Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

2016 Trinidad and Tobago Volume 16, Number 2
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bbean Divali Publication Ltd. 2016 Indo-Caribbean Divali Publication Ltd. 2016 Indo-Caribbean Divali Publication Ltd. 2016 Indo-Caribbean C

Divali Festival in Trinidad and Tobago
by Dr. Kumar Mahabir

Trinidad and Tobago, land of
Carnival, steelband, tassa, calypso
and chutney, is the same country that
gives the world its unique brand of
Divali. In fact, the Hindu Festival of
Lights has become Trinidad’s second
largest, national open-air festival,
second only to Carnival.
Divali is a welcome alternative to
the rambunctious indulgence in
meat, alcohol, party and “wine”. The
celebration is arguably the largest
vegetarian, alcohol-free festival in
the Caribbean, if not the Western
Hemisphere. Divali is an event that
the Ministry of Tourism can market
as a major attraction in the fastestgrowing, international marketplace
of spiritual tourism.
Divali is one of the festivals which
establishes Trinidad as a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society. Hindus
comprise the second-largest religious
group (24%) after Roman Catholics
in the twin-island’s population of
1.3 million people. While Divali is
essentially a Hindu festival, people
of all faiths enthusiastically celebrate
the triumph of light over darkness,
knowledge over ignorance, and good
over evil. The non-Hindu supporters
are attracted to the festival’s universal message as well as to the unique
festivities which also provide a clean
environment for the cultivation of a
healthy body, mind and soul.

Only in Trinidad do non-Hindus
and non-Indians actively participate
in lighting over ten million deyas
annually during Divali celebrations.
These tiny clay lamps are lit in
homes, yards, streets, offices, public
parks and playing fields. Perhaps
only in Trinidad, one can find split
bamboo tubes transformed into
magnificent works of art on which
the deyas are set. The split bamboo
strips reach out toward neighbouring
houses, streets and communities to
symbolise the popular local mantra
“all ah we is one.”
Celebrants are overwhelmed by the
urge to decorate their surroundings
and they take great pride in completing their task. Multi-coloured
and multi-patterned streamers are
made with kite paper and plastic,
and strung from jhandi [flag] poles.
Brightly coloured fabric, balloons
and bulbs decorate homes, offices
and stages. Indeed, Divali heralds
the joy of the end-of-year celebrations. Strings of twinkling lights –
clear and coloured – are strung high
on buildings, trees, and even across
streets. Effigies of Mother Lakshmi
are made from bamboo tubes and
large cardboard cut-outs. Calligraphy
on signs and banners glitters with
decorative paint. The starry designs
of deyas and bulbs transform simple
houses into magical kingdoms.

The 2005 edition of the ICC magazine on the theme “Temples and
Tourism in Trinidad” won an Excellence-in-Journalism Award.

ISSN 1683-4143
Volume 17, Number 2
Publisher:
Indo-Caribbean Cultural
Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC)
Editor-in-Chief and Chairman:
Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Researchers:
Karishma Manan, Neisha Surujmal
& Dr. Chandra Mukherji
Proof reader:
Kaajal Teemal
Advertising:
Ramona Harripersad and Lisa Persad
Photographer:
Kumar Mahabir
Cover photo:
Preddie Partap
Cover and page design:
Preddie Partap
Chief Financial Officer:
Mera Heeralal
Main reference source:
Traditional Medicine & Women Healers
in Trinidad by Kumar Mahabir
Indo-Caribbean Cultural
Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC)
10 Swami Avenue, Don Miguel Road,
San Juan, Trinidad and
Tobago, Caribbean
Tel: (868) 674-6008
Tel/fax: (868) 675-7707
E-mail: dmahabir@gmail.com,
indocaribbeanstaff@gmail.com,
Website: http://icctrinidad.
wordpress.com
Copyright ©
ICC 2016. All rights reserved.
The writing, artwork and/or
photography contained herein
may be used or reproduced ONLY
with written permission of the
Chairman of ICC, or his agents.
Disclaimer
Although all efforts have been made
to ensure accuracy of the contents
of this publication, ICC cannot
accept responsibility for errors,
omissions or advice given. The views
expressed in this magazine are
not necessarily those of ICC.

