Annaprashana (Samskrit:अन्नप्राशनम्) is the samskara of feeding the child with solid food for the first time in its life. Feeding with solid food is the next important stage in the life of the child after stepping out of the house. Until this stage the child was fed on mother's milk. As the child develops it requires greater amount of nutrients. Hence around six months of age the child is started on increased nourishment. It is introduced with different types of food, along with mother's milk for additional supplements.
परिचयः ॥ Introduction
Anna (अन्नम्), is a lifegiving substance and has long been recognised as the constituent of the Annamayakosha, the physical body. People were aware from the ancient time that there was something mysterious about it from which life emanated. That source of energy was to be infused into the child with the help of deities.
Annaprashana marks this event of the child where solid food is introduced to it. Thus this Samskara was connected with the satisfaction of the physical need of the child. This fact is endorsed by Acharya Sushruta, who prescribes the weaning of a child in the sixth month and describes the types of food to be given. It was only later on that this system of feeding the child for the first time assumed a religions shape. For the benefit of the child and the mother both', it was thought necessary that the child should not be wholly dependent on mother's milk and some substitute for her milk should be given to the baby.
Annam means cooked rice and prāśanam is feeding. The child is to be fed rice mixed with ghee and other items–
जन्मनोऽपि षष्ठे मासि ब्राह्मणान् भोजयित्वा आशिषो वाचयित्वा दधिमधुघृतम् ओदनम् इति संसृज्य अवदाय उत्तरैः मन्त्रैः कुमारं प्राशयेत्। आपस्तम्बगृह्यसूत्रम् १६.१॥ janmano'pi ṣaṣṭhe māsi brāhmaṇān bhojayitvā āśiṣo vācayitvā dadhimadhughṛtam odanam iti saṃsṛjya avadāya uttaraiḥ mantraiḥ kumāraṃ prāśayet। Āpastambagṛhyasūtram 16.1॥
वेदेषु अन्नप्राशनविषयाः ॥ Annaprashana in Vedic times
Food has been regarded as the most important tattva of human existence in Vedas and Upanishads and many mantras are dedicated to its praise but the ceremony of celebrating the first solid diet to the child seems to have originated in the much later times. We find multiple mantras in Yajurveda relating the importance of Anna, and they are uttered during the process of Annaprāśaṇa Saṁskāra.
अन्नात्पुरुषः । स वा एष पुरुषोऽन्नरसमयः । (Tait. Upan. 2.1.1)
From Anna came forth the Purusha. Man's body is made up of essence (ras) of Annam (food). As the child grows in age, it demands more nutrition. The child must adapt to the regular sources of nutrition, but it is not until he has gained some strength and grown the system of digestion to assimilate the food that forms the regular diet of human beings. The religious dimension with this ceremony was attached for the purpose of seeking blessings as feeding the solid diet was introduction of something unusual and considered to be sensitive. Hence it was thought important that divine blessings be sought so that everything went well and child stayed unharmed. Atharvaveda describes the importance of Anna as follows.
शिवौ ते स्तां व्रीहियवावबलासावदोमधौ । एतौ यक्ष्मं विबाधेते एतौ मुञ्चतो अंहसः ॥१८॥ (Atha. Veda. 8.2.18)
Let rice and barley (because they are food for devatas) be good and auspicious for you, nourishing, health giving, exhilarating, resistant to debilitating and consumptive conditions (such as tuberculosis). They protect you against sickness, disease and ailments and save you from papam (sin) and anxiety.
अन्नप्राशनम् ॥ Annaprashana Samskara
Time of Performance
According to many Grhyasutras, the ceremony was to be performed in the sixth month after the birth of the child.
षष्ठे मासेऽन्नप्राशनम् १ (Para. Grhy. Sutr. 1.19.1) षष्ठेऽन्नप्राशनं मासि यद्वेष्टं मङ्गलं कुले । । २.३४ । । (Manu. Smrt. 2.34)
Langakshi however, differs about the time and prescribes an individual test when the child could digest solid food. He gives the option, "Or after teeth come out." Teeth were the visible signs that the child was able to take solid food. Giving food before the fourth month was strictly prohibited. For weak children further extension of time was allowed. The feeding ceremony should be performed in the sixth solar month after the birth; if postponed, in the eighth, ninth or tenth month; some view that it might be performed when the child is one year old. Even months for boys and odd ones for girls were prescribed.
