Birth Rites of the Chakmas

By El Bee Chakma 

On conceiving a child, the pregnant mother approaches the Pādhu Ojhā, the maid who helps in child birth. She is an ojhā and a healer and well conversant with mandars and Tālliks concerning child birth and Pedoli Milā (pregnant woman). She is usually an old lady, may be a widow. First she would conduct physical examination of the conceived woman. The process of physical examination is called Pet Malanā (literally massaging the belly), and feel the position of the foetus. She would ask the pregnant to have close contact with her for any ailment like untimely discharge, back pain etc. She does also possess the knowledge of Mandar and would chant it on water for causing Sul (literally ache but in this context – push), healing of headache, correction of displaced uterus, etc. In the olden days she would advise them to sacrifice one pair of chicken at the river ghāt to appease Gangā, the water goddess and one under a evergreen tree for Bhoodo, the ghost, for easy delivery of the child. In the meantime, the pregnant woman will have regular visit with the Pādhu Ojhā and have checked up of the foetus. The Pādhu Ojhā will sometimes correct the position of the foetus. Some families even keep with them a Pādhu Ojhā for months until the child birth. Such practice is called Boidhyā Ojhā rāgānhā.

A pregnant woman is forbidden doing hard work and to lift heavy loads. She is forbidden to go out after sun set or to visit a death house. She is allowed to take any food or beverages she fancy. But she is not allowed to sleep during day time. As it is believed that sleeping during day time will make the head of the child big and it will cause complication at delivery. It is also encouraged to set sweat by a pregnant woman, as it is believed to ease delivery.

Delivery of Chakma children are usually done at home. It may be in the dwelling house or a separate house called Biyāni Shāl, which is constructed for the purpose. At the start of delivery pain, the Pādhu Ojhā is called up. She will examine the mother and calculate the exact time of delivery. She may ask the family to sacrifice chicken at the river ghat or stream to appease the water deity, Gangā. As it is believed that if the water deity Gangā is unhappy, she will cause delivery problems. In the meantime an Ālsyā is prepared and burnt and placed at the entrance of the house to keep away the bad spirits. The Pādhu Ojhā will then ask for Telo Nādā (cotton soaked in mustard oil) and massage the belly with it. Before massaging she will chant some Mandar on the Telo Nādā for the easy delivery. In complicated cases the Ojhā has to apply many procedures like applying mandar chanted water for strong pushing, to send the baby to the lower abdomen etc. Sometimes she has to prescribe medicines for all complications. She sometimes asks the family to search for a Vaitdyo if it is beyond her capacity.

It is also said that some Ojhās had caused child birth amputating the limbs of the dead child. It is said that some Ojhās could dissect a dead baby by magical chanting and drawing lines with sharp knife on the plantain leaf figure of a baby placed on the mother’s womb.. After delivery of the child some complications were seen with the Gharpādā (Placenta). It sometimes does not come out easily! For that also the Ojhā has to chant mantras or prescribe medicines. After the childbirth, the nar (umbilical chord) is dissected with a sharp blade made with the outer skin of a bamboo called Dulhuk applying mustard oil. The end of the dissected cord is bounded tightly with the belief that if the bind is loose, the naval will bulge out. This process called Nār Kābānā. Afterward, the ghar Pādā is buried with the nar. This process is called Gharpādā Gārānā. Afterwards the baby and the mother is washed with worm water and the Pādhu Ojhā also goes to the river to wash herself. The mother is also offered bitter things like bitter gourd soup, curry etc. The baby, the mother and the Pādhu Ojhā are afterward sanctified by sprinkling Gheelyā Kajai Pānhee. The mother of the baby is also advised to go to the river as soon as she is able to do so. She is also advised to flow the first breast milk (colostrums) in the river, with the belief that she would get flow of breast milk like the flow of water. Afterwards only she starts breast feeding the baby.

From the next day the mother is provided with good food to regain her strength and fill up the blood called Lo Bhorānā. She is also asked to take bath with Dāru Pānhee of jungle herbs. The neighbours and relatives also offer her with good food with scented rice, items like meat, fish, dry fish, fresh vegetable, fruits, sweetmeat etc. This system is called Bhāt Majā Denā. The new born mother is forbidden to take chillies with the belief that it will cause colic pain to the new born child. She is also refrained from doing heavy works up to about one month.