Editorial

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu
Childbirth Ceremonies in Trinidad and Tobago
In the Ramayana, the Hindu scripture written in 500 BC in India, the
chatti [sixth-day childbirth ceremony] of Lord Rama, the son of a king,
is described lyrically:
“There was happy music of festivity
in every house for the very fountain
of beauty manifested himself. All
the men and women of the city were
full of joy, everywhere. The city
was full of flags and banners and
festal arches. …Showers of flowers
dropped from heaven ….
“Women streamed forth in troops ….
carrying jars of gold and salvers full
of auspicious articles. They entered
the grounds of the royal palace
singing as they went along. Waving
lights and passing offerings round
and round over the child’s head
as an act of exorcism. They threw
themselves at the babe’s feet again
and again. Bars, minstrels, panegyrists and songsters chanted solemn
praises to the Lord of the Raghus
[dynasty].”
Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago, and
elsewhere, have been profoundly
influenced by the holy Ramayana,
the longest epic poem in the world.
The poem is dramatised in the
form of Ramleela, which has been
proclaimed as a “Masterpiece of

the Oral and Intangible Heritage of
Humanity” by UNESCO in 2005.
Therefore, it is not surprising that
the Ramayana has also inspired
participants of the chatti and barahe
[12th day] celebrations in Trinidad
even after the birth of Rama which
was 7,130 years ago, and at such
a distance ((14,459 km (8,984)
airplane miles)) from India.
Among all ethnic groups in Trinidad
and Tobago, Hindus perform the
most intricate childbirth ceremony.
The sixth-day postnatal chatti
ceremony is both a celebratory and
social proclamation of the safe return
of the new mother and her newborn
from the perils of childbirth. Some
families prefer to observe the birth
celebration on the twelfth day, in
which case it is known as a barahe
and is of greater magnitude than the
sixth-day celebration.
This is one of the rare Hindu religious ceremonies in which a female
[masseuse] officiates. She prepares
and administers a brew made from
the rhizomes of both the hardi
and ginger plants. The masseuse
[dhagrin, or maidy] also gives the
new mother and her newborn their
first full-body ritualised herbal
bath. The masseuse also performs

Dr Kumar Mahabir, Assistant Professor
University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT)
Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Florida
Chairman, Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd (ICC)

other rituals such as gently tossing
the baby into the air, dragging the
newborn in a scoop (“soop”), applying kajal [lamp mascara] to the
baby’s eyes, and dotting her forehead [tika] to protect the newborn
from being infected by najar [evil
eye]. For several days, the traditional
masseuse massages the baby and the
new mother, and she also attends to
the maternal abdominal band.
On the evening of the celebration,
guests arrive and are served food
and drinks. The celebrations begin
with a long night of noisy rejoicing
when sohar and chutney songs are
rendered in Hindi and English. The
participation of relatives from both
sides of the family emphasises the
importance of birth in continuing
family lines and cementing family
bonds.
The chatti and barahe ceremonies
are observed as a triumph and
thanksgiving over infant mortality,
particularly perinatal mortality. The
World Health Organization (WHO)
defines perinatal mortality as the
number of stillbirths and deaths in
the first week [7 days] of life per
1,000 total births. In 2013, about 2.6
million babies died before reaching
their first month in the world.

HONOURABLE MINISTER OF COMMUNITY
DEVELOPMENT, CULTURE AND THE ARTS
DIVALI GREETINGS 2016
It is with pleasure that I take this opportunity to extend
Divali greetings to the readers of the Indo-Caribbean
Cultural Centre Co. Ltd.’s Divali Festival Souvenir
Magazine, the Hindu community and all citizens of
Trinidad and Tobago.
At the Ministry of Community Development, Culture
and the Arts, we are building resilient and culturally
enriched communities. With responsibility for community-empowerment programmes and projects, as well
as the development of the cultural and creative sectors
towards a national enterprise, we support all aspects
of our identity as they pertain to who we are and from
whence we came. As such, we acknowledge the efforts
of the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd. to uplift
our Hindu heritage of our diverse Trinidad and Tobago
and highlight deep-rooted aspects of our identity.
Divali, the Festival of Lights, has become a significant part of the culture of this nation.
This internationally-observed, auspicious occasion teaches of the strength of communal ties, the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and unity over dissension
and the power of love and hope. Divali reminds us all of the beauty of light and life. It
embraces the values and morals which we hold true regardless of religion or ethnicity
and reminds us of our potential as a people.
With the theme for this year’s publication focusing on “Chatti and barahee: Hindu 6th
and 12th day childbirth ceremonies”, we are reminded of the foundational role of traditions, rituals and rites. These allow for a strengthened sense of family and community.
They afford evidence of belonging and identity as part of not only Hindu tradition but
also the culture of our unique nation. Chatti and barahee are customs which stem from
an entrenched belief in their necessity and importance for the newborn baby and the
mother. They provide an immediate sense of connection and celebrate the inclusion of
the child into the community.
We relate the beauty of childbirth with the light and joy which Divali represents; its
splendor of new life and homecoming just as Lord Rama returned to his people after
defeating Ravana. The continuity of life is to be celebrated. Just as birth brings hope,
Divali brings promise and faith in tomorrow.
At the Ministry, we are preserving traditions through knowledge-share and oral history.
We are facilitating communal spaces within which our elderly citizens can share their
wisdom, our diverse traditions, and tales of the past which cannot be found in the
pages of books or websites. We are encouraging mentor-mentee relationships in all
aspects of our heritage and art forms. Through our various divisions and programmes,
the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, is working to ensure
that our inherent distinctiveness survives from generation to generation.
As we uplift communities across the nation, we pray that the light of Divali will illuminate our new journey towards sustainable development. May we be blessed with
the inspiration, creativity, courage and vision for what tomorrow brings.
Happy Divali.