Different kinds of Food
The types of food were also mentioned in the texts. The simple prescription was that food of all kinds and of different sorts of flavours should be mixed together and given to the child to eat. At this time of growth there is requirement of salt in the food for the child. Since it is also the teething time, children tend to consume mud and as such giving food with salt helps to stop such activities. Some prescribe a mixture of curd, honey and ghee. Different kinds of food, including meat, were recommended for different ends. The later-day tendency, however, was towards vegetarianism, it was due to the belief in non-violence which influenced the Indian diet to a great extent. But animal products like curd, ghee and milk were still retained and regarded as the choicest articles of food for the child. The Markandeya-Purana recommends a mess of milk and rice with honey and ghee. It later on became a practice of giving milk and rice during Annaprashana and even in daily routine.
Whatever the type of food may be, one thing was kept in mind that it should be light and conducive to the health of the child. Sushruta says, “One should feed the child in the sixth month with light and suitable food’’.
The auspicious day is chosen as per the panchanga. On the day of the feeding ceremony 'the materials of sacrificial food were first of all cleansed and then cooked with appropriate Veda mantras. Speech, vigour, breath, and sense organs are invoked with appropriate mantras for the well being of the body which is made of "Anna". Here "Anna" is used in a wide sense. The prayer was offered that all the senses of the child should be gratified so that he may live a happy and contended life. In the end the father set apart food of all kinds and flavours for feeding the child and fed it silently or with the syllable “Hant (well!)’’. The ceremony terminated with the feasting .of the Brahmans.
At this time another cultural aspect is included in the sacrament. A pen, a book, toys, sweets, some astra (like a knife) like things, gold ornaments and many such things are kept in front of the crawling child. The child is left free to find out what things attract the child's attention to a great extent. The kind of thing that the child has an attraction for, it is said, describes the child's future interests in life and so the elders have a clue about the direction in which the child has to be encouraged.
The significance of the Annaprashana-Sanskara was that the children were weaned away from their mothers at proper time. They were not left at the caprice of their parents who often injure their children by overfeeding them without taking into consideration their digestive capacity. The feeding ceremony also warned the mother that at a certain time she should stop suckling the child. The ignorant mother, out of love for her child, goes on suckling it up to year or more, thereby she allows her own energy to be sapped away without doing real good to the child. A timely caution was given by the ceremony for the benefit of both the child and the mother.
Since the prescription of solid food contains rice, corn, curd, ghee, some kinds of fruits etc, the nutrient intake of the child significantly increases to fulfil its biological demands. Nutrition-wise the food given to the child should have specified levels of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins, and fiber; alongside on many labels it is mentioned that "Breast milk is best for your baby. Give cereals in addition to mother's milk". Unfortunately, due to various reasons the mothers of present times are refraining from breast feeding their infants. While Annaprashana focuses on additional supplements, breast feeding till the specified age is a requirement. Today we find that tinned food or processed food is greatly used in many parts of the world to reduce the burden of cooking fresh food. Such measures are detrimental to the child who at such a young age is exposed to the harmful chemicals used in preparing processed foods. The aim of Annaprashana is to introduce a wholesome diet to the child with the element of sacredness and purity in the act of eating food. Though the child is personally unaware of the benefits of the samskara, it instills sanctity and carefulness in the mother to prepare a healthy diet for the child.
आयुर्वेदे अन्नप्राशनम् ॥ Annaprashana as in Ayurveda
Annaprashana Samskara (अन्नप्राशन संस्कारः) is described in detail in Kashyapa Samhita (काश्यप संहिता), an authoritative text on pediatrics in Ayurveda written by Acharya Kashyapa. Acharya Kashyapa has advised to perform the ceremony of Annaprashana (अन्नप्राशनम्) in the 6th or 10th month of age   While acharya Sushruta and Vagbhata have advised this ceremony in the 6th month of age only. Acharya Kashyapa has stated that at the 6th month of age when the child hasn't developed teeth, only the fruits or fruit juices (liquids) need to be introduced and slowly when in the10th month of age child develops teeth, soft solids like rice are to be introduced to the child. This samskara is usually celebrated as a ceremony and an detailed account on it has been given by Acharya Kashyapa.
संस्कारविधिः ॥ Samskara vidhi or ceremony
The samskara has been described in brief below,
- An auspicious day in the 6th month is selected for Phalaprashana (फलप्राशनम्) and an auspicious day in 10th month like the one having Prajapatya (प्राजापत्यम्) constellation is selected for Annaprashana samskara of a child.
- On that day, a well ventilated spacious place in a house is selected, cleaned thoroughly, sacred symbols like swastika are painted on a square drawn on the floor for keeping Annaprashana related food items. Over that, pitchers filled with water and decorated with flower garlands are placed, Along with that, various food items especially liquid foods like milk, ghee, honey, curd, cereals, fruits/fruit juices are kept in attractive containers or pots. For phalaprashana liquids should be selected and served while for annaprashana various soft solid foods like rice, non-vegetarian foods as per the culture & tradition, sweets and other delicious cuisines should be prepared and kept in attractive decorated jars and pots.
