Navarathri (nine nights) celebrations in Kerala are unique in many ways. Here the focus is on learning new skills.
In Kerala, the festival is celebrated for ten days. In 2016, it will be celebrated from October 2 to October 11. The last three days of the festival – Ashtami, Navami and Dashami (October 9, 10, 11) are the most important.
Navarathri celebrations in Kerala are different from Navarathri celebrations in other parts of the India. While in North India, the Durga aspect of the Goddess (Shakti or power) is the focus of the celebrations, in Kerala, Goddess Saraswathi (Goddess of arts and learning) is given greater prominence.
The main ritual performed is the worship of one’s books and tools. On the evening of the 8th day (Ashtami – October 9, 2016), books and tools are placed for puja in front of an image of Goddess Saraswathi. Images of Lakshmi, Durga and Ganapathi (Ganesh) may also be placed in the Puja room. Before the books/tools are placed for worship, the room is cleaned thoroughly and a kolam (a white drawing made on the floor with rice flour) is drawn on the floor. A piece of wooden plank is placed on this kolam. A kolam is also drawn on this plank and then a clean cloth (preferably silk) is placed on it. The books and tools are kept on this cloth. Tools can mean anything that you use to make a living. Nowadays, even laptops and printers and placed for puja. Once the books and tools are placed in a sacred corner of the home in this fashion, pujas should be performed. The first puja is performed on the evening of Ashtami. On Navami (the 9th day – October 10, 2016) pujas are performed in the morning, at noon and in the evening. Puja is again performed in the morning on the tenth day (Vijayadashami) and books and tools are taken from the wooden plank. One can perform this puja at home or take the books and tools to a nearby temple or another place. Every temple performs this puja on the occasion of Navarathri.
Once the books are placed for puja (pustaka puja – the worship of one’s books), students abstain from reading or writing. Likewise, once the tools are placed for puja (Ayudha Puja) craftsmen abstain from working. Schools, factories and offices remain shut on Mahanavami on account of Pustaka Puja and Ayudha Puja. This day is meant for worshipping one’s tools. Starting a new venture or learning a new skill on this day is not considered auspicious. Once the books are taken out after the puja, students start learning. They write ‘Om Harishree Ganapatheye Namaha’ in sand or rice. After writing this prayer, the students read scriptures or their lessons. Likewise, workers perform some activity using their tools for at least a few hours. Vijayadashami is regarded as the best day of the year to start learning a new skill or launch a new venture.
Vidyarambam (initiation into learning)
Another ritual performed on Vijayadashami (October 11, 2016) is Vidyarambam. This process initiates young children (aged between 2 and 6) into the world of letters. Parents take their child to a nearby temple where the father, mother or a learned man write ‘‘Om Harishree Ganapatheye Namaha’ on the child’s tongue with a golden ring. After this they help the child write the same letters in rice or sand. Most parents in the state ensure that their child goes through this ceremony before s/he starts schooling. Incidentally, now several mosques and churches in the state also perform this ceremony on Vijayadashami. Of course, they use symbols associated with their religion. Even so, the belief that Vijayadashami (the 10th day of Navrathri) is the best day to start learning is gaining popularity even among non-Hindus.
Celebrating Navratri in Kerala
If you would like to perform your child’s Vidyarambam ceremony on Vijayadashami, you may want to take them to one of the following places. Panachikkadu Saraswati Temple in Kottayam, Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple in Thrissur and Chottanikkara Devi Temple in Ernakulam are some of the big temples where the ceremony of Vidyarambham is performed with great reverence. Thousands of children get initiated into learning on this day. Several other small and large temples in Kerala also conduct Vidyarambham. If you are looking for a secular venue, the Thunchan Parambu in Malappuram (the birthplace of Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, the poet-saint revered as the father of Malayalam language) is the best place. Here this ritual is performed by writers or cultural leaders. The Kollur Mookambika Temple in Karnataka is another place that performs Vidyarambam. Since this temple attracts a large number of devotees during Navarathri, expect huge queues.
Most temples in Kerala organize cultural programs like dance and music on all days of Navratri. Both established artists and students of classical music and dance participate in these events.