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Vidyarambham: The Beginning of Learning in Hinduism

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Eesha enjoys writing about Indian culture, cooking, celebrations, and traditions.

A scholar guides a child's hand as they write their mantra on a platter of rice.

A scholar guides a child's hand as they write their mantra on a platter of rice.

Vidyarambham (as it's known in South India) or Vidyarambh (as it's known in North India) is one of many customs and rites practiced in Hinduism. Vidya means "knowledge," and arambham means "to start." Basically, Vidyarambham means the initiation of knowledge.

According to Hinduism, there are 16 rites that a person must perform between their birth and their death. Vidyarambham is one such rite. During Vidyarambham, a child aged between two and four years is introduced to the world of education. The purpose of this ceremony is to foster an enthusiasm for study in a child's mind from a young age. The rite also highlights parents' responsibility for imparting knowledge to their children as they grow.

What Is the Significance of Vidyarambham?

Education is very important in Hinduism—so much so that any parent who deprives their child of basic knowledge (like alphabets or religious duties) is regarded as a criminal. To fulfill their religious duty, a parent must perform Vidyarambham as a declaration of their responsibility for their child's education. The wellbeing of the world depends on the elucidation of its children, so the Vidyarambham ceremony is considered a supreme duty.

Only after this ceremony are children taught any kind of formal activity like writing, singing, or dancing. Until the ceremony is performed, teaching is conducted orally through stories and rhymes. Children may be taught to speak prior to the rite, but they should not be taught to write. Similarly, a child may be given paper and pen to draw, but they should not trace or have their hand guided by an adult. Anything that they do prior to their initiation to education should be of their own creativity and volition—there should be no forced actions before the ceremony.

A mantra is scribbled on a child's tongue with a golden ring.

A mantra is scribbled on a child's tongue with a golden ring.

When Is the Celebration Observed?

The Vidyarambham ceremony is meant to be performed when a child becomes old enough to receive knowledge and understand things. Usually, this age is thought to be somewhere between two and four years old. In today's world, however, most families choose to observe the tradition as soon as their child reaches two years of age in order to send them to play-school at the age of three.

Vidyarambham (Ezhuthiniruthu) In South India

Keralites and other South Indians celebrate Vidyarambham on Vijayadasami—the last day of the nine-day-long Navarathri festival. Tiny tots dressed in traditional garb gather at temples with their families to mark the beginning of their studies. The temples are specially decorated for the occasion, and special arrangements are made to prepare the venues for the Ezhuthiniruthu ceremonies.

During Vidyarambham (also known as Ezhuthiniruthu), scholars, writers, teachers, priests, and other prominent figures in society help children write their first "letters of learning" on platters of rice. During the ceremonies, scholars guide children's hands as they write with their index fingers in rice.

The initiation into the world of learning usually begins with the writing of a mantra, like Om Hari Shri Ganapatheya Namaha, which means "Salutations to Hari (Lord Vishnu), Shree (the Goddess of prosperity), and Lord Ganapathy." The same mantra is then scribbled on the child's tongue with a golden ring to mark the custom. Next, the child gives "Guru Dakshina" (a gift in the form of money, dress, or food) to the scholar. Finally, the child touches the scholar's feet in order to gain their Anughraham, or blessing.

After the ceremony at the temple is complete, the child and their family return home. A similar ceremony is then performed in the home's prayer room by the eldest person in the house. Once again, the child writes their mantra on a platter of rice. This time, their hand is guided by a member of their own family rather than a scholar.

An arrangement created for Vidhyarambham at a home

An arrangement created for Vidhyarambham at a home

Celebrations Vary Across Regions

How Vidyarambham is celebrated differs based on the region. In South Indian states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, there is a particular day on which Vidyarambham is done each year. In North India, there is no particular day assigned to the custom. Instead, parents consult an astrologer to check their child's muhurat (the best time for something according to astrology) and schedule the ceremony accordingly. The procedures involved in the custom are similar in most regions, but in North India, a long chanting of prayers is also incorporated.

© 2019 Eesha N