- The place is decorated and made attractive by using flowers, garlands and attractive toys.
- Prayers are offered to Devata and brahmanas performing samskara.
- Then at first, respects are paid to Prthvi (पृथ्वी) i.e. land or soil on which the child sits to eat and which holds the entire universe at place. (Arghyadaana : अर्घ्यदानम्)
- The child whos Phalaprashana or annaprashana samskara is to be performed should then be brought to that place after giving bath, wearing new cloths and ornaments.
- The child is made to sit facing west while a vaidya who is advised to be present during Samskara stands in front of him/her facing east.
- During Phalaprashana the child is made to sit in front of the liquids and the one he touches first is then offered to him in very little introductory quantity. Kashyapa described that the fruit pulp/juice or rice at first day should be given only 3 to 5 times and that too in a dose that would stay on his/her thumb of hand. Once the ceremony of introducing baby to the food is over, he is then permitted to play with the toys and mingle with other children.
- For Annaprashana, whatever food items are prepared for the samskara are first offered to Agni devata (अग्निदेवता) (oblation to ignited fire) in a puja chanting following mantra praising Anna or ahara (अन्नम् वा आहारः) and its importance to mankind.
यथा सुराणाममृतं नागेन्द्राणां यथा सुधा । तथाऽन्न प्राणिनां प्राणा अन्नं चाहुः प्रज।पतिम् ॥१६॥
त लिन लोकाश्चैव यथा ह्यमी ! जुद्यमि तस्मात्छय्यन्नमग्नेऽमृतसुखोपगम् ॥ १७॥
प्रजापतिरवमन्यतां साहा । (Kash. Samh. 12.16-17)
yathā surāṇāmamr̥taṁ nāgendrāṇāṁ yathā sudhā । tathā'nna prāṇināṁ prāṇā annaṁ cāhuḥ praja।patim ॥16॥
ta lina lokāścaiva yathā hyamī ! judyami tasmātchayyannamagne'mr̥tasukhopagam ॥ 17॥
prajāpatiravamanyatāṁ sāhā । (Kash. Samh. 12.16-17)
- In this way, first the respects are paid to Anna or ahara (अन्नम् वा आहारः), and only then that food is offered to the child. The food remnant from the sacred offerings to Agni is then taken in a bowl, mashed and made even more soft and then it is fed to the child 3 to 5 times. The quantity of the food should be such that it can stay (be accommodated) on his/her thumb of hand i.e. very little to begin with.
- Once the solids are introduced to the child, Acharya Kashyapa advises that he can be fed these foods every 2nd or 3rd time of feed as the child demands till he becomes 1 year old. Later after 1 year of age foods can be given more frequently.
बालकस्य प्रकृतिनुसारिणाः भक्ष्याः तेषाम् गुणाः च ॥ Types of foods to be fed to child as per prakrti and their properties
The food that is fed to the child in infancy should be of certain properties so as to suit his physiological and structural status at that time. That means the child's digestive system is not completely developed to digest complex substances and even teeth are not fully erupted thus he/she can not eat the food like grown up adults. However, child's growth and development are in very fast pace thus he/she requires food that will fulfill his/her nutritional demands but at the same time it would be suitable for a child to chew, bite, gulp and digest. Therefore acharya Kashyapa has given a guideline on how the food for infant should be selected especially for annaprashana samskara or while introducing food for the first time. The guidelines are as below,
- The ingredients of the preparation : The child should be fed especially rice, shashti rice (षष्टिशाली : a variety of rice that grows fully in 60 days thus considered light for digestion) which is old (an year old produce). It should be properly dehusked, washed with water and then roasted till becomes light. Then it is cooked in ample amount of water and the water that remains after cooking or gruel made from it (having liquid consistency) should be taken. Then sufficient amount of fats like ghee should be added to it along with the salt to taste. It should be served fresh and warm. Such preparation should be fed to the child. A preparation made with this method is nourishing for the child and provides strength. Alternatively other grains like wheat, barley can be used sometimes instead of rice. If the child gets watery stools in this period, then the kodrava (कोद्रव : kodo millet, food grain used in India traditionally, which binds the stools and helps stop loose motions) grain can be added in the meal. 
- The child who is having Pitta dominant prakrti (प्रकृतिः), should be always given a jam made up of black currents, honey and ghee. This should be served along with the meals or mixed into the food preparation.
- The child with Vata dominant Prakrti should be fed meal added with a pinch of salt and few drops of wild lemon (Matulunga मातुलुंग: Citron or wild lemon, Citrus medica Linn.) juice. 
