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Both form an integral part of the fourfold prenatal life cycle rituals, also known as prenatal Saṃskāra in the Hindu religious tradition that is celebrated in India by the pregnant mother and father of the child, as per vedic scriptural sanctions, during the seventh or ninth month of pregnancy. However, Pumsavana (meaning: seeking birth of a male child) used to be held, in the past, individually (not in combination with Sirmantham), in the second or third or fourth month of pregnancy, the Pusuttal (meaning adorning with flowers) also spelled as Poochuttal, in the fifth or the seventh month and the Valaikappu (meaning: " bangles or bracelets") in the eight or the ninth month. However, in modern days all the four rites are subsumed into a one-day event, with different timings observed for each rite. Since the pumsavana and srimantham are combined into a single rite which is performed by both husband and wife together, facilitated by a brahmin priest with homa (sacrificial fire) as per scriptural sanctions, this festival or the vedic rite is sometimes termed as Pumsavana Srimantham. However, each festival is region specific. All the four rituals are mandatory for the first child.
The four prenatal rites which are part of the 16 samskaras (personal sacraments followed by Hindus and which are based on Grhya Sutras) performed on a single day, in the modern times, starting from morning till evening, are the following.
Srimantham is a family and a community festival with prayers seeking safe birth of the child. Literal meaning of Srimantham is "parting of the hair" to assure safe delivery of the child. The parting of the hair of the expectant mother is ceremoniously performed by her husband, initially with three strands of dharba grass (Cynodon dactylon) and finally with a quill of porcupine, starting from the forehead to the back of the head. This is the third of 16 samskaras performed as per vedic rites by both husband and wife, which is facilitated by a presiding Brahmin priest with homa or sacrificial fire. The observance among non Brahmins is, however, done without homa.
There is difference of opinion on the months when it should be performed. According to the Grhya Sutras, the proper time to perform this saṃskāra is the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy but according to the smrtis and the astrological works, the period can be extended up to the eighth month or even till the birth of the child. The authorities are not unanimous whether this saṃskāra should be performed at each pregnancy or it should be performed only during the first conception. According to Ashvalayana, Baudhayana, Apastamba, Paraskara, Harita and Devala it should be performed only once. But other authorities think that it should performed during every pregnancy.
The elaborate ritual performed as per vedic rites with recital of vedic hymns prescribed for the occasion, involves seating the pregnant woman on a chair or padded stool, facing east. Then a specially prepared Darba Stambam (dharba grass of three strands gathered together), the quill of porcupine and sprouted rice denoting prosperity and growth, are moved over the parted hair of the pregnant woman by her husband, starting from the forehead to the nape of the neck. After performing this act the Dharba stambam is thrown behind her back. Special invocations are made to the "Raaka", the deity of Full Moon, seeking blessings for the couple, and particularly seeking the birth of a son who will have all qualities of nobility and high intellect. Appropriate hymns are recited by the priest and musical instruments are also played on the occasion. This is followed by symbolically placing a package containing sprouted grains tied with a thread on the head of the pregnant lady. She is then advised to keep silent till the next day. The following morning she has to see a cow with a calf and give gifts to brahmins.
However, according to the Paraskara Gryha Sutra, at the beginning of the ceremony, the pregnant wife is seated on a soft chair, the husband parts her hairs upwards from the forehead three times, first with a bunch containing an even number of unripe udumbara (Ficus racemosa) fruits and three bunches of darbha grass, next with a porcupines quill having three white spots and finally with a stick of the Viratara wood and a full spindle, chanting each time three Mahavyahrtis (great mystical mantras), Bhur, Bhuvah and Svah. But according to Baudhayana different two verses are chanted.
Further, according to Parashara (I.15.6), after the partition of the hair, the husband ties the udumbara branch round her neck with a string of three twisted threads with the words, "Ayaṃūrjjāvato vrikṣaḥ urjjīva phalinī bhava" (meaning: "Rich in sap is this tree; like the tree rich in sap, you be fruitful"). But according to Baudhayana, barley-sprouts instead of udumbara branch are used.
