By Swami Harshananda
Annaprāśana literally means ‘feeding with cooked rice or food’.
The religious works known as dharmaśāstras consider the life of every person as a religious process. It begins at the conception and ends at cremation. The individual’s life is to be purified, refined and sanctified continually by certain religious processes called ‘sanskāras,’ usually mean as ‘sacraments.’ They are sixteen in number. Hence the word ‘Soḍaśa-sarhskāras' is used.
Annaprāśana is the seventh in the list. It is the first feed of the solid food of child, starting the process of weaning the child away from breast-feeding. It can be performed any time after the sixth month and before the child completes one year.
The father prepares a food of goat’s flesh or flesh of partridge or of fish or boiled rice depending upon the result he expects for the child, like nourishment or holy lustre and so on. One of these is mixed with curds, honey and ghee and the child is made to taste it with the recitation of certain Vedic hymns. Then the father offers oblations to the fire. The mother eats the remainder of the food. Homa and feeding of the brāhmaṇas is arranged later on as the part of the ceremony.
According to some writers, on the day of this ceremony, tools and implements, vessels and weapons are to be spread in front of the gods worshipped in the house and the child is allowed to crawl among them. The first object seized by the child is said to indicate its future profession.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore