An important ceremony that has lingered long but is conceded as quite superfluous is the upanayana or vratabandha. It marks, ' in theory, the end of childhood and entrance in the stage of pupilage known formerly as Brahmacrya Asrama. At the age of eight in the case of Brahman, ten in the case of a Ksatriya and 12 in the case of a Vaisya, the boy is given in charge of a preceptor who used to have complete control over him for 12 years as regards his intellectual, cultural and specialised training. There were probably not even vacations for returning to parents for small durations.

Now, usually, the upanayana i.e., taking a pupil to his master does take place and the student stage does seriously begin but under altogether altered circumstances. Even in the ceremony itself it is the father who acts as the master who teaches the Gayatri mantra to the boy whose education in the three R's has already begun a year or two before. The Gayatri is an incantation to the sun for intellectual enlightenment, because it was rightly regarded that the sun is really the giver of life to all living creatures on earth including human beings.

This ceremony is known as munja in common parlance because a girdle made of munja grass is used for the boy. In fact the third variant name for this sacrament is called Maunjibandhana. An auspicious day is chosen in one of the five months viz., Caitra. Vaishakha, Jyestha, Magha and Phalguna in consultation with in astrologer who examines the horoscope of the boy concerned and gives him advice. In order to accommodate the guests to be invited for the ceremony, it is usual to erect a mandap and decorate it with an arch of banana trees at the entrance and mango twigs and flowers elsewhere. Drummers and pipers are engaged and friends and relatives are informed about the event in advance. On the western side of the mandap an alter called bahule is raised with its face to the east. As the day comes near, kelvans or gadagners are given by intimate friends and relatives to the boy and his parents as on the occasion of a wedding. A day or two before the day of the upanayana, the parents of the boy first visit the local Canes temple and sometimes other temples also and invite the deities to be present at the ceremony with their retinue. Rice besmeared with red powder is placed before the deities while the invitation is solemnly given. A pinchful of rice is given to all invitees while extending such invitation to them.

Before the ceremony proper, all preliminaries as in the case of a marriage are gone through. They are the ghana, matrkapujan, punyahavacan, devakapratistha and nandisradha. Devakapratistha is the installation of Mandapadevatas or booth-guardians represented by some arecanuts properly placed in a winnowing-fan and duly worshipped. Nandisraddha is invocation to the spirits of the forefathers of the family to be present and give their blessings. After this the boy and his mother are seated on two pats and to the accompaniment of soft music and songs sung by young women relatives, lighted lamps are waved before them. This is followed by the ceremonial shaving of the boys' head. Only a tuft of hair is left at the back. The barber is given a fee and a present for this service. The boy is bathed and dressed and he eats from his mother's plate for the last time. Usually eight boys of his age or any multiple of eight are fed on the occasion and given gifts in coin. This is called matrabhojan and is supposed to mark the end of the child stage of the boy. After this the boy is ready for the main part of the ceremony.

The boy is made to stand on a pat and the father sits on another. They face each other. A sacred cloth curtain is held between them by priests holding the extremities in their hands. Then follows, the recitation of the mangalastakas or lucky compositions chiefly in Sanskrt. Those present throw red rice frequently at them as the chanting goes on. At the fixed auspicious moment, the curtain is removed, when the priests have raised their voice to the highest pitch, the drum players do the same, the boy falls at the feet of his father, he picks him up and seats him on his lap on the right side. Distribution of pansupari, perfume and rose water to the guests follows. It is customary to distribute sweets and coconuts also. The guests then leave, some of them making some present to the boy.

At this point, the real upanayana ceremony begins. The chief priest and Brahmans throw some holy rice and water on the boy's head. He is seated on the right side of his father. A sthandila or earthen altar is made in front of the father, blades of kusa grass are spread over it and a holy fire is kindled on it. The priest has a cotton string, smeared in oil and turned round the boy's wrist and gives him a langoti or loin cloth piece to wear. Another piece of cloth is placed on his shoulder. A string with a piece of deer skin passed into it is hung on his left shoulder in the way the sacred thread or yajnopavita is worn. Offering of ghee, sesamum and seven kinds of dry twigs of various trees are made to the holy fire. The boy is asked to pass between the fire and his father, sip three acamanas (spoonfuls of water) and repeat some texts from the Vedas. He then goes back between the fire and his father and resumes his seat. After a while, with folded hands, he approaches-priest with a prayer that he may be initiated in the Brahmacaryasrama. His request is granted. He is given a yajnopavita, a staff of palas tree and a sermon on how to conduct himself as a Brahmacari. He is taught the Gayatri mantra with his face turned up towards the sun. Some more oblations to the holy fire follow, the boy is made to repeat the Gayatri mantra and the main ritual comes to an end.

The boy has now become a beggar in the exalted sense. He is to subsist on what he gets by begging and pursue his studies. But this is only theory. This begging has now been turned into an occasion of festivity. A procession is organised, bands play, fireworks display is there, friends and relatives in gay clothes join the procession and everybody showers his present on the boy. The last rite is Medhajanana which is a formal prayer to the goddess of mind who is asked to give the boy knowledge, health and wealth.

The samavartana or the coming back of the boy from his preceptor's home used to take place after 12 years' arduous study once upon a time. Now it takes place as soon as possible, sometimes within a week and the boy never really leaves his house. This is known as sodmunja in common parlance. The boy formally gives up his Brahmacaryasram almost as soon as he has entered upon it at the request of his maternal uncle who promises to give his daughter in marriage to him. The ceremony has thus become a misnomer but is observed through sheer force of custom and tradition.

Pregnancy and Child Birth.

Continuity of race is a natural aspiration and whether in the joint families now fast becoming extinct or small family units, the prospect of a baby being born to a young wife is an occasion for rejoicing. It is looked up to as much with eagerness as with anxiety. The pregnant wife is treated with special tenderness whether the event is to take place at her paternal home or her own. Her desires are anticipated and provided for. They are believed to be precursors of the future physical and mental formation of the baby. She is made to observe certain do's and don'ts. Birth marks and congenital characteristics are traditionally attributed to the observance or otherwise of these do's and don'ts. Because of her delicate condition, she is regarded as particularly prone to attacks of evil spirits against which the grhyasutras have prescribed preventives and curatives. Whether people abide by them now-a-days or not, the fact remains that a pregnant woman in a household is shown special consideration.

Maternity homes and modern methods of helping the mother at child birth arc increasingly coming into vogue though the old method still persists. Particularly, it is customary for the expecting mother to go to her parents for her first confinement. If confinement is done in traditional style at the first inception of labour, she is taken to a King in room in the house, which is kept clean, dim-lighted and secured against breezes or air. A carpoy and a cradle are kept ready. An experienced midwife, an old woman of the household sees to all her requirements for the first few days. How the young mother is treated may be described in some detail. For some time, the position of the mother is kept unchanged after parturition. After a while the midwife ties the umbilical cord with a strong cotton thread about three inches away from the navel and cuts it off with a sharp knife. She besmears the spot where the cut was effected with ashes and the mother and child are given an oil-cum-turmeric bath. Turmeric is regarded as a disinfectant and purifying agent. A hot water bath follows and the baby is wrapped up in cloth bandages. The child is dosed a few drops of castor oil mixed with honey. Myrrh incense is burnt and waved all over the place and the mother is disinfected by burning ova And balantsopa. With her baby besides her, the mother is laid on a carpoy covered with warm clothing with a segdi of live fire under it. Cow's urine is sprinkled all about.

A Brahman is called in to recite santipath. Care is taken to keep the mother's room continuously lighted and she is provided constant company of some one or other. For ten days she is given particularly nutritious diet and even afterwards specially prepared nutritious eatables like ghee, dates, almonds, etc., are given. The fifth and sixth day worships are regarded as particularly important for the new born babe. Some deities are supposed to be presiding over the baby's future and they are required to be duly propitiated. An arecanut cutter and some sharp instrument like a sword or sickle are placed on a low stool and offered sandal paste and flowers in the name of the deity who presides over the baby's fate on the fifth day. On the sixth day, a blank sheet of paper, a red pen and ink are set on a low stool and are worshipped as on the fifth day. The sixth day deity is supposed to inscribe on the baby's forehead its future. The mother prays on both days for their benedictions. On both days, friends and relatives are feasted. For ten days, the mother is not touched by any one except the midwife, the family also observes suher (ceremonial impurity) and abstains from usual religious performances during the first ten days after child birth. but this observance has now practically disappeared. On the eleventh day, the mother is given a purificatory bath with the baby and then members of the family can touch her and the baby. The midwife is given suitable presents. The twelfth day is a festival day when friends and relatives bring presents to mother and child. A name is given to the child and its ears pierced with a gold wire.

