henna is a fast colour (looks like a emporary tatto) that takes a week or more to fade away
  4. Men are not allowed to cut their hair during Sabramalai month (Mid of November to January 14/15)
  5. Rakhi – a special bracelet worn on special festival day of Rakhi.
  6. Kajal/Surma (dark black eye ointment)
  7. Raksha/mouli – multi colour thread bracelet as a protective icon during special days
  8. Gajra – a flower arrangement by woman at the back of there hair.

Hindu icons in a Hindu home

These icons have to be treated with extreme respect and should not be touched or removed without the owners consent.

  1. Rangoli, Toran, Aum and Swastika – optional display inside or outside the home.
  2. Home shrine

(Originally Published: Hindu Council of Australia)