It gives me great pleasure to learn that the Indo-Caribbean
Cultural Centre is publishing their annual Divali souvenir magazine on the auspicious occasion of Divali, the Festival of Lights.
The return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya commemorated Divali with
lights, fireworks, bursting of crackers and merriment. The festival
got its name Deepawali, or Divali, from the rows (wali) of lamps
(deepa) that the people of Ayodhya lit to welcome their king.
On this auspicious occasion, I extend my warmest greetings
and good wishes to all. May this year’s celebration strengthen
the bonds of goodwill and brotherhood among us and further
promote mutual understanding. As we celebrate this day, let us
spread the message of love, brotherhood and peace. May this
Diwali be an occasion to bring the light of happiness and joy into
the lives of all.
I take this opportunity to congratulate all members of the IndoCaribbean Cultural Centre staff for dedicating the time and effort
to this valuable publication.
**Shubh Diwali**

Bishwadip Dey

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Significance of
Childbirth Ceremonies

Hindus perform the most complex childbirth ceremony
among all ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago
Hindus perform the most complex
childbirth ceremony among all
ethnic groups in Trinidad and
Tobago. It is usually done at the
new mother’s parental home rather

than at the husband’s or in a temple,
and only women are expected to
be participants and observers. The
sixth-day postnatal Hindu ceremony is both a celebratory, social

announcement of the safe return of
the new mother and her newborn
from the perils of childbirth, and
a rite of reincorporation into the
family. The chatti also marks the
end of the mother’s postpartum
confinement, which was regarded as
the most dangerous period for her
and her newborn. The ceremony is
also an affirmation of the culturallyexpected role of a married woman
as a successful social reproducer,
especially if she had given birth to
a son.
Anthropologist Morton Klass states
in his book East Indians in Trinidad:
A Study of Cultural Persistence
(1961): “Most women travel to
their parents’ homes for the birth of
at least their first child. Since East
Indian marriages are customarily
village exogamous and virilocal, this
means that a large part of the population of Amity was actually born
elsewhere on the island. When one
asks a person the name of the village
from which he comes, he gives the
name of his father’s village; it was
there he was raised, and it is there
that he belongs.”
Klass adds: “Some of the wealthier
families prefer to hold the birth celebration on the twelfth day, in which
case it is known as a barahī, and is of
greater magnitude.”

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Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Maternal & Infant Mortality

The Caribbean – Maternal And Infant Mortality Rates, 2015
Among Caribbean countries, Barbados and Jamaica have
the lowest infant mortality rates (12.2 and 15.2) per
1,000 live births respectively, while Haiti has the highest
(59.7). The infant mortality rates in Trinidad and Tobago
(29.9), Guyana (29.6) and Suriname (27.07) are almost
the same.

Among Caribbean countries, Trinidad and Tobago
has the lowest maternal mortality rate (0.46) in the
Caribbean, followed closely by Barbados (0.51) and
Jamaica (0.89). The highest maternal mortality rates
are in Haiti (3.5), Guyana (2.8) and Suriname (1.55) –
in that order.

Barbados

12.2

0.51

Jamaica

0.89

Suriname

1.55

Guyana

27.07
29.6

2.8

Trinidad & Tobago
Haiti

Maternal Mortality rate per 1,000 live births.
Infant mortality per 1,000 live births.

