In Agnipurāṇa, while giving advice on the rituals to be performed by householders, from garbhādhāna ( planting the ̍seed̍ for procreation) to marriage, all rituals have been mentioned . After garbhādhāna, there are puṃsavana, sīmantannoyana, jātakarma, nāmakaraṇa, annaprāśana and cūḍākaraṇa, vratavandha or upanayana, samāvartana and vivāha– these are rituals to be performed in the life of a householder. In all these rituals the utterance of Praṇava, homa, offering āhuti fot eight times, and the final āhuti– are to be performed.
garbhādhānantu prathamaṃ tataḥ puṃsavanaṃ smṛtam
sīmantonnyayanaṃ jātakarma nāmannaprāśanam.

Everybody knows about this, and abide by this. There is also a scientific cause behind the custom. Aśana means eating, ̍prāśana̍ means eating properly. Anna refers to any kind of food in general, but here, in particular, ̍anna̍ denotes cooked rice. A child, who has so far been taking water, cowmilk of mother̍s breastmilk, is now taking rice or some ̍solid̍ food item– this is ̍eating properly̍. According to śāstra, there is no such saying that by annaprāśana, some special attribute comes upon the body of the child, rather the same thing is said regarding the removal of ̍doṣa̍– such as association with retaḥ (genital fluid), blood or any other sudden effect attending upon the womb. But we can̍t accept this properly.

Rather, in common sense, it can be understood that a child who has so far been loving on breastmilk, is now going to take solid food– and the custom related to this practice should have been considered as acquiring some positive attribute. From the mantra(s) of Annaprāśana, the attribution of Guṇa comes to mind.

But in this case, the physical need for the child̍s health is more important than the scriptural necessity. And so this custom has entered into the scrptures and in society and it continues to survive even today. A great Āyurvedic expert like Suśruta has written in his book– at the age of six months, a child should be given proper and easily digestable food suitable for its health–

ṣanmāsaṃ cainaṃ annaṃ.

The custom of Annaprāśana is actually beneficial for both the mother who gives breast milk, and for the child as well. If mothers, out of affection, continue to breast feed the child for a long time, they suffer from a health degeneration, and if the child continue to take breast milk even at a time when it should grow on solid food, the child̍s health also suffers from a lack of proper nutrition. So, for the health and well-being of the mother and the child, the custom of Annaprāśana gains its significance.

According to the Gṛhyasūtra(s), the annaprāśana ceremony is to be performed after six months of the birth of the child. In Āśvalāyana Gṛhyasūtra, it is said that the annaprāśana ceremony should be observed on the sixth month since the birth of a child–
ṣaṣṭhe māsi annaprāśanaṃ.
Manu is also of the same opinion– ṣaṣṭhe̍nnaprāśaṃ māsi– and so says Yājñavalkya, too. Many people have asked me, if there is such a rule that after the coming out of teeth, whether this ritual is valid at all.

Humbly I would like to say– so many ideas in scriptures may not appear valid today, even ridiculous. Perhaps there is no need to stick to them. But at the same time it must be remembered that for the benefit of society, individual and the state, several scriptural verdicts have emerged. For instance, in the context of this annaprāśana, it can be said that there is no relation between the child̍s teeth coming out and the ceremony of annaprāśana. There are also such a person among the composers of scriptures, who says — annaprāśana can be performed at the sixth month of the child̍s age, as per the scriptural advice, but it is better to hold the ceremony when the child has its teeth coming out–
saṣṭhe annaprāśanaṃ jāteṣu danteṣu vā.

It is fairly understandable that, after the coming out of teeth, it becomes comfortable for a child to digest solid food– hence this advice.

This entire consideration has been mentioned, quite liberally, in the commentary on Yājñvalkya-smṛti, called Vīramitrodaya, written by Mitamiśra. Citing statements from Manu, Brahmapurāṇa and Laugākṣi-Smṛti, Mitramiśra writes that– the custom of performing annaprāśana at the age of six months, is only a general custom. But Brahmapurāṇa says, annaprāśana can be performed at the age of six, or at the age of eight, or whatever is best suitable for the benefit of the family or clan. And Laugakṣi says, annaprāśana can be observed at the age of six, or after the emergence of teeth of the child.

Gṛhyasūtra(s) and Smṛi(s) are mostly in favour of performing the annaprāśana ceremony at the age of six months, but several composers of Smṛti have understood that the health of the individual child should become the ultimate concern. If the health of the child is not well, and there is problem in digesting even liquid food– in this situation, the composers of scriptures have not been very strict about the rule of performing annaprāśana. They have liberally said, performing annaprāśana at the sixth month of birth is good. But if that is not possible, it can be performed at the age of eight or even ten.
janmāto māsi saṣthe vā sauraṇottamamannadam
tadabhāve̍ṣṭme māe navame daśame̍pi vā.

dvādaśe vāpi kurvīta prathamānnaprāśanaṃ paraṃ
samvatsare vā sampūrve kocidicchanti paṇḍitāḥ.

In fact, Aparārka, an emminent Smṛti-composer, has cited an ancient eeasyist like Śankha, saying that– there is no bar in performing the annaprāśana even at the twelfth month of the birth of the child.

