During this initiation rite, generally held when a child is five, the child is taught to write. Traditionally, the child would write with a reed pen on palm leaf. Nowadays, children write on a slate with chalk. In cities, it is now common to write on paper with pencil or pen. The maternal uncle plays an important role here, holding the child’s hand and helping him or her to write. In the absence of a maternal uncle, a Brahmin or one of the parents guides the child’s hand.
On this occasion, the child prays to Hari, Laksmi and Saraswati for wisdom. According to the Arthashastra, in ancient times, princes learned to write letters and numbers in this ceremony.
A similar ceremony, named Bismillah ceremony, is held among Muslims. On this occasion, the child is bathed and clad in kurta and pajama if a boy and in shalwar, kameez and odna if a girl.
The moulvi then places a slate in the child's hand and, after pronouncing 'Bismillah',-I begin in the name of Allah-helps the child to trace the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. The child is then taught to read the holy quran. In the past, Muslim children began formal education only after this ceremony.
Nowadays, the Bismillah ceremony is not observed so strictly, and an urban Muslim child often goes to school before beginning to read the holy Quran. The Hindu community, however, still observes the ritual. [Suresh Chandra Banerjee]