15.2

29.9

0.46
3.5

0

59.7

10

20

30

40

50

60

Source: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934744.htm

India, Africa, Etc. – Maternal And Infant Mortality Rates, 2015
India recorded a lower maternal mortality
rate (1.74) than that of the West African countries of Senegal (3.15) and Gambia (7.06).

Canada

0.7

United Kingdom

0.9

United States

6
9

38

1.74

Senegal

10

Maternal Mortality rate per 1,000 live births.
Infant mortality per 1,000 live births.

4

0.27

India

Gambia

4

0.14

China

India also documented a lower
infant mortality rate (38) than that
of Senegal (42) and Gambia (48)

42

3.15

0

Divali Magazine 2016
Indo-Caribbean Divali Publication Ltd.

7.06

10

48

20

30

40

50

Source: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934744.htm

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

The Role of the Masseuse
This is one of the few Hindu religious events
in which a female (i.e. masseuse) officiates
This is one of the few Hindu religious events in which a female
(i.e. masseuse) officiates. Since the
rituals involved in this ceremony are
considered “unclean,” it is believed
by local pundits that these duties
are more befitting of female officiants. In other Hindu observances,
such as marriage ceremonies for
example, female officiants [naaws]
are relegated to the role of assistants to brahmin pundits. If the
ceremony is held on the twelfth day
[barahe] instead of the sixth day,
the period marks the formal end of
the masseuse’s duties as a ritualist
and caregiver. She is given gifts and
money.

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Hospitals in Trinidad have usurped
most of the traditional functions
of midwives, who were, until the
1950s, very active in attending to
parturient women and their newborn.
Their services have been truncated
to “rubbing” the new mother and her
newborn, and performing rituals to
placate the supernatural spirits. They
still, therefore, reaffirm an important
link between this world and the
other, natural or traditional medicine
and “doctor medicine.”
In addition, they jhaaray najar [cure
the evil eye], deal with neonatal
jaundice and treat culture-specific
body dislocations, such as hassuli,
among infants, boochet, nara and

paalai. Most of their therapeutic
treatments are related to attempts
to relocate bodily organs which are
believed to have been shifted from
their normal position. Traditional
masseuses primarily treat non-lifethreatening conditions, and often
refer their patients to doctors when
they feel that curing a complaint is
beyond their expertise.

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Turmeric [hardi], Honey and Ghee
[Clarified Butter] as Medicine
The new mother is advised to drink the brew on mornings.

Turmeric [hardi] is one medicinal
and edible plant which is used exclusively by postnatal Indian women.
The plant is commonly cultivated
around the house by elderly, female,
Indian homecare providers. In this
sense also, African masseuses have
become “Indianized” through their
adoption of this herb as part of their
repertoire in treating Indian patients.
From the day the new mother is

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discharged from the hospital to
the sixth day, the rhizomes of both
the hardi and ginger plants are
peeled, ground and boiled in milk.
The mixture is strained, to which
(condensed or pasteurized) cow’s
milk and sugar are added. The new
mother is advised to drink the brew
on mornings and evenings as a
cleanser, “as hot as she could bear,
in order to help the clad blood melt

and run out.” (“That better than
anything you could drink”). Similar
to Maithil, consumed by women in
Nepal and Indian women in Uttar
Pradesh, India. Indo-Trinidian
women believe the brew helps
induce the production of breast milk.
The ancient physicians in India used
ghee instead of hardi and ginger.
According to Sushruta (ca. 600
BCE), the following are the properties of ghee [clarified butter]: “It is a
producer of beauty; it is greasy and
sweet; it is a remover of hysteria,
headache, epilepsy, fever, indigestion, excess of bile; it is an increaser
of digestion, memory, intellect,
talent, lustre, good sound, semen and
life.”

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Halwa Dessert

This is a special dessert made only
during the chatti or barahe ceremony.
Hardi [turmeric] is also the main, yellow, pungent “heating”
ingredient used in the preparation of halwa — a special dessert
made during the chatti or barahe ceremony.

Method

• Parch flour in an iron pot on medium heat for about 5-6
minutes.
• Allow to cool and sift into a fairly large mixing bowl.
• Mix flour with ground ginger and sugar.
• Add milk and 11/6 pints water to flour and, using
hands, stir until mixture is smooth.
• Heat ghee and add geera.
• Mix halwa/ massala in 100 mls water.
• Add to pot and fry for about 10 minutes on a very slow
heat, stirring pot constantly.
• Stir flour mixture and add to pot.
• Keep turning until all liquid has been absorbed.
• Serve with dosti roti or as a side dish.
Serves 10 -12 persons.

