Saraswati Puja is a festival celebrated all over India today to pay homage to the Hindu deity, Saraswati. Saraswati is regarded by the Hindus as the Goddess of knowledge, music, art, culture, learning, wisdom, refinement, science and technology. It is believed that on this auspicious day of Vasant Panchami, Goddess Saraswati was born, which is the fifth day of the lunar month of Magha (time between the months of January and February). The festival is celebrated with great fervour in temples, homes and educational institutes alike.
The Goddess Saraswati is represented by a beautiful woman dressed in pure white sari, possessing four arms and seated on a white lotus or riding a white swan – white symbolizing purity and discrimination. She is usually depicted near a flowing river that represents the free flow of wisdom, knowledge and consciousness. Although she exudes a majestic aura, yet her face portrays an expression of great serenity and calm. Her eyes are full of compassion. She is the archetype of the woman that symbolises the possession of learning and knowledge as supremely alluring. Her jewellery is minimal, showing her preference for knowledge over materialism and worldly goods.
A peacock is often seen standing besides the Goddess. The peacock represents the outer beauty, which can distract the spiritual seeker. Although it is externally attractive, it takes pride in flaunting its beauty and displays sheer arrogance. Saraswati prefers the swan as a vehicle and not the peacock. This signifies that one should overcome superficiality and not be concerned with external appearance. Instead be wise regarding the eternal truth in order to acquire true knowledge.
Saraswati is known as a guardian deity in Buddhism who upholds the teachings of Gautama Buddha by offering protection and assistance to practitioners. The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India. In Burmese she is known as Thurathadi.
The Goddess of knowledge and learning is said to have invented Sanskrit, the language of scriptures and scholars. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning. The lotus in her picture represents supreme knowledge. By sitting on a lotus, she signifies that she is herself rooted in the supreme reality which symbolizes supreme knowledge. She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a rosary in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena.
Alternatively, these four arms also represent the four Vedas, the primary sacred books for Hindus. The Vedas, in turn, represent the three forms of literature:
Poetry — the Rigveda contains hymns, representing poetry.
Prose — Yajurveda contains prose.
Music — Samaveda represents music.
Thus the four hands also depict this—prose is represented by the book in one hand, poetry by the rosary and music by the veena. The pot of sacred water represents purity in all of these three or their power to purify human thought. The detailed symbolism of the four things she holds in her hands is:
->A book, which is the sacred Vedas, representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as her perfection of natural study and the scriptures.
->Rosary or mala representing the power of meditation and spirituality. Symbolising the poetic form, it also signifies concentration or the meditative process involved in the acquisition of knowledge.
->A pot of sacred water, representing creative and purification powers.
->Veena represents the eternal cosmic music. The Veena points to the collective sound of all our thoughts and actions as it is manifest as music in the cosmic universe. It marks the withdrawal of the senses and the focus needed to attain knowledge. Placing the left hand on top of the veena closer to the heart shows that knowledge should be used for the good of others. Placing the right hand on the bottom shows that negative knowledge should be kept under control. The veena points to the potential for the negative and positive purposes of knowledge–the choice is left to the person as to which type of knowledge is used.
The Goddess who is the patron of music, culture and learning is revered by singers and musicians with great devotion. With her grace, the mute, it is believed, have been able to speak and people have been blessed with the ability to write or compose poems. Musicians sing here and many even choose to perform here first. Instrumentalists have puja performed for their instruments here. Apart from art and culture, Goddess Saraswati also showers her blessings for the education of children. Notebooks, pencils and pens are kept at her altar for blessings and then used by the students.
The people in the neighbourhood gather from the early morning to help the organisers with their work at the puja pandal. Oblation and puja accessories leave a beautiful fragrance lingering in the air with a feeling of calm and serenity. The puja ceremony is marked by rituals of ‘Mangaal Aarti and Pushpanjali’. Hymns coupled with mantras are chanted and prayers are offered presided by a priest, seeking success in academics and creative projects. Oblation or Prasad distribution soon follows in a systematic manner so that no one leaves empty handed. A lunch feast of khicdi (mixture of beans, rice and vegetables), porridge, tomato chutney etc is organised for everyone in the locality.
Women, more so young girls make a great fuss a week ahead and are seen gorgeously dressed in beautiful saris on that day. Young people enjoy the day with each other. Cultural programmes are held near some of the Puja pandals.
This is a popular saraswati hymn recited by her devotees on that day:
Yaa Kundendu tushaara haaradhavalaa, Yaa shubhravastraavritha
Yaa veenavara dandamanditakara, Yaa shwetha padmaasana
Yaa brahmaachyutha shankara prabhritibhir Devaisadaa Vanditha
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswatee Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa
“May Goddess Saraswati,
who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon,
and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops;
who is adorned in radiant white attire,
on whose beautiful arm rests the veena,
and whose throne is a white lotus;
who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me.
May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.”
Dr Swanand Pathak,
Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre’s Baalvidyaalay
Bansi Pandit – koausa.org