chapter  II
18 Pages

BIRTH

THOUGH the desire for male offspring does not influence Musalmans to the same extent as Hindus, who believe that it is only a son who can perform the funeral rites which admit the spirit of his father into the company of his sainted ancestors, still among Musalmlins the craving for a male heir is often intense. Among the Brlihfiis, 'in the wide world there is naught man and wife set their hearts on more than the birth of a son. For who would be content to quit this world and leave no son behind? As for a daughter, a daughter is little more than a gift to your neighbour '. 1 Hence many devices are employed to relieve barrenness. In Gujarat, ' some 'Amils or exorcists give their applicants cardamoms, or cloves, or pieces of candied sugar, on which the mystic and powerful Names of God being blown, they are supposed to possess the virtue of casting out the spirit of barrenness, since, as a rule, barrenness is due to spirit-possession. Others direct strands of thread to be worn round the abdomen or the neck ; vthers, again, simply write or trace some name or charm of words with the tip of the finger over the womb of the woman or the loins of the man. An exorcist or 'Amil has also to help after conception with the object that the issue may be male. He gives charms to be washed in water for a monthly bath. Some dead Saints have a reputation as child-givers. To tie knots on bits of string or ribbon to a post or pillar supporting the canopy over a Saint's tomb is considered by barren women one of the surest

means of obtaining issue '. 1 The tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti at Fathpur Sikri, by whose intercession Akbar believed that he had been blessed with a son, is even at the present day visited by childless Hindu and l\fosalman women who tie threads or rags on the lovely screen which surrounds it. 2 A tree in the enclosure of the Saint Shaikh 'Alam at Ahmadabad yields a peculiar acorn-like fruit which is much valued by childless wom~n. If the birth of a child follows the eating of the fruit, the man or woman who used it should for a term of years at every anniversary of the death of the Saint come and water the roots of the tree with milk. The leaves of a tree near the grave of Miran Sahib at Anjha have the same effect. The Baloch, when a woman desires a child, hold a staff against a wall and make the woman pass three times beneath it, or she is sent to visit shrines, particularly that of Shah ,vasawa, where she embraces a tree which overhangs his tomb. 3 Other approved methods are: to give the woman a charm or magic diagram which is either washed in rosewater and drunk, or worn round the neck ; to bathe in water drawn from seven wells on the night of the Divii,li or Hindu Feast of Lights, when spirits are abroad ; to scare the evil spirit which besets the woman by abusing her ; to castigate her with a charmed chain ; to write on a piece of bread a series of numbers which make up seventy-three, and give it to a black dog; to burn down the hut of a neighbour to remove the taboo. 4 The Brahm with the same object circumcise the woman, but if the fault is supposed to lie with her husband and a physician fails to remedy it, a Mulla provides a charm or amulet, and if this fails the blame is laid on the Jinn. 6

When conception is announced, the expectant mother is subjected to various taboos, and she takes various precautions to avoid the attacks of evil spirits. All her cravings for food must be indulged, such as that for eating earth, which is supposed to check vomiting. 1 If such things are denied to her, the result will be a miscarriage. In Gujarat she wears silk threads round her waist, each thread bearing a knot for each month of her pregnancy. At the ninth month these are unwound, incense is burned over them, and they are thrown into water. 2 The Diva.Ii or Hindu feast of lights is a specially dangerous time, because evil spirits are likely to be about. She must not enter a shed used at marriage or other festivities ; she must not be present at death or other family rites. She, her husband, and her relatives must not eat anything during an eclipse, because these are supposed to be caused by evil spirits attacking the sun or moon. If anything folded, like betel, is cut at this time, the child will be born with folded ears or will suffer from hare-lip, and if any one smokes, the child will have a weak chest which causes gurgling like that of a tobacco pipe. During an eclipse the friends should pray and read the Koran, lay grain on a bed and give it to friends. During pregnancy the woman should not wear new clothes or ornaments, use eye collyrium, stain her hands or feet with henna, or colour her teeth, because such things attract the Evil Eye. She must not touch a coco-nut or any underground root because such things resist the gatherer, must be dug up with force, and thus delivery may be impeded. Many of these taboos are identical with those of the Hindus or have been borrowed from them. 3

The sex of the expected child may be foretold by an examination of the woman by a committee of midwives. Among the Baloch a house snake is killed and the woman steps over its Jody, and then it is thrown in the air in the hope that it will

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fall on its back, but if it falls on its belly the birth of a daughter is certain. 1 In Baroda a few drops of milk arn squeezed from the woman's breasts, and if the milk is thin the birth of a boy is anticipated. 2

In the Deccan before the announcement of the first pregnancy the woman's lap and that of her husband are filled with fruits of various kinds, her mother sends clothes and the friends arc feasted. The Satmasa, Satwansa or Satwasa, the rite in the seventh month which has been borrowed from the Hindus, is the most important. The woman is invited by her parents, who give her new clothes, perfume her with rose-water and sandalwood, invite a few friends to a party, sit up with her all night, and scare evil spirits by music and festivity. They press a little of her milk on a yellow cloth, and if a white stain is left they expect a girl, if it leavei:i a yellow mark a boy. At the Naumasa, or ninth month, the friends assemble, and the woman is allowed to wear the new clothes and jewellery which up to this time she has discarded. Then comes the Sahnak or pot rite of Bibi Fatima. Food is cooked in little pots, over which the Fatiha 3 or first chapter of the Koran is road in the name of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet, and the food is given to some women who are selected on account of their virtue. Vigil, as before, is kept with rejoicings. In Gujarat slaked lime is served with the food as a sort of ordeal, because it is supposed not to burn the mouth of a chaste woman. 4 The glance of no male, not even that of a boy, must fall on the food thus served, In north India such rites are done four months and five days after the announcement of pregnancy, usually only in the ease of the first child, and also at the ninth month.