This article is about the Hindu goddess. For the Vedic river, see Sarasvati River. For the 1970 film, see Saraswathi (film). For the galaxy supercluster, see Saraswati Supercluster.
"Saraswati devi" redirects here. For other uses, see Saraswati Devi.
|Goddess of Knowledge, Music, Art, Wisdom and Learning|
Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma
|Affiliation||Devi, Tridevi, Adi parashakti|
|Region||South Asia, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Japan and Nepal|
|Festivals||Vasant Panchami, Navratri, Diwali|
Saraswati (Sanskrit: सरस्वती, Sarasvatī) is the Hindugoddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom and learning worshipped throughout Nepal and India. She is a part of the trinity (Tridevi) of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to create, maintain and regenerate-recycle the Universe respectively.
The earliest known mention of Saraswati as a goddess is in the Rigveda. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic period through modern times of Hindu traditions. Some Hindus celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami (the fifth day of spring, and also known as Saraswati Puja and Saraswati Jayanti in so many parts of India) in her honour, and mark the day by helping young children learn how to write alphabets on that day. The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India, as well as some Buddhist sects.
Saraswati is also worshipped outside the Indian subcontinent, in nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Saraswati, sometimes spelled Sarasvati, is a Sanskrit fusion word of sāra (सार) which means "essence", and sva (स्व) which means "one self", the fused word meaning "essence of one self" and Saraswati meaning "one who leads to essence of self-knowledge". It is also a Sanskrit composite word of surasa-vati (सुरस-वति) which means "one with plenty of water".
The word Saraswati appears both as a reference to a river and as a significant deity in the Rigveda. In initial passages, the word refers to the Sarasvati River and is mentioned as one among several northwestern Indian rivers such as the Drishadvati. Saraswati, then, connotes a river deity. In Book 2, the Rigveda describes Saraswati as the best of mothers, of rivers, of goddesses.
अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति |
– Rigveda 2.41.16
Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Sarasvatī, We are, as ’twere, of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown.
Saraswati is celebrated as a feminine deity with healing and purifying powers of abundant, flowing waters in Book 10 of the Rigveda, as follows:
अपो अस्मान मातरः शुन्धयन्तु घर्तेन नो घर्तप्वः पुनन्तु |
विश्वं हि रिप्रं परवहन्ति देविरुदिदाभ्यः शुचिरापूत एमि ||
– Rigveda 10.17
May the waters, the mothers, cleanse us,
may they who purify with butter, purify us with butter,
for these goddesses bear away defilement,
I come up out of them pure and cleansed.
–Translated by John Muir
In Vedic literature, Saraswati acquires the same significance for early Indians (states John Muir) as that accredited to the river Ganges by their modern descendants. In hymns of Book 10 of Rigveda, she is already declared to be the "possessor of knowledge". Her importance grows in Vedas composed after Rigveda and in Brahmanas, and the word evolves in its meaning from "waters that purify", to "that which purifies", to "vach (speech) that purifies", to "knowledge that purifies", and ultimately into a spiritual concept of a goddess that embodies knowledge, arts, music, melody, muse, language, rhetoric, eloquence, creative work and anything whose flow purifies the essence and self of a person. In Upanishads and Dharma Sastras, Saraswati is invoked to remind the reader to meditate on virtue, virtuous emoluments, the meaning and the very essence of one's activity, one's action. Some may wonder as to what would be the relation of Saraswati and Lord Vishnu. She is a very close relative of Thirumal.
Saraswati is known by many names in ancient Hindu literature. Some examples of synonyms for Saraswati include Brahmani (power of Brahma), Brahmi (goddess of sciences), Bharadi (goddess of history), Vani and Vachi (both referring to the flow of music/song, melodious speech, eloquent speaking respectively), Varnesvari (goddess of letters), Kavijihvagravasini (one who dwells on the tongue of poets)..Goddess Saraswati is also known as Vidyadatri (Goddess who provides knowledge), Veenavadini (Goddess who plays veena, the musical instrument held by Goddess Saraswati), Pustakdharini (Goddess carrying book with herself), Veenapani (Goddess carrying veena in her hands), Hansavahini (Goddess who sits on swan) and Vagdevi (Goddess of speech).
