The namkaran is the Hindu practice of naming a baby. The word “nama” means name and “karana” means to make or effect. The ceremony usually takes place on the twelfth day after a baby’s birth, but can be held anytime between the tenth day after the birth and before the first birthday. The naming process is meant to create a bond between the baby and the rest of the family and close friends and takes place either in the home or in a temple.
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The first ten days after a baby’s birth are considered “impure” and “inauspicious.” When the ten day period ends, the house is cleaned and sanctified. On the auspicious day, which varies by region, the mother and newborn are given a ritual bath. After the bath, the mother swaddles the baby in a new piece of cloth, and applies “kajal” or eyeliner to the eyes and a birthmark to the cheek.
Once the mother and child have been bathed, the child is placed into the father's lap to be blessed. In variations of the ceremony, the mother wets the baby's head as an act of purification. The child is then given to either the paternal grandmother or the father, who will be sitting next to the priest. A sacred fire is lit, and the priest invokes the gods to bestow their blessings upon the child.
Naming the Child
The child's name is then chosen, based on a particular alphabet that is determined by the time and date of birth. The father then whispers the chosen name into the baby's right ear, either though a betel leaf, or four times depending on regional tradition. The baby will usually receive four names: the nakshatra name, which is based on the constellation under which the child is born; the name of the deity of the month; the name of the family deity, and the popular name, by which the child will be known.
After the Ceremony
When the ceremony is over, the friends, relatives and priests bless the child and put honey or sugar on its lips. If the child smacks its lips, it is considered a good sign and constitutes much happiness among those present. There is also an elaborate feast organised for the guests and priests that closes the ceremony.
There are some considerations that should be taken into mind when choosing the child's name. It should sound pleasant, be easy to pronounce and be indicative of the child's sex. There are also generally a specific number of vowels and consonants that should be in the name, and it should symbolise fame, wealth or power along with the caste of the infant's family.
These traditions are rarely followed nowadays. Instead of being given four names, a child may only be given two—a formal name and a short name. The name may also be a combination of the parents' names instead of that of a deity. In some communities and regions, the child is named after the paternal grandparents or the father.
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