Antud (antur) rituals related to the perceived impurity of a Hindu woman after childbirth. The new mother is confined to a secluded room or antud ghar for a few days. During this time she is not allowed to do any household work. Apart from one or two family members, no one else is permitted to enter her room.
The period of impurity differs according to the sex of the child and the caste of the mother. If the child is male, the period is 20 days; if it is female, the period is 30 days. For shudras the period in both cases is 30 days. The mother can do some household work after 10 days but may not perform any religious rites. Among Sudras the period is extended to 13 days.
Different religious and social rites are observed during the state of impurity. In some cases the mother is brought from the temporary confinement of the room built in the courtyard to the main house on the 5th day after childbirth. At this time the barber cuts the nails both of the child and the mother, and the washerwoman gives them a bath. This ceremony is called panch uthani. On the 6th day a sutikasasthi puja is held. On this occasion music is played and sweets are distributed among invited guests. In some areas this ceremony is called chhaysasthi. People believe that on this day the Creator writes the fate of the child. This is why ink, pen and paper are kept next to the child.'
In some places, on the 8th day after childbirth, children play music and sing songs wishing the new-born well. The children are then entertained with fried lentils and rice as well as sweets. This ceremony is called atkadai or atkalai as eight different kinds of fried food are distributed. Some people also hold a ceremony called nanta on the 9th day. The mother is considered to become fully pure on the 21st or the 30th day. On this day the nails of the child and the mother are again cut and both mother and child are given a bath. Some people perform sasthi puja on this day. Descriptions of these rites are found in raghunandan's Shuddhitattva, krittivas's Ramayana and mukundaram's Chandimangal.
Behind the confinement and the rites there are a number of social and scientific reasons. After childbirth a mother is very weak. In her weakened state she may easily contract infection from visitors as might the child. This is why the entry of outsiders into the confinement room is restricted. In the past it was customary to keep a fire burning in the room at all times to ward off infection.
Although the practice of a confinement room is no longer in vogue in urban areas, the purposes of the practice have been translated into modern facilities. Pregnant women in service can now enjoy up to three months of paid holidays before and after delivery. To protect the mother and the child from disease, the mother is given a number of medical tests and remedial treatment. Even in villages the old practice of confinement is rarely followed.
While Muslim mothers are not confined to an antud ghar, they are considered to be in a state of impurity for forty days following childbirth. During this period they cannot say their prayers or touch the quran. However, people can enter their room and even say their prayers there if they wish. [Dulal Bhowmik]