Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vidyaarambham : <i>initiating children to the world of knowledge</i>

Vidyaarambham (Vidya : knowledge, aarambham : beginning) is a tradition followed by Keralites to introduce children into the world of letters. Towards the final days of Navratri, the 8 th day or ashtami is spent worshipping the goddess of knowledge and celebrated as Saraswati puja in Kerala. The day is also observed as Ayudha puja (ayudha : tools). On the evening of Durgashtami, many people offer their books to temples or keep books at home in front of Saraswati. It is called puja veypp (kept for puja). The next day is Mahanavmi and the 10 th day is observed as Vijayadashmi when early morning, books and tools are taken after puja. This ceremony is called puja edupp (taken after puja). After this, everyone writes on a tray of rice or sand as it is considered auspicious.

Vijayadashmi is considered auspicious for knowledge initiation. The ceremony either takes place in temples or at home. Mostly the initiation is done by the oldest in the family or by parents of the child. Some people even prefer it by their gurus. On a tray of rice, the oldest in the family/ father or mother/teacher takes the child’s right index finger and writes the mantra ‘Om hari sree ganapataye namah’ (ഓം ഹരി ശ്രീ ഗണപതയേ നമഃ). This ceremony is done when the child is 2 or 3 years old and only after this a child starts to read and write.

This is nostalgia for me because 10 days of puja holidays were most sought after while growing up. We had many Bengali friends so visiting puja pandals with them then our Saraswati puja and after that Vijayadashmi/Dussehra celebrations. This is the time when everyone in India is rejoicing. For us these rituals didn’t matter, what mattered were togetherness and the fun we had during those times. My brother and I eagerly waited for puja holidays mainly for those two days when we could keep our books and not study at all.

It is difficult to follow the tradition here but auspiciously this year Saraswati puja falls on a weekend (26 Sep) and Vijayadashmi on 28. So I am planning to do the same for Peanut this year. The other half and all his cousins got initiation from their grandfather. My brother and I got it from our father. I can vaguely remember the day my brother got his knowledge initiation. When Peanut was 1.5 years old, the other half and I intiated her vidyarambham here; on a plate of rice we made her write the mantra and then let her play with the rice. She still remembers it and looks forward to the day when she can write on a tray of rice.

Peanut's vidyarambham in year 2006

Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan is considered the father of Malayalam language. So on this auspicious day, many people arrive at Tunchan paramb, birthplace of Ezhuthachan, to take sand and use in the initiation of their children to the letters. Every year, hundreds of people bring their children to this place to write their first letters on the sand during the Vijayadasami festival.

Nowadays the tradition of knowledge initiation is followed by people of many faiths.  According to this article since year 2003, the St. George’s Orthodox Syrian Cathedral at Palayam, Trivandrum too started following the tradition then followed by many Churches. The children in the Church write ‘Sree Yeshu Mishihaye Namaha’.

With time our traditions see vast transformation but tie that connects us never slackens.

“Saraswati Namastubhyam, Varade Kaamaroopini Vidyaarambham Karishyaami, Siddhir Bhavatu Mey Sada”

Translation: O Saraswati! who grants all our desires, as I begin my studies, I bow to you to help me in making it rewarding and make me successful in all my efforts.

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