First and the last – Heads or Tails #24


The topic over at skittles today is “first” if you call heads or “last” if you choose tails. The words first and last have so much significance in our lives, we give so much importance to the “first” or to the “last”, not just us but even in times of our ancestors.

Thinking about ancestors I remember a discussion I had with my father, about the importance of first and the last son in “Hindu” rituals. In particular the “tithi” or the “shradda” which is a ceremony performed every year. In layman terms, [this is what was told to me when I had asked about it as a 6 year old], its a way of offering food to my tata [grand father] who was dead, ones every year. So the obvious question was that we eat every day, so why once a year for them, to that the answer was that our one day is equivalent to their one year. In reality it is a way of offering our gratitude and thanks, and more importantly remembering the ones who parted us, mainly performed by their sons.
You can read more about it here shradda.

The discussion started with the fact that the whole ritual is performed mainly by the first son, and the rest of the sons are a mere part of the ritual. This looks so unfair for the rest of the siblings I thought. so I probed further, thus began our discussion on the first the last and the middle. Heres a comprehension of what we discussed.

In Hindu philosophy, the First son is called “Aatmaja”, which is a Sanskrit word which means Born from the soul [aatme jayati iti aatmaja – one who is borm from the soul]. He is supposed to carry forward all the laurels of the family, not just materialistic ones [ones earned in iha loka], but also the ones which has been passed on by ancestors from generation to generation, births and rebirths [ones earned and across the lokas].
Scientifically I would love to find out if any research has been done in this regard, is it true that the first offspring carries higher percentage of genes from the parents.
Logically too, it made sense to me when I think in retrospect, being the eldest always means more responsibilities, the oldest one, because of being older has higher chances of having better experiences with dealing with the world, and he can take care of the legacy better.
Emotionally as well, being the eldest he deserved the respect of all the younger siblings, as an act of respect to the eldest brother, the others let him perform the rituals.

So what if the first son cannot perform the ritual due to some inconvenience, may be he is not well, or out of the station or something. I was surprised to know that its not the next son in the ladder who gets to perform the ritual. Instead its the youngest of the siblings.

The youngest son is referred to as preetija, or the one who is born because of the love. In modern days of family planning it may not really hold good, but in the olden days people did have children late in their life. As one became older, it is out of pure love and not lust[kama], they made love to each other. So most of the cases, the youngest one is the most loved in the family. Even if not the reason what I mentioned earlier, just being the youngest, gets lots of liberties at home, normally people are more patient, more forgiving and more affectionate towards the youngest. They get loved more than the rest by everyone.

So in an effort to please the elders, it is the duty of the youngest to perform the rituals, someone close to us, offering us gratitude will be truly cherished is the idea.

Logically too, I got convinced, anytime we meet, all cousins together, the youngest get priority, whatever they say we generally don’t argue, thinking that they are small, they should be happy. So it does make sense to give them an opportunity to do things, which they never get to do otherwise.

I don’t know if it is right or wrong, the first and the last son getting privileges in the rituals, but have to admit fascinating for sure.


16 responses »

  1. I’ve definitely learned A LOT from this post. Are the ‘middle’ children really left out of everything? This was fascinating – thank you for sharing it.

    Well they are pretty much left out…

  2. Very interesting post. I was raised learning all are equal – eldest or youngest, male or female, more so because the society saw it differently, I never thought of it this. Something to ponder on further…for me. Thanks.

    UL, we all are told that we are equal, when it comes to practice we have such rituals.

  3. I find this interesting and intriguing and I can see how it translates in other families as well. The oldest, middle and youngest traits I mean.

    Thanks Skittles

  4. Wow. That’s so cool. I was raised as an only child, so was pampered as much as my mother was able (mentally & materially). Later, I found out that my father had 3 more children, but as the “technically” oldest, I have no place in that family. I love the concepts you shared with us. Thank you.

    Autumn, me too a only child, did miss out on many things

  5. I’m an only child and I’m not sure how I was brought up but I can say I sure wasn’t aloud bad behavior as a spoiled brat.
    But nothing we can do about our birth position in life.

    Oh yes we cannot do anything about birth position.. just fascinating practice thats all.

  6. Very interesting post I learned a lot. A saw recently a psychologist on TV who could just by talking to people see if they were the oldest or youngest. He looked at things like responsibility and working hard for example. Oldest do better at school.
    Yes and younger ones are used to more freedom. It is evrywere the same.

    Marja.hmm interesting information you have here.

  7. That was a really interesting post! I wonder what happens if there is only one child born to a family – making that child first, middle and last?

    Vanilla, if there is only one child no issues at all, he needs to do all of it 🙂

  8. Rambler: While on last rites, perhaps it is worth a mention that while sons are ‘privileged’ to conduct the last rites for their parents, daughters are expressly prohibited to do so in Hinduism. Apparently only a son conducting such a ceremony would enable Nirvana for the soul, and many people who have no sons shun their daughters and ‘borrow’ others’ sons to conduct their last rites.

    Perhaps it is not on your radar because you are a son! I am from a family of daughters and needless to say, I do not place much credence in this diktat.

    Believe it or not, I had that aspect in mind with every single line on this post I wrote. Women not being allowed to perform the last rites or the annual ritual. The explanation given to me was that women cannot withstand the sight at the roudra bhumi [cremation ground]., which I do not think is the right reason.
    Again you might call it foolish, but I do not think there was no reason behind this, I am sure there must be one. I did try to read many of hinduism books to find out, did not find any answer.
    Will surely write about it if I get information.

  9. 😦 But you see, its only the sons, either elder or younger. Women were never considered for anything. I feel so sad when I read old books (esp sanskrit books translated to kannada). When I was in my school, I had taken sanskrit and then I came to know about Manu’s “Na swathantram arhathi sthriyaha” (Women deserve no freedom). My lecturer said thats the reason why man is considered over woman for carrying out the rituals. I always used to think there should be a time when women perform all such rituals, sad part is rituals themselves are in a missing trend!!!

    I am really excited to find one more person who likes the sanskrit subhashita.. I too had samskruta in school, one language which was very close to me.
    The same manu has said

    Yatra naryastu pujyante ramante tatra devatah,
    Yatrai tastu na pujyante sarvastatraphalah kriyah

    Where women are honored thats the place where devas [everyone] are pleased. where they are are not honored even the great sacrifices and yagas dont yield.

  10. they do but not in the things which matter…
    i remember my aunt expired less than a year back…her son went to the cremation ground but teh daughter could not because it was against tradition….i personally felt bad becasue she was teh one along with her father who looked after her mother for three months keeping job on hold…staying in the hospital day in and out and managing on 4 hrs of sleep….(the son helped as much possible, but she was in the position the be around more…)….just a rant 🙂

    I do agree that in cremation women are not allowed, but I do not think women are given importance only in things which do not matter.. I am sure there are so many things which are not complete without an woman.

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