- Finally the food should be fed to the child as every second or third feed in the beginning because the need for breast feed will not stop immediately. It should be gradually tapered and the food is slowly introduced in it's place. The frequency of the feeds to be decided on the basis of his desha (देशः place of living), agni (अग्निः digestive capacity of the child), Kala (कालः season and time of the day) and balam (बलम् strength) of the child. A qualified vaidya can help parents to asses these parameters and guide on the frequency of feeding after examining the child. Once must take care that the child should be always assessed for his agni (अग्निः) before deciding his food frequency and ingredients. If he feels hungry more frequently than others (probably because of more activities) he/she should be fed as and when he/she demands for food. 
|Properties according to Ayurveda
|Rice and its varieties
|मधुराः स्निग्धा बल्या बद्धाल्पवर्चसः |
कषाया लघवो रुच्याः स्वर्या वृष्याश्च बृंहणाः
|Sweet in taste, nourishing, easily digestible, nutritious
|गोधूमो मधुरः शीतो वातपित्तहरो गुरुः |
कफशुक्रप्रदो बल्यः स्निग्धः सन्धानकृत्सरः | 
|Sweet in taste, cooling, nourishing, unctuous, strenghthening
|यवः कषायो मधुरः शीतलो लेखनो मृदुः |
व्रणेषु तिलवत्पथ्यो रूक्षो मेधाग्निवर्द्धनः
कटुपाकोऽनभिष्यन्दी स्वर्यो बलकरो गुरुः | बहुवातमलो वर्णस्थैर्यकारी च पिच्छिलः कण्ठत्वगामयश्लेष्मपित्तमेदःप्रणाशनः |
|Sweet and astringent in taste, cooling, gentle, kindles digestive fire, strengthening, boosts intelligence, helps in wound healing.
|कोद्रवो वातलो ग्राही हिमपित्तकफापहः | 
|Cooling in nature, helpful in loose motions, reduces kapha and pitta doshas.
|NA (Sodium chloride)
|सैन्धवं तत्र सस्वादु वृष्यं हृद्यं त्रिदोषनुत्||१४४||
लघ्वनुष्णं दृशः पथ्यमविदाह्यग्निदीपनम् 
|balances all 3 doshas. Easy to digest, kindles digestive fire, cardiotonic, envigorating
|ghee or oil (or edible fats)
औषधं स्नेहनं प्रायो 
|All the fats are little heavy to digest, cooling, display laxative property, gentle, soft, liquid and can reach upto very fine/subtler levels in body.
|द्राक्षा पक्वा सरा शीता चक्षुष्या बृंहणी गुरुः |
स्वादुपाकरसा स्वर्या तुवरा सृष्टमूत्रविट्
कोष्ठमारुतकृद् वृष्या कफपुष्टिरुचिप्रदा | हन्ति तृष्णाज्वरश्वासवातवातास्रकामलाः कृच्छ्रास्रपित्तसंमोहदाहशोषमदात्ययान् | 
|Ripe black raisins are laxative, cooling, good for eyes, nourishing, envigorating, voice & taste enhancers. Helpful in thirst, fever, breathlessness, jaundice, bleeding disorders, giddiness, burning sensation and intoxications.
|बीजपूरफलं स्वादु रसेऽम्लं दीपनं लघु |
रक्तपित्तहरं कण्ठजिह्वाहृदयशोधनम् |
श्वासकासारुचिहरं हृद्यं तृष्णाहरं स्मृतम् 
|It is sweet and sour in taste, Kindles digestive fire, easy to digest, clears throat, tongue and hrudayam. Helpful in breathlessness, cough, tastelessness and excess thirst.
It is accepted even by western medical science that ideally the child should be exclusively breast fed up to the 6th month of age. It is till this time that his digestive system organs and their function is not fully matured. However, the child's growth and development happens in a fast pace. Till the age of 6 months, breast milk can fulfill all the requirements of the child. But, after 6 months, the child's digestive system get ready to digest complex food substances. The child starts sitting with own support, rolls from prone to supine position. Teeth eruption also starts in child by this time These activities certainly require more energy than sleeping or laying down activity of child previously. Thus the nutritional requirements of child increase. Breast milk is deficient in iron, vitamin A, D, K and calcium.. Rich carbohydrate, fatty & proteinaceous food in solid form can only fulfil the nutritional needs. Thus, this is the right time to introduce solid food to child in addition to breast feed. A child who receives solid food late, suffers from a number of deficiency diseases like rickets, scurvy etc. Therefore, by performing the ceremony and starting the external food like fruits and other easily digestible solid foods through Phalaprashana and Annaprashana samskara to the child, one can reduce the deficiency of essential vitamins and other nutrients and prevent deficiency diseases which might occur if the nutrition of the child is neglected.
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- Taittriya Upanishad (Brahmananda Valli)
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