In the Nepali language, her name is written Nepali: सरस्वती. In the Telugu, Sarasvati is also known as Chaduvula Thalli (చదువుల తల్లి) and Shārada (శారద). In Konkani, she is referred to as Shārada, Veenapani, Pustakadhārini, Vidyadāyini. In Kannada, variants of her name include Sharade, Sharadamba, Vāni, Veenapani in the famous Sringeri temple. In Tamil, she is also known as Kalaimagal (கலைமகள்), Kalaivāni (கலைவாணி), Vāni (வாணி) and Bharathi. She is also addressed as Sāradā (the one who offers sāra or the essence), Shāradā (the one who loves the autumn season), Veenā-pustaka-dhārini (the one holding books and a Veena), Vāgdevi, Vāgishvari, (both meaning "goddess of speech"), Vāni (speech), Varadhanāyaki (the one bestowing boons), Sāvitri (consort of Brahma), Gāyatri (mother of Vedas).
In India, she is locally spelled as Bengali: সরস্বতী, Shoroshwoti ?, Malayalam: സരസ്വതി, Saraswati ?, and Tamil: சரஸ்வதி, Sarasvatī ?.
Outside Nepal and India, she is known in Burmese as Thurathadi (သူရဿတီ, pronounced [θùja̰ðədì] or [θùɹa̰ðədì]) or Tipitaka Medaw (တိပိဋကမယ်တော်, pronounced [tḭpḭtəka̰ mɛ̀dɔ̀]), in Chinese as Biàncáitiān (辯才天), in Japanese as Benzaiten (弁才天/弁財天) and in Thai as Suratsawadi (สุรัสวดี) or Saratsawadi (สรัสวดี).
Saraswati is found in almost every major ancient and medieval Indian literature between 1000 BC to 1500 AD. In Hindu tradition, she has retained her significance as a goddess from the Vedic age up to the present day. In Shanti Parva of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Saraswati is called the mother of the Vedas, and later as the celestial creative symphony who appeared when Brahma created the universe. In Book 2 of Taittiriya Brahmana, she is called the mother of eloquent speech and melodious music. Saraswati is the active energy and power of Brahma. She is also mentioned in many minor Sanskrit publications such as Sarada Tilaka of 8th century AD as follows,
May the goddess of speech enable us to attain all possible eloquence,
she who wears on her locks a young moon,
who shines with exquisite lustre,
who sits reclined on a white lotus,
and from the crimson cusp of whose hands pours,
radiance on the implements of writing, and books produced by her favour.
– On Saraswati, Sarada Tilaka
Saraswati became a prominent deity in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri in 1st millennium AD. In some instances such as in the Sadhanamala of Buddhist pantheon, she has been symbolically represented similar to regional Hindu iconography, but unlike the more well known depictions of Saraswati.
Symbolism and iconography
The goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes light, knowledge and truth. She not only embodies knowledge but also the experience of the highest reality. Her iconography is typically in white themes from dress to flowers to swan – the colour symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity, discrimination for true knowledge, insight and wisdom.
Her dhyana mantra describes her to be as white as the moon, clad in a white dress, bedecked in white ornaments, radiating with beauty, holding a book & a pen in her hands. The book & the pen represent knowledge
She is generally shown to have four arms, but sometimes just two. When shown with four hands, those hands symbolically mirror her husband Brahma's four heads, representing manas (mind, sense), buddhi (intellect, reasoning), citta (imagination, creativity) and ahamkāra (self consciousness, ego). Brahma represents the abstract, she action and reality.
The four hands hold items with symbolic meaning — a pustaka (book or script), a mālā (rosary, garland), a water pot and a musical instrument (vīnā). The book she holds symbolizes the Vedas representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as all forms of learning. A mālā of crystals, representing the power of meditation, inner reflection and spirituality. A pot of water represents the purifying power to separate right from wrong, the clean from the unclean, and essence from the inessential. In some texts, the pot of water is symbolism for soma - the drink that liberates and leads to knowledge. The most famous feature on Saraswati is a musical instrument called a veena, represents all creative arts and sciences, and her holding it symbolizes expressing knowledge that creates harmony. Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music, which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music.