The Smṛti-composers have not given the rule of performing annaprāśana after twelve months, and the reason for that is the necessity of maintaining the child̍s health. Whereas in general, a child becomes able to digest solid food, if the annaprāśana is delayed beyond twelve months, it will be detrimental to the health of the mother and the child– both.

Annaprāśana is not a very big ceremony. But in terms of custom, small ceremonies also may seem to be grandisore today. Prior to any such ceremony, nityakarma, mātṛkāpūjā, nāndīśrāddha have to be performed. In the chief ceremony of annaprāśana, the food which was put to the the mouth of the child, was not at all vegeterian. Śāṅkhyāna has written– the father himself will cook goat meat or bird meat. Fish can also be cooked, along with boiled rice. If the parents have any special desire for any special attribute to be attending upon the child– including nutrition, intellect, brightness of appearance, ability to feel and so on– there is prescription for one kind of bird meat or the other, as laid down by the composers of the Sūtra(s)–
taittiraṃ brahmavarcasakāmaḥ
ghṛtaudanaṃ tejaskāmaḥ.
dadhi-madhu-ghṛta miśramannaṃ prāśayet.

But there is no need to think that, making a child eat a good amount of meet, his digestive system was hampered from the very beginning.

These were symbolic customs. Many items were cooked, and taking only morsels from each item, and mixed together, along with ghee, honey and curd, it was put to the mouth of the child. It can̍t be determined how tasty this mixture of food could have seem to the child concerned, but afterwards, by the influence of Jain and Vaiṣṇava(s), the prescription of meat for the child, had become out of place, whereas items such as ghee, honey and fine gold-dust, which were the ̍vegeterian̍ residues of the Vedic menu. Paramānna came at the later age–
madhvājyaṃ kanakopetaṃ prāśayet pāyasaṃ tu tam.
[aparārka-dhṛta pāthaṃ prābhmukham prāśayecchiśum]

There was a custom of adding ghee, honey and gold-dust in the paramānna, and natually– for the child, habituated with breastmilk, the test of paramānna was delightful. The custom related to gold-dust perhaps came from the Ayurvedic prescription of Kavirāja(s). But whatever came to be included as items, since the Vedic times up to the modern age, was according to the increasing awareness regarding the digestive ability of the child.

Aparārka, the commentator of Yājñavalkya Saṃhitā, having cited the words of Sage Mārkaṇḍeya, mentions another social custom. Mārkaṇḍeya has written, after the ritual of the annaprāśana is over, the child is to be seated near the image of god, and in front of him, several containers full of artcrafts, non-throwable weapons and several other things are placed, so that the child may touch them. The object that the child will touch at first, will be related to its future vacation–
prathamaṃ yatspṛeśet vālastato bhāṇḍaṃ svayaṃ tadā
jīvikā tasya vālasya teneiva tu bhaviṣyati.

There had been the custom of performing annaprāśana for the girl-child, too. But since the gotra of the daughter will be changed after marriage, so the Vedic mantra(s) were not uttered during her annaprāśana. Āśvalāyana has written in his Gṛhyasūtra– āvṛtaiva kumāryai– that is, concealing the mantra(s), all other rituals can be performed during the annaprāśana of a daughter–
kumāryāstu amantrakaṃ annaprāśanaṃ kāryāmityarthaḥ.

In the portion called Saṃskāra-prakāśa in Vīramitrodaya, Mitramiśra has cited Manu, Śaunaka and Āśvalāyana, to state the same thing– that is, the girl-children̍s annaprāśana is to be performed without explicit utterance of the mantra(s)– from jātakarma to cūḍākaraṇa– everything will be pweformed without uttering the mantravarṇa (letters of mantra), although in case of gild-children, too, homa is to be performed during cūḍākarma–
jātakṛtyādicūḍāntaṃ strīṇāṃ kāryamamantrakam
hutakṛtyaṃ tu puṃvat syāt strīṇāṃ cūḍākṛtāvāpi.

While uttering the mantra of annaprāśana, there is a prayer to Goddess Vagdevī , so that she becomes one and identified with the milk-yielding cow, and grant nourishment and ability to all, along with the baby–
vāgdhenordugdha etaṃ hi.
But from this mantra, it is clear that the ancient people emphasized more on the nourishment of the child̍s intellect, than making the body fat with food. Another mantra reminds one of Knut Hampsun̍s book, Hunger.

A proper consumption of food does not only take place by means of filling up the stomach, it applies to all the indriya(s). So at the time of annaprāśana,  for the physical and mental growth of the child, the indriya(s) are to be satisfied — and that is what is said in the mantra— “I intake anna along with prāṇavāyu, I receive smell through apānavāyu. I receive rūpa (physical forms) with the eyes. So, annaprāśana is not only the intake of rice, it is a process of making all the organs of a child able for consuming things–

anena āhuti-catuṣṭayena cakṣurādīndriyopabhogyān

viṣayān anubhavāmi iti āśaṃśā.

Here the person who utters the mantra, is saying ̍I intake̍, but it has to be understood, as if, the child is saying this.