Simantam (सीमन्तः)

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Simanta (Samskrit: सीमन्तः) is also called Simantonnayana (सीमन्तोन्नयानम्). Simantonnayana is the third and last of the pre-natal samskaras after the Pumsavana Samskara performed by a practitioner of the Sanatana dharma. The word Simanthonnayana means ‘parting of the hair’ in Samskrit. The parting of a pregnant woman’s hair is the main ritual in this sacrament.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

This rite has a peculiar importance of its own. Though prescribed for a pregnant woman, it has no direct concern with the child to be born ; it has not been prescribed for each pregnancy according to some versions. It is to be performed only at the first pregnancy to purify the would-be mother.

The parted hair seems to be a mark of the matron. As the name of the ceremony implies, the principal rite is that of parting the hair upwards. It is thus probable that there was a particular way of parting the hair downwards, followed by women while they were unmarried, and that they continued to wear their hair in the same way until they became pregnant, when this rite was performed, and after which they perhaps continued to wear their hair parted upwards.[1]

व्युतपत्तिः ॥ Etymology

The term Simanthonnayana is made up of two parts viz. Simanta (सीमन्तः) and Unnayana (उन्नयनम्).

  1. Simanta: 'Sima (सीमा)' means boundary and 'anta (अन्तः)' means end. Thus Simanta refers to the limiting line.
  2. Unnayana: It means parting/lifting/elevating

Thus Simantonnayana is the process of making line by parting of hair (of a pregnant woman).

संस्कारविधिः ॥ Samskara Vidhi

Before the Simantonnayana samskara, other rituals, namely Udakashanthi and prathisara bandha, and homa are performed.

Opening rituals

Udakashanti is performed by invoking Varuna in a kalasha (pot). The kalasha is filled with water and at its mouth are placed are the sprig of mango leaves with the leaves pointing outwards and a coconut placed in the centre of the leaves on the mouth of the kalasha. Mantras are chanted to invoke Varuna and drive away the rakshasas. The kurcha or spreading of the dharba grass around the kalasha is to ward away the obstacles caused by the negative forces (rakshasas). The mango leaves etc., will eradicate other defects (doshas), the coconut which has three eyes will drive away sins.[2]

The ritual includes a homa, where according to the Sutras of Rigveda and some Sutras of the Krishna Yajurveda (Baudhayana, Apastamba and Hiranyakeshi), the deity Dhatr has the preponderance, Raka and Prajapati are secondary deities, while a singular demon Nejamesa is asked to go away. Additionally some sutras prescribe Jaya homa also as a supplementary homa. While the preliminary oblations are being offered, the wife, as in all other Grhayajnas, is sitting with her husband and touching his hand with hers. She has taken a bath and wears new unwashed garments and ornaments.[1]

Pratisara bandha or kankana is to be tied on the wrist of the pregnant lady for protection against evil forces. Then the Brahmins are asked to utter japa of Gayathri and other mantras. These mantras are for invoking the blessings of the devatas and for the well-being of the couple and other around them.” The pratisara bandha is a protective amulet meant to ward off evil spirits and to protect the pregnant lady and her unborn child. This amulet is then tied around the mother-to-be’s left wrist, while uttering a mantra that says, “Let the tying of this thread protect the wearer.” Then the woman (and sometimes her husband too) is bathed with the purified water in the kalash.[2]

Simantonnayana (parting of the hair)

Then follows the principal rite, namely the parting of the hair. She is to sit on a darbha grass asana (according to some sutras) while Paraskara and Jaimini recommend a Bhadrapitha, an auspicious seat or a raised chair for her to sit. As she is sitting there facing east, the husband stands behind her and with a bunch containing an even number of ripe fruits of Udumbara (figs), and with a porcupine’s quill having three white spots on it and with three bunches of Kusha grass, or a Kusha needle. Then he parts the wife’s hair beginning in the front and proceeds backwards, right up to the nape of her neck, using the above mentioned things three times. [1][2]

सीमन्तोन्नयनं प्रथमे गर्भे चतुर्थे मासि (आपस्तम्बगृह्यसूत्रम्, १४.१) sīmantonnayanaṃ prathame garbhe caturthe māsi (Āpastambagṛhyasūtram, 14.1)

Meaning: Parting of hair by the husband is to be performed during the fourth month of first pregnancy (only).

