Vidyarambha (Samskrit: विद्यारम्भः) also described as Aksharasvikarana, was performed, as the name suggests at the commencement of the primary education. Fifth year after birth is regarded as suitable for the beginning of the primary education. It is a rite to make the child familiar with the basics of learning or education or even the language. Introduction to the alphabet was the primary entry point to learning and Vidyarambha marked the first cognitive development stage in the child's life.
परिचयः ॥ Introduction
After marking the different developmental stages in a child's life we now come to the cognitive development stage. Vidyarambha marks the intellectual progress of a child. Dr. A. S. Altekar opines that Vidyāraṁbha is the earliest Saṁskāra in the students’s educative life but unlike the Upanayana, it does not go back to hoary antiquity. The authorities which prescribe and describe this ritual are much later to the Vedic and Itihasa times. We do not find any details of Vidyarambha mentioned in the Grhyasutras or Dharmasutras, which have so elaborately laid out the rituals for relatively smaller samskaras such as Nishkramana and Chaulam.
He explains that Upanayana Samksara which existed even in the Vedic age, marked the beginning of education in pre-historic times. There was thus no necessity to prescribe a different Samskara like Akshara-svikarana (learning of the alphabet) for the simple reason that the alphabet was then probably unknown. Education therefore naturally commenced not with the learning of the alphabets, but with the memorization of the Vedamantras which were transmitted orally.
Knowledge of lipi (written forms of letters) is one of the ancient arts in India. However, many modern day scholars opine that people in the very ancient Vedic period were unaware of writing; this aspect is supported by the evidence of oral tradition of Vedic study. Yet many argue that even though Vedic studies were transmitted by oral tradition by the word of Gurus, to conduct worldly affairs it is said that "Lipi" or written form of knowledge was widely prevalent. This is evidenced by the use of "लिख (likh)" dhatu in the Shaunakiya and Madhyandhina shakas of the Vedas. The main purpose of this samskara is to initiate the child to learning letters and writing. That Samskara where the child is introduced to the written forms of letters for the first time is called the Akshararamba or Vidyarambha samsakara.
Vidyāraṁbha or Aksara-svikarnam as educational rite appears in the later works like Viramitrodaya Saṁskāraprakasa, Apararka on Yajnvalkya Smriti, Smritichandrika Samskarakanda, and Samskara-ratnamala of Gopinatha Bhatta.
According to Kautilya, the Vidyrambha for a prince who was duly tonsured (vritta-chaulakarma) was to engage in learning Writing (Lipi) and Numbers (Samkhya). After his Upanayana he is to study Vedas, Anvikshiki (Metaphysics), Varta (agriculture and science of wealth) and dandaniti (the art of governance) until the 16th year when the Godana or Keshanta ceremony is to be performed and after which he may marry.
उपयुक्तकालः ॥ Time of performance
Vidyarambha samskara should be performed after the Chudakarana samskara - वृत्तचौलकर्मा लिपिं संख्यानं चोपयुञ्जीत। as prescribed by Kautilya. Any samskara performed at the appropriate time in the life of a child leaves an indelible impression on the child, just like the colored lines drawn on wet clay which are indelible and permanently imprinted when the clay is heated in a right manner. Samskara mayukha clearly states that
प्राप्तोऽथ पञ्चमे वर्षे विद्यारम्भं तु कारयेत्। (mentioned by Markandeya)
Visvamitra (as given in Samskara Prakasha) also suggests that this Saṁskāra should be performed in the fifth year of the child which is regarded as appropriate for the education of the child;
प्राप्ते तु पञ्चमे वर्षे त्वत्प्रसुप्ते जनार्दने। विद्यारम्भस्तु कर्तव्यो यथोक्ततिथिवासरे।
The suitable months were from Margasirsa to Jyeṣtha and suitable time was when sun was in Uttarayana (Northern Hemisphere) before Harishayani Ekadashi and after Devotthani Ekadashi. Altekar confirms to it and cites few more authorities who have similar opinion. It could be delayed owing to circumstances but not until the Upanayana Saṁskāra.
According to Vasishta, the auspicious days to perform this samksara are Budhavasara (Wednesday), Brhaspativasara (Thursday) and Shukravasara (Friday). Sundays and Mondays are agreeable but Tuesdays and Saturdays are not auspicious. The tithis to be avoided for this samskara are Pratipada, Shashti, Ashtami, Purnima and Rikta tithis (i.e. 4th, 9th and 14th tithis). In summary, the tithis Tritiya, panchami, Dashami, Ekadashi and Dvadashi are auspicious as per Samskara mayukha. Teaching should be stopped on the days of Anadhyayana.
संस्कारविधिः ॥ Samskara Vidhi
On the chosen day, Vinayaka, Saraswati, Vishnu and Lakshmi, family goddess and Bṛhspati were worshipped. Additionally, the Vidya cultivated by his family, or ancestral learning (sva-vidya), (2) the Sutra-karas of that particular Vidya or subject, the sages who have promulgated that learning and in particular (3) the Vidya or subject of his choice. The child was customarily handed over to teacher who made him write few letters. The ceremony concluded with the sacrificial fee and offering feast to the Brāhmaṇas.
Thus, it shall be appropriate to mention that though Upanayana marked the beginning of education in early period, in later times Vidyāraṁbha had taken its place and it was the earliest Saṁskāra in the life of a student, though the practice was started very recently.
The modern practice is to begin learning the alphabet on an auspicious day, generally the 10th day of the Shukla half of Ashvina month, i.e., on Vijayadashami day, after worshipping Sarasvati and Ganapati, the teacher is honoured and the children are asked to repeat the words, " Om Namah Siddham", and are made to write the letters of the aksharamala on the slate.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Chahal, Mandeep (2020) Ph.D Thesis Titled: Samskaras in the Grihyasutras historical account of Jatakarma Upanyana Vivaha and Antyeshti. (Chapter 3)
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Altekar, A. S. (1944) Education in Ancient India. Benares : Nand Kishore and Bros., (Pages 265 - )
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Dr. Vagish ji's Article: Akshararambh sanskar ki upayogita in Kalyan Sanskar Ank. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 313 - 314)
- ↑ Mookerji. Radha Kumud, (1947) Ancient Indian Education (Brahminical and Buddhist) London: MacMillan And Co., Ltd. (Page 173)
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 Kane, P. V. (1941) History of Dharmashastras, Volume 2, Part 1. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. (Pages 265 - 267)
- ↑ Kautiliya Arthashastra (Adhikarana 1 Adhyaya 5)