Halwa massala preparation

Halwa/ hulwa recipe

• If you are making your own halwa/ massala, you
have to combine massala, hardi [turmeric], ginger and
jawine and grind on a sil [grinding stone].
• If you are using the prepared halwa/ massala from the
pooja shop, you should follow the instructions given
on the label.

Ingredients

• 8 oz / 225 grms sifted white flour
• 8 oz / 225 grms granulated sugar
• 1 oz / 25 grms Halwa / hulwa massala
• 1 oz / 50 grms freshly grated ginger
• ½ tsp / ½ of 5 mls spoon whole grain geera [cumin]
• ½ pt / 300 mls evaporated milk
• 1 1/6 pt / 700 mls water
1 pt
• /6
/ 100 mls water (to mix massala)
• 1 ½ oz / 38 grms ghee [clarified butter]
Source: Caribbean East Indian Recipes by Kumar Mahabir & Mera Heeralal.

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mymoomilk.com

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Herbal Bath

Though women of all ethnic groups take their first full-body
herbal bath on a specified day, the shower obtained by
Hindu women is more ritualised.
Though women of all ethnic groups
take their first full-body herbal bath
on a specified day, the bath taken
by Hindu women is more ritualised.
The new mother sits on a stool or
bench naked, and “faces” a cardinal
direction (usually east). The masseuse stoops behind her and holds
her lower abdomen with both hands.
Another woman pours seven or nine
drops of the bathwater on the mother’s forward-tilted head and allows
the water to fall on her abdomen.
The masseuse pulls the abdomen
rhythmically every time the warm
water is poured from the cup. After
the shower, the new mother is asked
to stand. The masseuse stoops in
front of her and holds both hips. She
then presses her head against the
lower abdomen and makes a raising
motion with it in an effort to lift the

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“mattress” and womb, which had
dropped with the weight of her pregnancy. The motion also stimulates
“bad blood to come down.” The bath
of the baby in warm herbal water

also marks the day as the end of the
period of confinement.

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Massage and Abdominal Band
A maternal abdominal binder is wrapped
around the stomach of the new mother.
The masseuse escorts the new
mother from the bathroom to the
bedroom, where she and her infant
are massaged, and a maternal
abdominal binder tied. Mother and
child wear new clothes.

Up to the 1960s in Trinidad, Indian
masseuses made abdominal bands
(“belly band[s]”) by cutting six-inchwide strips from a “soft” empty flour
bag, bought in the open weekend
market in those days, to prevent

the chafing of the skin. Nowadays,
masseuses use strips cut from an
old bedspread. The cloth is folded
into a broad belt and the ends are
knotted or pinned and tucked inside,
while the woman lies on the bed
or floor. New mothers who do not
have the assistance of a masseuse
or elderly caregiver, wrap the bands
themselves with the aid of any close
person at hand.
The band is usually worn for nine
days after delivery, but is best recommended for as long as a month.
The soiled one is discarded every
week and replaced with a new band.
It is temporarily removed about half
an hour before a bath to allow the
skin to “get cool.”
Masseuses and elderly grandmothers lament the fact that not all new
mothers nowadays are observing
post natal practices and they, therefore, are failing to reverse a number
of potentially harmful processes:
“Plenty people believe that it is longtime thing, but that is why long-time
people was healthy and strong.”

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Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Reverence to Dharti-Mata
[Mother Earth]

She looks at the rising sun … and asks for his guidance
and protection from sickness and accidents
The mother is led outside the house
and into the yard, where she is
instructed to cover her head with an
orhini [veil] in obeisance. She holds
her baby in her arms. She looks at
the rising sun and expresses thanks
to Surya Narayan, the Hindu sungod, and asks for his guidance and
protection from sickness and accidents. At the end of her supplication,
she bends and touches Dharti Ma
[Mother Earth] and to her forehead.

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According to Sanskar Vidhi [Code
of Aryan Rituals and Sacrements]
(2002) by Swami Dayanand
Saraswati, the child should be
brought from the house to a place
outside that has clean, fresh air. This
act should be done in the morning
during sunrise after the mother and
child have showered and dressed in
clean, new clothes.
According to Swami Dayanand
Saraswati, the father should touch
the child’s head and offer the following mantra, “O Child! You have
come into existence from all of the

parts of my body and have taken
birth from my heart. You are my
soul. May you not die before me,
and may you enjoy the life of one
hundred autumns. O Child! I smell
your small, sweet head. May you
attain very long life” (page 103).
Dayanand Saraswati (1824 –1883)
was a Hindu religious leader in
India who founded the Arya Samaj,
a Hindu orthodox movement of the
Vedic tradition.