In this samskara, the husband has to do the parting with the quill of a porcupine while reciting certain Mantras. Both Puṃsavanam and Simanta are prescribed during different months by different authors of Gṛhyasūtras. So it is decided that one should follow his own Gṛhyasūtram according to the Veda followed in his lineage (As per Prof. Korada Subrahmanyam).

Supplementary Rites

This principal rite of the Simantonnayana has been supplemented by one of the three supplementary following rites:

  1. Garlanding the wife, with a wreath of Udumbara or Yava (barley) fruit
  2. The wife looking into a pot full of water, clarified butter, rice or other cooked food. Bharadvaja adds that three pots full of cooked rice should be prepared, sprinkled with clarified butter and placed near the Grhya fire, along with a fourth pot full of water.
  3. The drinking of water by the wife. According to Ashvalayana, the parting of the hair is followed by the singing of the lute-players.

Different aspects of Simanta

There are significant variations between the texts as regards to the exact time during the pregnancy, before or after Pumsavana, when the ritual needs to be performed. The sutras differ with each other on other details of the ritual including the asana (seat) the woman should be made to sit on, the direction she should face sitting down and the number of mantras to be chanted.[2]

उपयुक्तकालः ॥ Suitable time for the samskara

The texts vary on whether this rite of passage was to be celebrated before or after pumsavana, or in early or late stage of pregnancy. Aapastambasutra, Baudhayana, Paaraskara and Bhaaradvaja sutras expressly specify that this rite is to be conducted only for the first conception (kshetra samskara). “A woman once purified by the Simantonnayana, every child produced by her becomes consecrated.” Some other sutras opine that the rite is specifically for the foetus (garbha samskara) and has to be repeated at every conception. The texts also do not agree on whether this rite of passage (Simantonnayana) is to be celebrated before or after pumsavana.[2]

According to one scholar, this could have been partly because, in the absence of advanced diagnostic tools, it took longer (than now) for the pregnancy to be observed. But the key reason for the differences in texts is because it is believed the texts came later when the Vedic people had dispersed and settled down in various parts of India and acculturated or absorbed local customs and traditions. The differences are thus attributable to differences in local conventions (paddathis) and family customs (kulaachaara). Thus, the ceremony is prescribed starting from the point in time when the movement of the foetus is detected, to third, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth months and (according to some texts) even at the time of delivery. But, there is one aspect all the texts agree on. They prescribe that the ceremony should be performed during the waxing phase of the moon (Shuklapaksha) during the month when the moon is aligned with a star (nakshatra) that is male. Only the alignment with a male star was considered favourable for producing a male issue.[2]

The Grhyasutras favour the fourth or the fifth month of pregnancy. The Smrtis and the astrological books extend the period up to eighth month or up to the birth of the child.[3]

Devatas invoked during this ritual

The mantras chanted during this ritual invoke Agni (the fire god) seeking his blessings for progeny and freedom from the fear of death. Mantras aimed at pleasing Indra are also chanted. In this ritual, Raaka (goddess of moonlight) is invoked to bless the couple with a son who has a sharp intellect and having a charitable disposition. Blessings of the supreme father, Brahma/Prajapati and the universal mother, Aditi are also sought during the ceremony.[2]

Blessings

The woman is blessed by several older Brahmin ladies, who have borne several children, with the words: You will give birth to a brave child, you will give birth to a living child and you will remain the wife of a living husband.

Before the ceremony ends, the priests recite a hymn for the child to be born without deformity. The prayers are offered to lord Brahma and Soma.