Pumsavana (Sanskrit: पुंसवन, Puṁsavana) is also a vedic prescribed rite that is performed to beget a son. This is performed during the second, third or fourth month of pregnancy. Pumsavana (literal meaning: begetting a male child) is the second of the 16 saṃskāras (sacraments) practiced by the Hindus. The day is fixed on the basis of Lunar Calendar on specific stars rising on that day; normally, when Punarvasu, Pushya, Anuradha, Moola[disambiguation needed], Shravana and Mrigashira stars (all are male stars) rise for the day. The objective is to instill confidence in the expectant mother that she can beget a male child.
This rite is performed during day time as prescribed in the vedic scriptures with homa, presided by a Brahmin priest, and is followed by a food feast. However, during the present times, this rite is combined with Srimantham and the two together is called the Pumsavana Srimantham and is performed during the day time, before noon, which is followed by a luncheon feast.
This is usually performed in the evening after the Srimantham or Pumsavana Srimantham is performed. Valakappu ( 'valai' in Tamil means "bangle" or "bracelet" and 'kappu' means to "adorn"). On this occasion, which is the prerogative of the women folk of the family to perform, the pregnant mother would be dressed in a fine silk saree, and women of all ages slip bangles and bracelets on her arm. The reasoning for this is that the bangles would act as "protective amulet against evil eye and evil spirits". This is a very common ritual which the Indian immigrant families in the United States also observe very religiously along with Srimantham and pooshuttal. It is very much akin to the "baby shower" ritual observed in other parts of the world.
In the particular ritual format observed in Tamil Nadu, the colourful and joyous rite involves the pregnant mother wearing a new silk saree (9 yards saree) after the morning ablutions, and choosing at random with closed eyes from a tray kept in a double covered banana leaves filled with many items of daily use and also food items; the items kept on one side of the banana leaf consists of a rattle, a stylus, a ladle, a pair of wooden dolls, a toy car and even a computer mouse (reflecting the present era) while on the other side of the leaf several food items including sweets are kept. All these items are covered by another layer of banana leaves. The mother-to-be is then asked to pick up as many items as she desires by closing her eyes, and choosing from beneath the banana cover. She then places the items she picks up on her lap and shares her payasam (in Tamil) Kheer or Sanskrit: क्षीर/Ksheeram (sweetened milk) with a child and consumes the food that is placed on the leaf.
This is followed by the married women with children smearing turmeric and sandal wood paste on the pregnant person's cheeks and deck up her braided hair with flowers (seven flowers strung together). Her forehead is also adorned with a bindi or dot in kumkum powder. Then, glass bangles (bangles made of conch shells are also mentioned) are slipped on to both forearms of the pregnant mother, starting with the right hand. The pregnant mother's mother does the first act of slipping the bangle followed by other female members of the family; according to convention nine bangles are slipped on the right hand and seven on the left. However, before slipping the glass bangles, bangles made from leafless stalk of Neem (Azadirachta indica) tree, and from thin wires of gold and silver are essentially to be slipped on the pregnant woman’s wrist. She then with reverence receives a special concoction of milk, rice, flowers and arukam grass. The same function is also celebrated by the pregnant mother's mother-in-law but during the fifth month of pregnancy.
Another related rite that used to be observed in the earlier days, as a separate ritual, but is now combined with Srimantham, in South India is called the poochuttal meaning "adorning the head of the expectant mother with flowers". After observing this ritual, in the olden days, the expectant mother used to go to her parental house for delivery. In the traditional practice, the parents of the expectant mother offer gifts of new clothes, sweets, betel leaves and nuts and coconuts to their daughter and son-in-law. However, no homam is performed on this occasion.
Food prepared on this occasion is special and consist of rice, sambhar, rasam, chutney, tow or three types of vegetable dishes, payasam, laddo, curd and pappad and many more items.
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