Our scriptures emphasise that knowledge is nectar. It is, thus, a tradition among many ardent believers of goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, to honour her for three days towards the end of the Navaratri festival.
While the celebrations across many parts of Northern India during the festival appear rather colourful and musical, Kerala witnesses celebrations in a unique fashion. Just as how Dandiya, Raas and Garba become prominent in Gujarat, Rajasthan and other parts of Northern India, Kerala sees a variety of cultural displays across the state. This includes processions across the state with tableau being staged, classical dance recitals and even music concerts.
Then again, like most festivals in Kerala, Saraswati Puja is a rather quiet affair. It is one of those festivals that students eagerly wait for as they do not have to study for over a day and a half. Now that is indeed joyous for those who dread their weekly assignments!
On the night of Ashtami, the eighth day of the Navaratri festival, books are wrapped up and placed before the goddess. While some choose to do so at a temple, others prefer doing so at their own homes. Idols of various gods and goddesses are adorned with floral garlands and a simple display of fruits often combined with a plate of beaten rice (avil) and roasted paddy (malar) mixed with bananas and rock candy (kalkandam).
Navami or the ninth day of the festival is celebrated as Ayuddha Puja. It is the day when people worship job and musical instruments or tools that they use as part of their day to day life. The puja, on the three days, involves families sitting together and reciting many verses dedicated to the goddess and other deities as well. On the tenth day of the month of Aswin, also known as Vijayadashami, the puja is followed by writing on sand and raw rice to mark the beginning of a new year of learning.
The custom is called `ezhuthinu iruthu' (initiating into the world of letters) or 'vidyarambham' (beginning of learning). The occasion is considered to be the initiation of the child in to the world of education. Books are unwrapped and a few lines of the text are read symbolising a phase of their academic life. Musicians also recite a few basic notes on the occasion.
The offerings (prasadam) includes an array of mouth watering cuisines such as Unniappam, Neypayasam, Panchamritam (a mixture of five food items namely – bananas, rock candies, jaggery, ghee, dry fruits etc.)