The ceremony ends with the couple receiving the blessings of all the elders present. The guests are fed and sent home with a shagun that includes a fruit or a coconut, betel nut and betel leaves[2]

Purpose of the Samskara

Early references to this ceremony are found in Brahmanas, where the husband says, “As Prajapati establishes the boundary of Aditi for great prosperity, so I part the hair of this woman and make her progeny live to an old age.” (Here Prajapati is taken to refer to the Father (creator) of all living beings and Aditi, to the universal mother.) In the same Brahmana reference is also made to the simile between the Udumbara tree and a fertile woman. In the Grhyasutras the Samskara is described at length and all the features are fully developed.[3]

The primary objective of the ritual appears to be to wish a healthy development of the baby and safe delivery to the mother, although Asvalayana sutra does state that the ritual is intended to ward off certain female goblins that want to destroy the foetus. The text, however, says that the parting of the hair, adorning her with a garland and feeding her boiled rice mixed with mudga (moong bean) and ghee and asking the lute (veena) players to sing indicates the festive nature of the ritual. According to Ayurveda, in the fourth month Hrdayam (the site of mind) of an embryo develops. Then in the fifth month of pregnancy, manas of the baby develops.[4] This newly developed mind can be inflicted by the subtle forces around like grahas, bhutas, rakshasas, pishachas etc. The prayers recited at this time might be acting as an armor. The prayers invoke mahalakshmi devata in Simanta. The husband asks Devi Mahalakshmi to ward off all the evils and protect the child, make his mind pure and bring prosperity. Certain warnings are given to the mother for careful conduct during pregnancy. Husband assures to take responsibility of wife by symbolically doing even parting of her hair during this period.[5] Thus the purpose of this samskara also seems to be aimed at seeking blessings for the intelligence of the unborn child apart from protecting the mother-to-be and ensuring an easy delivery. According to some interpretations, the parting of the hair is believed to be a gesture aimed at calming the mind of the mother-to-be, and to keep her in good cheer, free of worries. This is reflected in the embellishments the husband uses to refer to his wife as ‘one with the glow of a full-moon’ or ‘one with beautiful limbs’ . In essence, this ritual is a celebration of womanhood and soon to be motherhood of a fertile woman.[2]

Significance of hair-parting ritual

Hair has traditionally been a symbol of womanhood and fertility. In a married woman, parted hair and the parting smeared with sindoor symbolize her regulated sexual energies and realised fertility. In contrast, unbound hair represents free and wild fertility, unrestrained by man. And the heads of women who have lost their husbands are totally shorn of hair, representing the loss of (opportunity for) fertility. In the Tamil Sangam classic, Silapathigaaram, on hearing about the unjust death sentence awarded to her husband, Kannagi, the protagonist, takes to the streets of Madurai, with her hair unbound, symbolizing the wild, uncontrolled feminine energy. In the Mahabharatha too, after the incident of Draupadi’s disrobing by Dushasana, she unbinds her hair and takes oath to tie it up only when the shameful act she was subjected to is avenged. She proclaims that she will tie up her hair only when it has been bathed with the blood of Dushasana. Thus, her unbound hair represented her suppressed anger over her defiled femininity, and it served to remind the Pandavas time and again of the disgrace she had met at the hands of the Kauravas. Even today, in Hindu orthodox societies, unbound hair of a woman is considered inauspicious. Married women are expected to keep their hair plaited at all times and are allowed to unbind their hair only on the death of their husbands (before it is totally shaved). Parted hair thus symbolises a woman’s tamed femininity that fits into a regulated family system, where she is under the control of her husband. This aspect of regulated femininity finds resonance in the use of the word ‘boundary’ in the verse from the Mantra Brahmana - “As Prajapati establishes the boundary of Aditi for great prosperity, so I part the hair of this woman.” There is also a reference to the parting of the woman’s hair in the garbhadhana ceremony, when the husband addresses his wife as ‘O thou, whose hair is well parted…’ After the hair parting ritual is completed, the husband asks for the instrument, veena to be played. The notes from the veena are expected to create a soothing atmosphere for the child. Thereafter, the name of the river flowing in that part of the world is invoked and the ruling king is hailed by chanting a mantra.[2]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Deshpande, Kamalabai (1936) The Child in Ancient India. Poona: Aryasamskrti Press (Pages 44-)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Sumati Shridhar. VEDIC FERTILITY RITUALS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE (Pumsavana, Seemanthonayana Samskara: Vedic Pre-natal Rituals) Available from academia.edu
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pandey, Raj Bali. (1949) Hindu Samskaras, A Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Banaras: Vikrama Publications. (Pages 105-115)
  4. Sushruta Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 18,30)
  5. Hindu Samskaras – Pumsavana & Seemantham – Dr. R Thiagarajan