Parents in Kerala with toddlers in tow were seen rushing to temples, clubs, media organisations and churches on Vijaydashami, as Dussehra is called here, as thousands of tiny tots were initiated into the world of letters.

As part of an age-old practice, Vijayadashami is considered to be the most auspicious day for initiation of learning as thousands of elders -- men and women -- help tiny tots to write their first letter in the most literate state of the country.

Though the pratice was in the past limited to Hindus of the state, over the last decade people have embraced it as a secular and enlightened way, beyond personal reglious faith, to start children's education. Now Christian and Muslim families too participate in the event with fervour, albeit at churches and madrasas.

On Friday morning, many wide-eyed kids in new clothes turned up to write the first letter on slates or draw it on a plate of rice. Some smiled others resisted as the elders -- parents, grand-parents or teachers -- guided their tiny fingers to draw or write the first letters in Malayalam or Roman script.

While the Hindu children write 'Hari Sree Ganapathaye Namaha', Christians write 'Sree Yesu Mishihaye Namaha'.

Later, using a gold ring, an elder draws a Malayalam word on the child's tongue. The belief is that  this would purify the child's pronunciation and intonation.

The event gets over in a matter of minutes and in a final act of the ritual the parents make a token offering to the 'teacher' for his services rendered in ushering the next generation into the world of learning and formal education.

The biggest crowd was witnessed at the Thunachan Paramabu near Thrissur, considered the home of Malayalam litterateur Thunchathu Ezhuthachan, where Jnanpith Award winner M.T. Vasudevan Nair helped 100 kids to write their first letter.

The famed Panachikkadu temple, dedicated to Goddess Saraswati - the goddess of learning - situated in Panachikkad in Kottayam district was another busy place.

"We reached here at 4 a.m and by then itself there was a crowd. We found out that the temple authorities had placed the service of 50 teachers to help the tiny tots," said a couple who carried their their son to the temple.

Leading media houses in the state at their various centres also held the event and roped in retired Indian Administrative Service officials and popular literary personalities as the day's teachers.

Across north India, however, Vijayadashmi was celebrated differently on Thursday evening with the burning of the effigies of demon king Ravana, son Meghnad, and brother Kumbhkarna to mark the victory of good over evil.