We celebrate Navami (literally, the ninth day) in October every year. The next day is Dasami (the tenth day), also known as Vijaya Dasami and vidyarambham (beginning of education) in Kerala.
September/October is the festival season in India; Dussehra/Ram Lila in North India, Durga Puja in the Eastern parts of the country and Vijaya Dasami in South India. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in the Western part of the country at the same time. Most of the festivals are celebrated to commemorate the victory of virtue over evil. Vijaya Dasami is also celebrated as ayudha pooja (worship of the weapon) in the South. In this context ayudha (weapon) does not depict gun or sword or even a knife. The word stands for any item of equipment, instruments, or implements that are used for making a living or to achieve our goal. On the day of Ashtami (the eighth day), the ayudha is kept for worship in front of a picture of Goddess Saraswati. The worship ends on the morning of Dasami. Students used to worship their text books and even note books which are their ‘weapons’ or implements on the path of education. I remember we were very particular to keep all the texts and note books of the most difficult subjects so that they become easier from the next day onwards! Farmers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, everybody, keep their implements for the pooja (worship).
Our reason for celebration was, however, entirely different. It had nothing to do with triumph of virtue over evil, or the pooja, or anything religious. The most important, sweet, and cherished part of the whole celebrations is that you are not supposed to read or write anything during the time the books are under pooja. So if mother asks us to go and study on the day of Ashtami, we used to say, ‘But, mom, today pooja starts.’
And she would remind us, ‘But pooja starts only in the evening. There is a lot of time before that.’
And we would, with hesitation and a lot of ‘hmm...hmm’, open the books, pleading with God, ‘Oh, God, why doesn’t it become evening sooner?’ But starting the afternoon, we would not even pay heed to mother and she would also let it be. And in the evening the books are kept for pooja (worship).
The next day, Navami, used to be the most beautiful day of the whole year! We should not read or write anything that day! It is the middle of the year and for a full day no one would yell at us to go and study! Is it not like heaven? The whole day we would run and jump and hop and play and enjoy. When we realize that the shadows have lengthened and it will soon be evening, we would earnestly request Sun god to slow down, sometimes even at the top of our voice (so that the voice reaches him!).
We would say, ‘Please, please, hey Sun god, please, have mercy on us, do not travel so fast. Please slow down, let us enjoy for some more time. We get only one such day in the whole year.’
But the Sun god, though looked at us sympathetically, could not slow down. He, too, is controlled by time, and would slowly descend into the ocean in the West to have a bath. We would then retire for the day tired after having spent the whole day indulging in all kinds of adventures and plays. How nice it would have been if every day was Navami!
This festival is also known as Vidyarambham (beginning of education). Early next day (Dasami) morning we used to go to temple, pray to Goddess Saraswati (the Goddess of learning, art, literature, and culture), write in rice or sand the first letters that we learned, Hari Sree Ganapathaye Namah, Avighnamasthu! (Salutations to Lord Ganapathy! We pray to you kindly to remove all obstacles in the path of education). Lord Ganesh is the God who removes all kinds of obstacles. Therefore, before doing anything or starting any new venture, we always pray to Lord Ganesh to appease him so that there are no obstacles in whatever we do.
It is very auspicious to write this prayer on vidyarambham day year after year, without regard to one’s age or education.