By Swami Harshananda
Vidyārambha literally means ‘commencement of learning of the alphabet’.
Significance of Vidyārambha
A child used to be sent to the gurukula for education after the upanayāna ceremony, generally at the age of seven. In the ancient days, the sanskāra or sacrament of teaching the letters of the alphabet used to be conducted at the time of caula itself, usually at the age of five. This sanskāra, known as vidyārambha or akṣarābhyāsa, is quite common till now. It is being performed even at the age of three or four.
Rituals of Vidyārambha
General tradition recommended the following procedure:
- Fixing up an auspicious day, preferably in the uttarāyaṇa period
- Bathing and decorating the child
- Propitiation of the deities Gaṇapati, Sarasvatī, Nārāyaṇa, Lakṣmī, Bṛhaspati and the family deity
- Performance of a homa
- Teaching the alphabet to the child by first writing a mantra such as "Ohm namah siddhāya" and then the alphabet
- Honoring the teacher
Letters may be written on rice spread over a plate with the index finger. Later a slate and a suitable pen or chalk may be used.
- Caula means the rite of hair-cutting for the first time.
- Uttarāyaṇa means the northern solstice.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore