When Desara is celebrated all over the India for 10 days, Keralites do differently. Though Navaratri pooja is celebrated in many homes and temples by making clay sculptures and idols placing them in pooja room for worship, Keralites associate themselves most with Saraswathi pooja and Vidyarambham. i.e. Goddess Saraswathi is worshipped more than Durga during this celebrations. Normally Desara celebrations fall on the month Kanni according to Malayalam official calendar. But often, according to stars, if celebration starts in the last week of Kanni, it may be extended to Thulam month also. Navarathri celebrations starts on Chithira star of Kanni and lasts for 10 stars till it reach Avittam star. That’s why, even if celebrations start on last week of Kanni month, completes in Thulam.
Beginning worship of Saraswathi on Durgashtami
On Durgashtami evening, all books, pen, official files etc are placed before Devi Saraswathy for pooja. Even a PC or laptop can be placed. Those items will be taken back on Vijayadasami morning. If we place our books for pooja, we can’t read books, magazines or even use computer for next two days till the whole ritual is completed. Doctors, Engineers, carpenters etc do Ayudha pooja the next day, Mahanavami by placing their tools and instruments before the deity.
Vidyarambam at temples
Since the last day of Navarathri celebrations is fully dedicated to Goddess Sarawathy, Hindus begin their studies on this day. Though kids learn many things through speech and observations, they start learning with pen or pencil on this day only. So, every parent wants to ritually initiate their kid’s studies from a temple seeking Goddess Saraswathy’s blessing, seeing it as symbol of fortune and wisdom. Then only, they start learning through writing. Thousands of kids are learning their first letters on this auspicious occasion and almost all temples of Kerala will be crowded. It’s normally conducted in the morning in front of Saraswathy's idol, where Saraswathy pooja is done. ‘Vidhya’ means education and ‘aarambham’ means beginning. That’s why Vijayadesami is also known as Vidyarambham. Normally kids between two and three are taken to temple to perfume this ritual. Sometimes, they need to take a long queue waiting for hours to finally get their turn.
‘Ohm Harishree’ – the first syllables a kid learn
Since Ohm is considered as the most holy word of Hindu religion, a child enters the formal world of letters through this word. It’s believed before starting any good ceremony or deed, we should pray Ganapathi. Otherwise, it may not end well. So, the sloka
“Ohm Harisree Ganapathaye Namah
Avikhnavasthu Saraswathiye Namah”
is used to perform writing. Through this sloka, a kid is writing the names of three deities – Hari, Ganapathi and Saraswathy. Written language is, of course Malayalam.
How Ezhuthiruthu is performed
Normally a plate of rice grains is used for writing Harisree. Sometimes, sand is also used. Rituals will be performed inside the temple. The kid will be seated in either parent’s or the person’s lap who is performing the ritual. Then that person will take kid’s hand in his hands and make him write the mantra. Normally, seeing strangers and huge crowd, kids cry. Very often, it’s very difficult to write the sloka in rice. Parents can give him Dakshina before doing this. After that, with a golden stick or ring, the person will write Harisree in the kid’s tongue. Thus the ritual is completed by adding something to kid’s writing and speaking talents. ‘Ezhuthu’ means writing and ‘eruthu’ means ‘made seated’. Since this ritual is performed by seating kid in the lap of elders, it’s called so. After that, kids will be given palm leaves, slates, pencils etc from temples. Very often, parents rub their kid’s tongue with sandalwood, honey, vayamb etc on Vijayadasami day as it’s believed to increase intelligence of the kid and make his words sweeter.
Thunchanparamp is most famous
Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan is known as the father of Malayalam literature. He is the first person to translate both the epics to Malayalam. So, Thunchanparamb of Malappuram - the place where he was born, is spiritually connected with this ritual. Every year thousands of kids are learning first Malayalam letters from the place where he is born. Also, the persons who do this ritual are great contributors of Malayalam literature, social life and politics. Other famous temples are Mookambika Saraswathy temple, Guruvayur Sri Krishna swamy temple, Vadakkan Paravur temple Ernakulam, Attukal Bhagavathi temple, Panachikada Saraswathi temple, Chottanikkara devi temple, Thiruvullakkavu Sree Dharma Sastha Temple Thrissur, Vailoppilli Sanskriti Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram etc. Popular newspapers of Kerala also organise this function in their main offices in front of Goddess Sarawathi.
Harishree given famous personalities related to arts and literature
It’s believed that if first letters are taught by an intelligent and good person, that child will surely exhibit such features in future. So, people related to literature, social life, films, politics etc are mostly invited by temples to perform this ritual. They do ‘Harisree’ as something good transmitted to the next generation. Most famous people related to literature - M.T.Vasudevan Nair, Sugathakumari, Alankode Leela Krishnan, K.P.Shankaran etc and honorable Chief Minister teach first lessons to kids on this auspicious day. In the picture, you can see Jnanapeetam winner M.T.Vasudevan giving his wealth of knowledge to a kid.
This function observed by Christians too
Earlier it was seen as a ritual related to Hinduism. But nowadays, people of all castes and religions are performing this ritual in their own means, particularly among Christians. While Hindus write "Hari Sree Ganapathaye Namaha" in praise of Lord Ganesha, Christians write on rice or sand, "Sree Yesu Mishihaye", hailing Jesus Christ. i.e. Christians are entering the magical world of alphabets writing the name of Jesus Christ. It’s widely practised in Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts, the place where Christians reside more. It’s normally conducted in churches, prayer halls and done by main priests. In Wyanad districts, it’s written “Thampuran Thunai” meaning God bless you.
Ezhuthiruthu of my daughter
It was my wish to do her vidyarambham in Sree Krishna temple Neyyattinkara. She celebrated her third birthday just a few days before Vijayadasami and surprisingly, she was born on a Mananavami day. Since cameras were not allowed inside the temple, we couldn’t capture that beautiful moment. Her ezhuthiruthu was done by Mayor of the town. She cried a little seeing the big crowd and being seated in the lap of a stranger. Yet, we managed somehow. Along with her, her cousin sister of same age also learned her first words in front of Lord Krishna. They got a few palm leaves, some papers, pencil etc from the temple.
It’s true Vijayadashami signifies the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Vidyarambham underlines the power of knowledge and its win over darkness of ignorance. Yes, true knowledge is the real power and of course, pen is mightier than a sword.