A male off-spring is highly prized at the first arrival and somehow or other the belief still persists that male babies are more precious than female ones. The idea is so strongly embedded in the social system that even while blessing young bride, the elderly people and venerable priests wish that she be blessed with eight sons, as if the world would ran without females being born at all. The caul or cudakarma sacrament i.e., the first cutting of the hair on the head was once ceremoniously performed but has now almost disappeared among most communities.

Death Rituals.

The general custom among Hindus in regard to the disposal of the dead is to. cremate them. It is only the children below five and sanyasis are buried. When a person is on the point of death, it is customary for his eldest son, a nephew or a brother to place the dying person's head on his lap and put Ganga water (generally preserved in most Hindu households in a sealed small jar) and a leaf of the Tulsi plant in the mouth of the dying person. Some people even put a small piece of gold with Ganga water. When death takes place, the dead body is put on a woollen cloth and allowed to rest there till friends, relatives and neighbours arrive. Preparations to lake the dead body to the cremation ground start. A bier of bamboo poles and pieces is prepared with a white cloth. to cover up the body on all sides. Only the head and face are kept uncovered. Before putting the dead body on the bier, it is given a bath. Two new earthen pots one to fill with water and another to carry live fire are prepared. Arrangements are made to send firewood and cowdung cakes to the cremation ground. Of late, many people remove the dead bodies in a specially made hand cart provided by municipalities for the purpose. Betel leaves and gulal (red powder) are spread on the cloth covering the body and the head. Four nearest relatives of the deceased carry the body on their shoulders, led by the eldest son of the deceased or a very near relative. Others follow in a procession. The leader of the party carries the funeral fire in the earthen pot in his right hand. The both is properly placed between layers of firewood and cowdung cakes. Some sandal wood and Tulsi plant sticks are added and in the case of the dvijas, fire is set to the heap with Vedic mantras. Mourners wait on the ground till the sound of the bursting of the skull is heard. The son and the four body-bearers take a bath, a stone is picked up as representative of the soul of the dead, water oblations to the dead are offered by friends and relatives and the party returns home with the stone, for it is required till the obsequies are over.

On the third day, but now-a-days generally on the next day some friends and relatives go to the burning place and gather the bones that might have been left with the ashes and they are thrown in a river. Those who can afford it take them to Prayag for being thrown in the Sangam, i.e., confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati or to some other holy place like Nasik. On the tenth day. all relatives bathe and wash their clothes. The stone is propitiated with a proper sraddha ceremony at the burning ghat. At the time of offering the rice balls to the. dead, it is customary to wait for a crow to touch them. If that is done, it is regarded as an assurance that the deceased has all his earthly desires fulfilled. If not assurances are given by responsible persons to anticipate and fulfil them. After this is gone through, the mourners bathe and return home. Sometimes, in addition to the usual daksina presents like a pair of dhotis and shoes, an umbrella and a cow for the use of the dead in the other world are given to a Brahman.

On the eleventh day, the mourning period is over. Pancagavya is sipped and fresh sacred threads are worn. On the twelfth day what is known as sapinda sraddha is performed whereby the dead person is supposed to join his father or grandfather and that the trio is remembered as the trio for sraddha purposes by the family thereafter. On the thirteenth day, a sraddha is performed when friends and relatives are invited to dinner and normal business is resumed. The tendency now-a-days is to cut down the ritual as much as possible and remember only the anniversary. Instead of the traditional sraddha which involves feeding of Brahmans etc., educated people prefer to give suitable donations to deserving causes and institutions in the name of the dead. The sraddha called paksa in the second half of the month of Bhadrapad is also being dispensed with as superfluous and redundant. According to orthodox custom, friends and relatives present the chief mourner with a turban, new clothes and ask him not to grieve any more. This is in consonance with the injunction for the thirteenth day prescribed by the Smrtis.