Today is celebrated as the first day of spring - Vasant panchami - in many parts of India. It is also the day that the goddess Saraswati is worshipped. As she is the goddess of knowledge, learning, arts and music, this is an important day for schools and students, as well as artists and musicians.
Saraswati puja is an important holiday in Calcutta and the state of Bengal where it is a public holiday. Schools are closed because on this day books and pens are not touched. These are placed before the goddess so that she can bless them and bring academic success.
My friend Rumpa told me about a special ceremony which is done on this day for young children before they learn to write. Saraswati puja is considered to be an auspicious day to begin a child’s education. A priest visits the household and using chalk and a slate, he takes the child’s hand and writes the first three letters of the alphabet. She had arranged for a priest to come to the house on the morning of Saraswati puja to perform this special ceremony for her 4-year-old son. The auspicious time for the ceremony to take place was before 9:30am. She got all the things needed for the puja ready and waited. By 9:25 there was still no sign of the priest! Of course priests are very busy on this day, because there are many four-year-olds waiting to be initiated into the world of knowledge and learning, all before 9:30am! So Rumpa took matters in her own hands (literally) by seating her son on her lap in front of the statue of the goddess. She put the piece of chalk in his right hand, and helped him write A, B, C and the first three letters of the Bengali alphabet on the slate.
The priest finally showed up around 10am. She told him she had already performed the ceremony. She told me that normally women are not supposed to do this ceremony but her son’s future academic success was more important!