Aksharabhyasam: The sacred beginnings of literacy in Indian tradition


Aksharabhyasam: Initiate Your Child’s Education with Tradition

The commencement of education is an important milestone in every child’s life. So it only makes sense to start this journey on an auspicious note.

In traditional Hindu custom, Aksharabhyasam is the ceremonial induction of a child into the world of education. The word itself is an amalgamation of two terms: Akshara, which means alphabet, and Abhyasam, which means the study of. Combine the two and you get the ‘study of alphabets’, which is the first step of education.

An inherent part of Indian culture and education, this ceremony denotes Vidyarambha, which basically translates to initiation of education. The whole purpose of this ceremony is to seek the blessings of the gods so they can assist the child in their academic journey.

In this article we will tell you everything you need to know about this sacred custom.

What is this ritual about?

Aksharabhyasam involves offering prayers to goddess Saraswati who governs the sphere of education. Starting your child’s educational journey with this ritual is a great way to get divine blessings, which can help set your child up for success.

Celebrating this day is also a great way to express your gratitude for gurus and teachers for fulfilling their duty of imparting your child with knowledge. Ceremonial gifts that you can offer include betel leaves, flowers, fruits, guru dakshina (token money), areca leaves and saree or dhoti.

When should the Aksharabhyasam ceremony be observed?

Traditionally this sacred ceremony was performed when the child turned 5. However, due to the early onset of modern education, you can now perform this ritual when your child turns 3, which is before they join their preschool. You can even conduct this Hindu ritual when your child turns 2. It should be held on either of these holy days:

  • Basant Panchami or Saraswati Puja
  • Vijaya Dashami or Dussehra
  • Guru Purnima

Which nakshatra is best suited for this ritual?

A sacred part of early education in India, you can choose any one of the following nakshatras to carry out this ceremony:

  • Punarvasu
  • Dhanishtha
  • Swati
  • Shatabhisha
  • Ashwini
  • Moola
  • Hasta
  • Pushya
  • Mrighashira
  • Purvashad
  • Purvabhadrapad
  • Chitra
  • Purvaphalguni

What is the ideal venue to perform the Aksharabhyasam ceremony?

Any temple dedicated to goddess Saraswati will do. You can pick a renowned goddess Saraswati temple in your city or town and conduct this ceremony there. However, if that is not feasible, you have the option to perform Aksharabhyasam at home. Just be sure you have an image of goddess Saraswati and lord Ganesha at home.

What is the story behind the ancient practice of Aksharabhyasam?

Indian culture and education are deeply intertwined, which forms the very basis of Akhsarabhyasam. Legend has it that after the war of Kurukshetra ended, Maharishi Vyasa along with his disciple Suka, began the hunt for a serene and pleasant spot to settle down.

In their quest they came across Dandakaranya forest (now known as Basar) and found it to be just what they were looking for. They settled there, religiously conducting their daily spiritual exercises. At the end of each day though, the sage Vyasa would bring back fistfuls of sand from the banks of river Godavari and use it to make idols of goddess Saraswati (Sharada), Gouri and Lakshmi.

He consecrated the idols he formed with his spiritual prowess and began worshipping them at the banks of the river. This ancient spot then became the now famous Gnana Saraswati Temple in Basar, Telangana.

At this sacred temple, the idol of goddess Saraswati is smeared with turmeric, and it is believed that if you conduct your child’s Aksharabhyasam here, you could directly get the divine blessings of the goddess by getting a part of the turmeric paste applied on the goddess.

However, if you want to conduct Aksharabhyasam here, you must visit on the day of Vyasa Purnima, which falls on the day of the full moon in the Hindu month of Ashad. It is a very holy day.

Why is performing this ritual a good idea?

There are a number of reasons behind why you must perform this sacred Hindu ritual. These are:

  • It initiates your child’s education on a holy note. Consider it a stepping stone into the world of knowledge and wisdom.
  • Aksharabhyasam is a celebration of victory since in many states it is observed on the day of Vijaya Dashami. It is symbolic of the light of knowledge and wisdom that dispels the darkness of ignorance. It is the day when Icchha (will), Gyaan (knowledge) and Kriya (action) combine forces to bless people with wisdom.
  • It marks the very special occasion of your child writing their first alphabet on rice or grain. The use of rice is not only auspicious, but it also connects your child to the rich land of customs and traditions that they belong to.

How to perform this ritual that is symbolic of early education in India?

Aksharabhyasam is performed by a priest on a prefixed auspicious date and time. Given below is a basic breakdown of the whole event:

  • The ritual begins with the friends and family of the child and their parents joining in this auspicious occasion. Ensure your child is dressed in traditional attire for the ceremony.
  • Ensure your child is sitting either in their father’s lap or laps of their paternal or maternal uncle. Once both of them are comfortably seated, chant the following mantra as the priest instructs. The mantra invokes goddess Saraswati

‘Saraswati Namstubhyam Varade Kama Rupini

Vidyarambham Karishyami Siddhir Bavatu Me Sada’

  • Next, chant the mantra that invokes the guru, Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswati:

‘Om Hari Sri Ganapataye Namaha

Avighnamastu, Sree Guruve Namaha

Sree Saraswati Sahayam’

  • Once the chants are done, the priest will fill a silver platter with rice and write the sacred ‘Om’ on the child’s tongue with gold, thus imparting the blessing of wisdom and knowledge. Next, the child will be asked to write the first letter of their mother tongue on the rice using the forefinger of their right hand.
  • After this, a ceremonial offering of kheer (rice pudding) will be made to the goddess, which can then be distributed among all participants of the ritual. You can also distribute items of education to underprivileged kids to mark this occasion.

What is the science behind this ritual?

The very practice of writing your first letter in grains of rice is not only auspicious, but it also helps exercise your child’s motor skills, training them to use their hands and fingers in coordination with their vision and mental faculties so they can write effectively. It also unlocks their brain’s capacity to read, write and learn, which is fundamental for growth. It also helps in bilateral integration as well as visual perception, thus ensuring your child develops all the nursery skills for a successful run at education.

India is a truly fascinating land of customs and traditions where each ritual has a deep-rooted meaning that adds real value to the said custom. At EuroKids, we try to inculcate curiosity and respect for the ancient traditions of our nation. If you wish to know more about how we impart education and knowledge to children, please be sure to visit us.