In a unique custom that transcends religious barriers, thousands of children in Kerala entered the world of learning by scribbling their first letters on Vijayadasami day on Sunday, marking the conclusion of the Navaratri festival.
Early in the morning, children, mostly aged two to three, along with their parents, thronged temples, schools, libraries, cultural centres and media houses to go through the ritual of writing their initial letters on the auspicious occasion, observed by Keralites as "Vidyarambham", the initiation into learning.
Teachers, writers, artists, film personalities and even senior politicians helped the tots write their first letters "hari..sree.." in platters filled with rice after invoking the Goddess of learning and art Saraswathi.
In some churches, priests made the children write a couple of lines of from verses of the Bible.
Oringially a Hindu custom, the increasing response to "Vidyarambham" from people from other faiths is seen as a sign of the cultural vibrancy of a society that attaches the greatest imporatance to the education of its children and considers human resource as its biggest asset.
"The overwhelming response from all sections of society to this unique ceremony reflects the latent cultural strength of Malayalis," well-known writer Akabar Kakkattil said.
There was heavy rush of children to undergo the ritual at Thunchanparampu in Malappuram district, the hallowed home of medieval poet Ezhuthachan, revered as father of Malayalam literature.