chapter  IV
5 Pages

INITIATION, BIRTHDAYS

THE rite of initiation, Bi'smillah, ' pronouncing the name of God ',1 is observed when a boy or girl has reached the age of four years four months and four days. In the case of girls the plaiting of the side locks (:palgundhan, pahlugundhan) is done for the first time at this rite. Strings of black silk are plaited into the longhair, the braids or plaits must be uneven in number, and women swear by them as men do by their beards. 2 During two or three days before the rite, the child is dressed from head to foot in yellow clothes, Chiksa or scented powder is rubbed on his body by women whose husbands are alive (suhagan), and he is seated in a room with a canopy over his head, and coloured clothes hung round to resemble a throne. Every morning and evening while he is being massaged, musicians play and the child is not allowed to walk about. This part of the rite is called in south India 'sitting in state' (manja, manjha baithna). 3 The day before the ceremony the lady guests are invited by sending round cardamoms to their houses, and other friends by letter in the following form : ' To such a one, the obliger of friends, greeting ! At this poor man's house his son (or daughter, as the case may be) is this evening to be taught to repeat the name of God (Bi'smillah-khwani). I beg that you by joining the party will grace the assembly with your presence and joyfully partake of something. For by so doing you will afford me peculiar pleasure '. Then the men and women meet apart. The. child having been well bathed in the afternoon, and all the perfumed paste removed from his body, his yellow dress is exchanged for better garments, red or white, made of various kinds of brocade or other stuffs. Gold or silver amulets, which some of the friends may have

given, are hung on his neck, and he is perfumed. Garlands of flowers are hung round his neck and wrists and a wreath made of gold wire (sehara, sehra) over his forehead. Thus bedecked, he is seated in the presence of his family tutor or some Mashaikh or venerable personage. Near them are placed trays with sweetmeats, two of the largest balls having gold or silver paper pasted over them, with other gifts including a small gold or silver plate and a pen and inkstand intended as gifts for the tutor. He, after reciting the Fatiha over the food in the name of the Prophet--on whom be the Peace !-writes on a plate with his pen dipped in sandalwood the words ' In the name of C:r0d, the Merciful, the Compassionate ! ' and orders the child to lick it off. He lays the two ornamented sweet balls in the child's hands to tempt him to perform his task. It is also the rule to write the first chapter of the Koran on red paper, but those who can afford it write this on a gold or silver plate, and givii.g it to the boy or girl require him or her to repeat first the words 'In the name of God, the Merciful, the· Compassionate!' and afterwards f:rom the ninety-sixth chapter the opening words : ' Recite thou in the name of the Lord who created, created man from clots of blood ! Recite thou ! For thy Lord is most beneficent, who has taught the use of the pen, hath taught that thou knowest not ! ' This being the first sentence of the Koran revealed to the Prophet-on whom be the Blessing !-it is considered of high value, and is taught to children. In north India the words of the blessing are engraved on a small silver tablet which the child, after repeating the words, hands to the old man after whom he has said them. 1 Presents are then made to the tutor, .and the child rises from his seat, salutes his tutor, and the friends present who give him presents. Then the sweets over which the Fatiha has been said are placed on the Dastarkhwan or dining cloth, and with other food are served to the guests. Next day the lady guests are sent home in litters after the host has given them presents. After this the boy is sent to school. In Gujarat the boy is sent to visit. the shrine of the family Saint, and when he returns the women surround him and each strives to be the first to _take his troubles upon herself

(balaen lend} by passing her hands over him from head to foot, and then pressing against his temples her knuckles and fingertips till they crack. 1

The mode of sending invitations to guests to attend family rites is of great importance. In the Deccan and south India female guests receive invitations (da'wat) to attend these and other rites by the sending of cardamoms (ilachi}, while men are generally invited by letter. When ladies are invited, some woman who is in the habit of going about the bazars and lanes of the town or city is employed as a messenger. She is decked in her best clothes, and, accompanied by musicians, she starts with a plate in her hand containing sandalwood, packets of betel-leaf and areca nut, with sugar candy and cardamoms wrapped in red paper, a packet for each guest. She approaches the lady with much respect, and making a salutation she delivers the message in these terms : ' Such and such a lady (naming her) sends her best compliments and embraces to you, and informs you that tomorrow there will be a little gaiety at her house. She wishes all her lady friends by their presence to grace and ornament with their feet the house of this poor person, and thereby to make it a garden of roses. So you must certainly come, and by remaining a couple of hours honour her humble abode by your company '. Should the lady accept the invitation, the bearer of the cardamoms rubs a little sandalwood paste on her neck, breast, and back, and puts her share of the sugar candy and cardamoms into her mouth, or these things are handed to her with the packet of betel-leaves. If the lady declines the invitation, sandalwood alone is applied, and a packet of betel without any of the cardamoms and sugar candy is handed to her. When the messenger has finished the round of visits and announced the names of those who have

accepted the invitation of her employer, next day a litter (doli), accompanied by a maid-servant, is sent to fetch each guest. If the lady of the house be poor, she merely sends her own maid-servant to escort the guests to her house a little before daybreak.