Once Upon a Time…

Recollections of Child Care in My Life

The birth of a child brings in joy, “I remember my grandmother telling me that almost all the kids were born at home! My father had caused a bit of anguish at the time of his birth. Grandmother, Lalitha Bai Krishnan had struggled a bit, and this worried her in-laws, Rajalakshmi & Raju Chettiar. My worried great grandfather was reassured by his mother, Subbulakshmi in his dream that night and my father had been safely delivered thereafter.”

“Every visitor was given a laddu in a small Silver Kinnam (Katori) those days. This took place at Salem. Our family had the custom of sending the daughter-in-law to her mother’s place for the first two deliveries. They would not host the first two deliveries of the daughters too. These customs varied from family to family. Childbirth brought in a custom called, ‘Purudu’. The family members would not visit the pooja room or the temple for ten days after the birth of a child. They would give a bath to the mother and the child on the tenth day and would perform ‘Punyarjanam’.

The young mother and the child would be made to wear a set of beads known as, ‘Vajapoosalu’. These beads would be strung in a red thread. This was meant to ward off an evil eye. Meanwhile the first clothes worn by the newborn child was never new. Clothes used by another child would be given to the newborn for wearing. Days would pass and the young mother would be given a lehiyam which was meant build up her energy and strength.”

“The third month was the time to celebrate the ‘Naamakaranam’ (Naming ceremony). It was our family custom to use the prefixes, ‘Bala Venkata Alagiri’, for the newly born child and the name would follow the same. I was given the name, Bala Venkata Alagiri Sathyanarayana Ramachandra Rajesh Kumar Gupta. While, Bala Venkata Alagiri belonged to the constant format, the rest of name was exclusive to me. My great grandparents decided to celebrate their Kanakabhishekam after my birth. They decided to undertake a Thirtha Yatra (Holy trip) before the celebrations. This took them to Badrachalam and Annavaram.”

“They had performed the Sathyanarayana Vratha in Annavaram before returning to Coimbatore. Therefore, they added Sathyanarayana the lord in Annavaram and Ramachandra after the lord in Badrachalam to my name. My father wanted me to be named after my great grandfather, P. A. Raju Chettiar and hence the name Rajesh. We belong to a trading community and the suffix Gupta was fixed due to the same. The great grandson performing the ritual wherein he places gold on the head of his great grandparents is known as Kanakaabhishekam. I performed the ritual and got named thus on 31/1/1969. Silver gifts were given to everyone on that occasion and these gifts were etched with the details pertaining to the celebration.”

“My great grandparents presented me with a diamond bracelet and a diamond necklace. My mother, Aravindakumari's grandmother, Swarnambaal of Salem and her mother, Chandra Bai Sampathkumar had sent a native pediatric kit with my mother. This kit contained one tiny stone slab and few herbs. My mother used to add a few drops of water to the herbs, rub it on a stone and give me drop of it on the day of hair wash. The kid was supposed to have this Karam (Spice) to avoid catching cough or cold. It would also help it stay free of indigestion. The nutmeg would be a part of this package and it would induce sleep.”

“My bath on Saturdays was a ritual of sorts. My great grandmother would place me between her legs and my grandmother, mother, and the bathing assistant used to help me have a bath. They used to apply oil all over the body and used traditional herbal powder (Nalugupindi) for bathing. The hair would be washed with Shikakai and Arappu together. My grand mother had never carried any child until its head got fixed and this included her own kids too. Therefore, my great grandmother helped me have a bath. Thereafter, they would create a Sambraani smoke at home and pass me over the smoke for a second. This smoke helped me to stay clear of respiratory and inflammatory issues.”

“The next one after the ‘Naamakaranam’ was the Turning-over Function. The child would have been grown and the head would be strong enough to stay erect above the neck. The child would turn over and the family would become joyous and celebrate by breaking a coconut on the same spot. This coconut would be used to make a sweet for the family. The kid would never go out until the hair was tonsured and ears pierced.”

“Our family Kuladeivam (Family deity) was Angalaparameshwari at Pazhani. All of us went to this temple and had my first hair tonsuring done and my ears were pierced. They applied pure sandalwood paste on the head, on the ear lobes. They passed a thread through the pierced portion and tie a knot. I was given a few drops of honey to subside my scream. Thereafter, a meal for our family members and clans’ people was served at the nearby Vasavi Mahal.”

“It had become a custom to have the ‘Annapraashanam’ (First-feed) ceremony at Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple. Our entire family celebrated my Annapraashanam at Guruvayur. I was fed with a small portion of dhal rice mixed with ghee. All of us had a good Darshan and came back home. The temple Paayasam (Pudding) was also given along the first feed.”

“There is a point you did not notice here; I, as a baby, was not supposed to go out until the visit the Kuladeivam temple. However, I had to be taken to the pediatrician. Therefore, my grandmother used to soak a piece of white cloth in turmeric, place a rupee and twenty-five paisa in the same and wrap it. This was knotted three times and offered to God as a ‘Thappu Kanikkai’ (Offering made to God for the unavoidable mistake).”

“My first birthday was a great moment. I had started walking and the elders performed an ‘Ayush Homam’ (Havan done for long life) and showered me with gifts. My grand aunt, Seetha Kalyani was the master of ceremony for that occasion. I cut a cake in the evening and it was distributed amongst all my relatives.”

“The next occasion which I do not remember at all was, my ‘Aksharaabhyasam’ (Ceremony of initiation into writing and formal education). The Aksharaabhyasam is usually done on a Vijayadasami (The tenth day of the Navaratri festival). Our family priest, Subburama Shastri and my parents made me write ‘Om’ for the first time. They had placed Akshathaa on a Large Silver Plate and helped me write on it. Our family had a Writing Slate bordered with Gold and I was made to write on it also. Thereafter, my parents admitted me into G. R. G. School at Peelamedu. All my classmates were given a bag of goodies on my first day to school. My class teacher cum tutor, Mrs. Sinclaire began looking into academic affairs, and the journey continues…”

“Even now, I remember my father to have described his first ride to school with his sister on an elephant-back. The famous dancer Kumari Kamala had given a special performance at our family-owned, Raja Theater in order to celebrate the occasion. Accomplished dancer, Vyjayanthimala had performed for the Aksharaabhyasam of my uncle, Ravindranath.”

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