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Bhajans [Hymns]
and Deeya [Clay Lamp]

Ancient Hindus dressed the child and took
him/her to the sacred statues in the house.
with her right foot and smashes it.
After, she goes inside the house and
continues to participate in a series of
other rituals later in the day.

Meanwhile, the masseuse sings
excerpts of bhajans [hymns]. A
deeya [earthen lamp] is then lit with
coals as fuel, instead of the usual
cooking oil. The deeya is placed
on the threshold of the bedroom’s

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doorway which is suggestive of the
liminal status in being neither in nor
out, clean nor unclean; “betwixt and
between”. On re-entering through
the doorway, the mother steps over
the deeya. She then turns it over

According to Hindu Samsakars:
Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu
Sacraments (1969/1991) by Rajbali
Pandey, ancient Hindus dressed the
child and took him/her to the sacred
statues in the house. The spirit of the
Sun, Moon and the Sky as well as
Vasudeva - father of Lord Krishna were propitiated. The pundits were
fed and auspicious verses were
recited. The child also heard the
sounds of the conch-shell and recital
of Vedic hymns. The father recited
the following verse, “Whether the
child is conscious or unconscious,
whether it is day or night, let all the
Gods led by Indra - God of Rain protect the child.”

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

The Baydi [Altar]
If there was a shop nearby, the child was
taken to the shop to purchase an item.
As in Uttar Pradesh in the 1950s,
much of the postpartum ritual activities in Trinidad take place inside the
room of confinement during the
afternoon, where invited guests
cannot enter until the ceremony is
over. The masseuse arranges seven
paan [betel] leaves side by side in
a row on a makeshift baydee [altar]
made on the eastern corner of the
room. The baydee is made of either a
banana or sohari/kashebow/cascado
leaf spread open on the floor. While
singing bhajans, the masseuse
instructs the new mother to offer
on each paan leaf, drops of hardi
powder, sindoor, rice, roti [Indian
bread], channa and aloo [chickpeas and potatoes], halwa, daal
[split-peas], coconut oil, puncheon
rum, pieces of curried home-grown

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Divali Magazine 2016
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chicken, and bits of other cooked
food.
According to Professor Shrikant
Prasoon in his book The 16
Samskaras (2010), the father should
offer a mantra to win over the favor
and grace of the God so as to increase his child’s lifespan. He should
chant: “Oh Mother Lakshmi, please
shower your blessings in the form of
your abundant wealth. May my child
also overcome all future ills.
In ancient times, the child was taken
to a temple and then to a family of
some well-wisher in the neighborhood. If there was a shop nearby,
the child was taken to the shop to
purchase an item.

Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

The Deities Dee Baba
and Parmaysee

All oblations are offered to the female saint Parmaysee, whose
presence facilitated an easy labor for the baby to be delivered.

Since rum and meat are considered
unclean and contaminable, the offering of meat is left to the discretion
of the officiating masseuse. Drops of
water and rum are poured on the side
of the leaf. All oblations are offered
to the female saint Parmaysee,
whose presence facilitated an easy
labour for the baby to be delivered.
The rum, however, is offered to
a male patron, Dee Baba, who is
believed to be the spiritual landlord
and gatekeeper of the household.

loud noises such as thunder.

A taria [brass plate] is beaten vigorously with the belief that the child
would grow up not being afraid of

According to Hindu Samskars:
Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu
Sacraments (1969/1991) by Rajbali

28

Divali Magazine 2016
Indo-Caribbean Divali Publication Ltd.

According to Professor Shrikant
Prasoon in his book The 16
Samskaras (2010), the parents
and guardian of the child should
seek the care and protection of the
Sun, Moon, the Sky and Dasho
Dikapala [the Guardians of the Ten
Directions]. The baby should also
be made to look at fire, a cow and
the moon. In the last rite, the child is
first made to sit on wheat and then
on land.

Pandey, ancient Hindus took the
child to the temple and worshipped
the deities while offering flowers,
garlands, etc. The child was made
to bow to the deities and the pundits
blessed the child. After the child
was taken out of the temple, he/she
was placed in the lap of the maamuu
[maternal uncle] who then brought
him/her home. At the end of the
ceremony, the child was given blessings by all, as well as gifts, such as
clothes, toys and money.