The Chakmas believe a new born house and a dead house Asijhi unless the purification ceremony called Kajai Pānhee is performed. Hence no Vaidya will visit such house. An individual with a talisman will also refrain from visiting such house knowingly. Any person within the body should visit such house leaving the Tābit/Kabach in a safe place or he will have to Jāngei (invoke energy) on it again. It is believed that once a person has entered an impure place, the power of a tābit and mandar is lost. So a new born house, a death house and a woman with period is always avoided by a person with tābit.After about one week, when the Nār is separated from the baby the family may perform the purification ceremony called Kajai Pānhee Lanhā.

KOJOI PANHEE : After about one week from the day of delivery, when the piece of umbilical cord is dried up and separated from the baby’s body, the rite of KOJOI PANHEE may be performed. In a Kojoi Panhee, the presence of the Padhu Ojha is a must. If unfortunately she dies before the performance of the Kojoi Panhee rite, it should be performed with a dry bamboo piece. For performing Kojoi Panhee, Gheela, Kojoi, water, raw turmeric, rice, piece of gold and silver are kept in a pot or bamboo tube. A crowing cock, one bottle of Maud (wine), one bottle of Kanjee (rice beer), one piece of Pinon (lower garment of the women, one piece of Khadhee (breast cloth of the women and at least five rupees are required. The host may arrange other provisions and materials for the Padhu Ojha and for a feast on the occasion. At first the Padhu ojha is offered those provisions by the BIANI (mother of new born) with the prayer that she should forgive her for her inability to offer her more comparing the service she had renedered for the delivery since the virtue of an Ojha is invaluable.. That she should not take it otherwise for her inability to offer more and she should bless her and the child for long and healthy life. The ojha will first accept those provisions and take the baby on her lap. She will then sprinkle GHEELA KOJOI water from head to toe of the child plucking one tail from the tail of the cock chanting prayer that all ill luck, ill fate, dangers, illness of the child should vanish with the touch of the purifying water and that the child should have long life of such years as her hairs of her head.. She will also bless the mother and the child by plucking feathers from the cock and dipping it in the Maud and Kanjee and sprinkling on the mother and the baby. She may some times drink a little of maud and Kanjee as a token of her acceptance of the offering. She may also allow the rest to be distributed among the relatives gathered for the occasion. Or She may take it to her home. She will also sprinkle the Kojoi Panhee on her and the whole member of the family and the assembled people.. She will then ask to sprinkle it on the whole house. Thus the rite of Kojoi Panhee is over.

On the day of Kojoi Panhee, village elders and the relatives are invited. A feast consisting of wine, rice beer, meat, fish , vegetable and other provisions are also arranged. After preparation of the food, first it is offered to Gongei (the God, usually in front of the Buddha Idol or Picture) called Syong, then to MAA LOKKHI MAA, the goddess of wealth usually in a rice bucket called CHOLE LEI or CHOLE BHERA along with lighting lamps and flowers, then to the Ojha and others. It is also seen that a couple whose previous children are not survived will offer his new born to the Ojha on the KOJOI panhee day and it belongs to the OJHA. But before leaving the house she will offer it for sale and the couple will Purchase on nominal payment. Such a child is name as EKANNYA, DWIANNYA, meaning who has been purchased with one anna, two anna etc. Apart from the Ojha, the new born is also blesses byelders on the day of KOJOI PANHEE with SEP (blessings with rice and cotton) and money. Naming also is sometimes done on the day of Kojoi Panhee. The names are usually given by elders like grand father, uncle etc.

However, now a days, delivery is performed at hospitals. In such case Kojoi Panhee is not performed but sprinkling of purified water is done. But Kojoi Panhee rite is still performed in the villages.

Usually a Chakma mother breast feeds her child for up to six months to till the birth of her next child. The youngest child takes mother breast for long time. It is learnt that Shri Indrajit Chakma of Nunsury, now residing at Tuichawng, presently about 86 years of age(born in 1930, the youngest maternal uncle of this compiler, who is the youngest among the eight brothers and sisters, took his mothers breast for up to fourteen years and got married at sixteen, two years after giving up his mothers breast! Every Chakma children are made to sleep on cradles called Dhulon. There is a rule that the children of a different mother should not share a Dhulon and the other children of a mother cannot ride a Krheng Ju Dhulon (a cradle of Krheng pattern) unless her first child has ridden one.

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