In Hindu tradition, it is believed that Saraswathi, the Goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, grants the boon of wisdom and learning to those who seek it. She is often referred to as the eloquent one and children all over the country pray for her blessings, so that they can do well in their studies. During the festive season of Navratri, when the whole of India celebrates the power of the Devi, Goddess Durga and Goddess Saraswathi are revered in various rituals and traditions.
One such important Hindu tradition, which is observed in this season is Aksharabhyasa or Vidyarambham. In this ceremony, preschoolers are introduced to the alphabet and the world of learning. This ritual is performed on the tenth day of Navratri, called Vijayadashami. This day is also celebrated as Saraswathi Puja in many parts of the country.
Places of worship especially dedicated to the Aksharabhyasam ritual, witness large crowds of devotees on Vijayadashami day. Children dressed up in all their finery, are accompanied by parents to these temples dedicated to the Goddess Saraswathi. During the ritual, children sit on the lap of either of the parents and are made to write their first alphabet with their index finger on a plate of uncooked rice. The sign of the alphabet is also made on their tongue.
Here are some of the well known temples that conduct the ceremony --
1. Maha Saraswathi Temple, Koothanur, Tamil Nadu
Legend has it that the Goddess Saraswathi appeared to the poet Ottakoothar on the banks of the river Harisol near what is now Koothanur and granted him the boon of knowledge. After this, his fame as a learned scholar spread and he was granted a piece of land by the Chola king, Rajaraja. As a tribute to the Goddess, the noted poet built the Saraswathi temple here. On all the nine days of Navratri, there is a special festival organised and the deity is bedecked in flowers and jewellery. Devotees come from far and wide for the Aksharabhayasa ritual for their child. On Vijayadashami day, the deity is taken in a procession on a swan and many pujas are performed. Some older children also bring their notebooks and writing instruments, and place it on the feet of the Goddess.
Distance from key cities/towns: Chennai (279 kms) , Puducherry (125 kms) and Tiruvarur (21 kms)
Accommodation: Hotel PAMS, Mayiladuthurai and few other low-budget hotels. No four or five star hotels available.
2. Gnana Saraswathi Temple, Basara, Telangana
This is one of the most well known temples in South India dedicated to Goddess Saraswathi. According to mythology, sage Vyasa came to this place when he was writing the Brahmanda Purana and sat in meditation on the banks of the Godavari. Despite the Goddess making an appearance, she was not visible to him. He made mounds of sand everyday, and this turned into the idols of Goddess Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Kali. That is where the temple now stands. The people of this holy place started worshipping the deity, calling her by the name of Gnana Saraswathi. Devotees coming here for Aksharabhyasam have to plan much in advance, as thousands of parents come here with their children for this ritual. On Navratri days, the temple wears a festive look and the deity, adorned in finery, is a sight to behold.
Distance from key cities/towns: Hyderabad (210 kms), Nanded (103 kms) and Nizamabad (35 kms)
Accommodation: Haritha Hotel (Telangana Tourism) and several private lodges. No four or five star hotels available.
3. Sarada Peetham, Sringeri, Karnataka
One of the well-known peethams associated with Adi Sankaracharya, this temple in the holy town of Sringeri is dedicated to Devi Sarada. In coastal Karnataka, it is a tradition to pray to Sarada, who is another form of Goddess Saraswathi, with special pujas and offerings during all the nine days of Navratri. The Goddess of Sringeri was initially carved out of sandalwood and later the idol was made into gold. Devotees not just from Karnataka, but all over India make a beeline to the temple to get a glimpse of the beautifully bedecked form of the Goddess. Aksharabhyasa is one of the main ceremonies conducted at the temple during this time.
Distance from key cities/towns: Bangalore (329 kms), Mangalore (110 kms) and Chikmagalur (85 kms)
Accommodation: Hegde Residency, Sringeri. Four star accommodation is available in Chikmagalur.
4. Vidya Saraswathi Temple, Wargal, Telangana
In Sanskrit, Vidya means education and the Goddess Saraswathi at this temple is known to give the boon of education to the devotees who come there. The temple is built on a hillock with a valley on all sides. There is a huge rock formation in the background of the temple. The structure was constructed because of the efforts of the scholar, Yamavaram Chandrashekhara Sharma and its also a temple dedicated to Lord Shani on the premises. It is said to have been built I the place of a 400-year-old temple built by the Kakatiya rulers. Special poojas are performed during Vasant Panchami and Navratri days here, including the Aksharabhyasam ceremony.
Distance from key cities/towns: Hyderabad (50 kms) and Manoharabad (18 kms)
Accommodation: Honey Berg Resort, Turkapalli. Nearest five star accommodation is available in Hyderabad.
5. Kollur Mookambika Temple, Kollur, Karnataka
This well-known temple dedicated to Goddess Mookambika is situated about 135 Kms from Mangalore, on the foots of the Kodachadri Hills in the scenic Western Ghats. The pristine river Souparnika flows nearby. It is one of the major pilgrimage sites of the State, along with the temples at Udupi, Subrahmanya, Kumbasi, Kodeshwara, Sankaranarayana and Gokarna. Legend has it that the Goddess, who is an incarnation of Saraswathi, made an appearance here in front of Adi Sankaracharya, who then built a temple in her name. Navratri is a festive affair in the temple and the Goddess is decorated in a lot of jewels.
Distance from key cities/towns: Kundapur (38 kms), Mangalore (125 kms) and Bangalore (450 kms)
Accommodation: Hotel Mahalakshmi Residency. No four or five star options available.
6. Thrikkavu Sri Durga Bhagavathy Temple, Malappuram, Kerala
This is an ancient temple and one of the most well-known shrines dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathy. The Aksharabhyasam, known more popularly as Ezhuthiniruthu in Kerala, is one of the major ceremonies that are observed at the temple with much fanfare. Legend has it that this ancient temple is one of the 108 Durga shrines consecrated by Lord Parasurama.
Distance from key cities/towns: Calicut (45 kms), Kannur (133 kms) and Kochi (165 kms)
Accommodation: NC Gardens and Beach Resort. No four or five star options available.