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Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Baby in Scoop

Sohars are songs that are sung during the chatti and
barahi ceremonies. The songs generally express joy
on the occasion of childbirth.
The baby is tossed gently in the
air by the masseuse, and then
placed in a large home-made tin
scoop (“soop”) - used for winnowing grains and peas - and dragged
throughout the house, indicating a
wish for the child to travel widely by
boat or airplane.

Song title: “King Daśaratha loves his pet (son) very much.”

Sohars are songs that are sung
during the chatti and barahi ceremonies. The songs generally express joy
on the occasion of childbirth, and are
more of a thanksgiving to the deities
than a mere celebration. Sohars may
be rendered before, during and after
the ritual action.

rajá daśaratha kí rajá duláre Bahūtá nīckālā gāīho
(King Daśaratha loves his pet (son) very much.)

The songs usually draw their sources
from child-bearing episodes of the
Holy Ramayan (BC 500).

rajá daśaratha kí rajá duláre bahūtá nīckālā gāīho
(King Daśaratha loves his pet (son) very much.)
… bahūtá nīckālā gái
… loves very much.
… bahūtá nīckālā gāī
… loves very much.

ráma ke gūráwá gūngru á nīckālā gāīho
(Ráma loves the ghūngru [anklets] on his feet)
… gūngru á nīckālā gāī
… loves the ghūngru
… gūngru á nīckālā gāī
… loves the ghūngru
ráma díré díré chal á backání kausalyá rání mandilá mễi
(Ráma goes slowly slowly creeping with Queen Kausalyá into the palace).

Song rendered by Mr Bachan Dhanraj, Woodley Pack, Guyana b. 1916
Recorded August 1984.
Source: Kumar Mahabir “The Collection, Transliteration, Translation, Classification and
Critical Analysis of East Indian Folk Songs of The West Indies.” M. Phil Thesis, UWI, 1989.

30

Divali Magazine 2016
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Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Mother and Child Eat

The eating ritual of the child was interpreted to
mean that the baby has now become juta [unclean]
and is, therefore, no longer attractive to evil spirits.
After the pooja [devotion] is completed, the new mother remains
seated on the peerha [low bench],
and is required to eat as much as her
“belly could hold.” She eats first in
the bedroom, using one hand to hold
the child and the other to eat, while
guests, relatives and neighbors sit
and chat outside.

House Makes Babies (1964), Sheila
Klass, describes that the women
in Arcady [Felicity] placed scissors, pebbles and matches under
the baby’s mattress to ward off evil
forces. They also wrapped a blackbeaded (“jet bead”) bracelet around
the infant’s wrist to safeguard him/
her.

Bits of food are touched to the lips
of the newborn to prevent him/her
from growing up avaricious. In the
late 1950s in Uttar Pradesh in India,
this same rite was interpreted to
mean that the baby has now become
juta [unclean] and is, therefore, no
longer attractive to evil spirits.

Similar to Guatemalan Indians,
Trinidadian Hindu, postnatal women
take a small drink of rum to “cure”
and “heat” the strained “cold” reproductive system. The masseuse also
takes a drink from the circulating
bottle to express her solidarity with
the new mother.

In her book, titled Everyone in this

According to Sanskar Vidhi [Code

of Aryan Rituals and Sacraments]
(2002) by Swami Dayanand
Saraswati, the child should be
washed, changed into clean clothes,
sprayed with perfume and anointed
with saffron. The baby should be
given a tikka [forehead dot] and then
fed ghee [clarified butter] and madhu
[spinach in daal]. At this vulnerable
stage of the baby’s life, the child is
under intensive care and constant
watch by the mother and other
women of the household.

32

Divali Magazine 2016
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Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Kajal [Lamp Mascara], Sindoor
[Vermillion Powder] and Naming.
Kajal [lamp mascara] is used in the baby’s eyes
and dotted on the forehead (tika) to protect him/her
from being infected by najar [evil eye].
In the room, a small fire is kept
continuously burning to ward off
evil spirits. Kajal [lamp mascara]
is prepared by the masseuse, and
is applied to the baby’s eyes and
dotted on the forehead (tika) to
protect him/her from being infected
by najar [evil eye]. Sindoor [vermilion powder] is also pasted on the
foreheads of married women whose
husbands are alive. In Nepal, the
shape of the tika varies with the sex
of the child.
The chatti, like all other Hindu
ceremonies, invariably involves
family members of both spouses as
participants and as guests. The chatti
symbolizes communal solidarity
within the Indian community in the
ethnically competitive society of
Trinidad. The exclusion of unmarried and widowed women from
witnessing the application of the
sindoor is an archaic and patriarchal
attempt to confine the sexuality of
women within culturally sanctioned
norms.
Anthropologist Morton Klass states
in his book East Indians in Trinidad:
A Study of Cultural Persistence
(1961) that the name was given to
the child at the chatti ceremony.
“Soon after the baby is born the
father visits a pandit, giving the
latter day and hour of the baby’s
birth. The pandit casts a horoscope
for the child, and tells the father the

34

Divali Magazine 2016
Indo-Caribbean Divali Publication Ltd.

only possible initial letter the child’s
name can have. Either the father or
the pandit then chooses the name.
This name called the “pandit (or
‘planet’) name,” will be kept secret
by the child and his family – so
secret, sometimes, that if the father
dies or deserts the mother, the child
may never know its “true” name!
A second Hindi name is given …a
“calling name” will be of no use to
any evil person …”

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Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Music, Merriment and
Shaving of the Baby’s Head.

The evening begins a long night of noisy rejoicing when
sohar and chutney songs are rendered in Hindi and English

Title of drawing: “The Chaati.” Source: Selected works of Alfredo Codallo: Artist and Folklorist (1931-1971)
by Holly Gayadeen. 1983. Curepe, Trinidad: Self-published.

Guests arrive in the evening, and are
served food and drinks by both men
and women. The evening begins
with a long night of noisy rejoicing
when sohar and chutney songs are
rendered in Hindi and English, or
blasted from a stereo player. Again,
the masseuse performs an important
role as the lead singer and drummer
or dhantaal / majeeraa percussion
player. Women perform gyrating
dances using various kitchen items
to symbolize the union of the male
and female. Men are often excluded
from witnessing this form of female
entertainment.

36

Divali Magazine 2016
Indo-Caribbean Divali Publication Ltd.

The new mother remains a passive
spectator, or she may retire to bed,
but she is instructed to be awake
until midnight when Bhagwan [the
Supreme God] arrives to write the
fate of the baby on his/her forehead.
According to Hindu Samskars:
Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu
Sacraments (1969/1991) by Rajbali
Pandey, ancient Hindus believed that
“on the day of performing this samskara [sacrament], a square portion
of the courtyard, from where the sun
could be seen, was plastered with
cow dung and clay, the sign of the

swastika was made on it and grains
of rice scattered by the mother”
(page 88).
Anthropologist Morton Klass states
in his book East Indians in Trinidad:
A Study of Cultural Persistence
(1961): “The baby’s head is usually
shaved at the time of the catthī, if it
is done at all. If it is not, the baby’s
first haircut is given on the first
Good Friday following its birth,
near the Roman Catholic Church in
Siparia in Southern Trinidad.”

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Chatti and Barahe – 6th and 12th Day Hindu Childbirth Ceremonies

Conclusion

The participation of relatives from both sides of the family
emphasises the importance of birth in continuing family lines
and cementing family bonds.
As with the Guatemalan Indians, the
frequency of the feasting element
in the ceremony among Trinidadian
Hindus is declining. Many women
mention that time and cost are the
two major constraints in organising
the celebratory ceremonial feast.
The chatti is now more confined to
immediate members of the family
(“just home people”) without the
communal feast, dancing, singing,
and the full repertoire of rituals. The
decline corresponds with the diminishing adherence to, and belief in,
certain rites and symbols associated
with the ceremony. The participation

38

Divali Magazine 2016
Indo-Caribbean Divali Publication Ltd.

of relatives from both sides of the
family, nevertheless, emphasises the
importance of birth in continuing
family lines and cementing family
bonds.
The chatti and barahe ceremonies
are observed as a celebration of
triumph over infant mortality,
particularly perinatal mortality. The
World Health Organization defines
perinatal mortality as the number
of stillbirths and deaths in the first
week [7 days] of life per 1,000 total
births. The figure for perinatal mortality in the UK is about 8 per 1,000
which varies markedly by social

class. Globally, about 2.6 million
neonates died in 2013 before the first
month of age. The neonatal fatal rate
in Trinidad and Tobago fell from
20 in 1990 to 13 in 2015 (Knoema
2016). Neonatal mortality rate is the
number of newborns dying before
they are 28 days old per 1,000
births in a given year. The decline
in the number of chatti and barahe
ceremonies in the Hindu diaspora is
related to the considerable reduction
of maternal and infant mortality rates
in these countries.

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E-mail: dmahabir@gmail.com; indocaribbeanstaff@gmail.com
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