A hamsa or swan is often located next to her feet. In Hindu mythology, the hamsa is a sacred bird, which if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes the ability to discriminate between good and evil, essence from outward show and the eternal from the evanescent. Due to her association with the swan, Saraswati is also referred to as Hamsavāhini, which means "she who has a hamsa as her vehicle". The swan is also a symbolism for spiritual perfection, transcendence and moksha.
Sometimes a citramekhala (also called mayura, peacock) is shown beside the goddess. The peacock symbolizes colorful splendor, celebration of dance, and - as the devourer of snakes - the alchemical ability to transmute the serpent poison of self into the radiant plumage of enlightenment.
She is usually depicted near a flowing river or other body of water, which depiction may constitute a reference to her early history as a river goddess.
Regional manifestations of Saraswati
In some regions of India, such as Vindhya, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam, as well as east Nepal, Saraswati is part of the Devi Mahatmya mythology, in the trinity (Tridevi) of Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. This is one of many different Hindu legends that attempt to explain how Hindu trinity of gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and goddesses (Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati) came into being. Various Purana texts offer alternate legends for Maha Saraswati.
Maha Saraswati is depicted as eight-armed and is often portrayed holding a Veena whilst sitting on a white lotus flower.
Her dhyānashloka given at the beginning of the fifth chapter of Devi Mahatmya is:
- Wielding in her lotus-hands the bell, trident, ploughshare, conch, pestle, discus, bow, and arrow, her lustre is like that of a moon shining in the autumn sky. She is born from the body of Gowri and is the sustaining base of the three worlds. That Mahasaraswati I worship here who destroyed Sumbha and other asuras.
Mahasaraswati is also part of another legend, the Navdurgas, or nine forms of Durga, revered as powerful and dangerous goddesses in eastern India. They have special significance on Navaratri in these regions. All of these are seen ultimately as aspects of a single great Hindu goddess, with Maha Saraswati as one of those nine.
Mahavidya Nila Saraswati
In Tibet and parts of India, Nilasaraswati is a form of MahavidyaTara. Nila Saraswati is a different deity from traditional Saraswati, yet subsumes her knowledge and creative energy in tantric literature. Nila Sarasvati is the ugra (angry, violent, destructive) manifestation in one school of Hinduism, while the more common Saraswati is the saumya (calm, compassionate, productive) manifestation found in most others. In tantric literature of the former, Nilasaraswati has a 100 names. There are separate dhyana shlokas and mantras for her worship in Tantrasara.
There are many temples dedicated to Saraswati around the world. Some notable temples include the Gnana Saraswati Temple in Basar on the banks of the River Godavari, the Warangal Saraswati and Shri Saraswati Kshetramu temples in Medak, Telangana. In Karnataka, one of many Saraswati/Sharada pilgrimage spots is Shringeri Sharadamba Temple. In Ernakulam district of Kerala, there is a famous Saraswati temple in North Paravur, namely Dakshina Mookambika Temple North Paravur. In Tamil Nadu, Koothanur hosts a Saraswati temple about 25 kilometres from Tiruvarur. In her identity as Brahmani, additional Sarasvati temples can be found throughout Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
Main article: Saraswati Puja
One of the most famous festivals associated with Goddess Saraswati is the Hindu festival of Vasant Panchami. Celebrated on the 5th day in the Hindu calendar month of Magha (month), it is also known as Saraswati Puja and Saraswati Jayanti in India.
In West Bengal, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped on Vasant Panchami, a Hindu festival celebrated every year on the 5th day in the Hindu calendar month of Magha (about February). Hindus celebrate this festival in temples, homes and educational institutes alike.
In Bihar and Jharkhand, Vasant Panchami is commonly known as Saraswati Puja. On this day, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped in schools, colleges, educational institutes as well as in institutes associated with music and dance. Cultural programmes are also organised in schools and institutes on this day. People especially students worship Goddess Saraswati also in pandals (a tent made up of colourful cloths, decorated with lights and other decorative items). In these states, on the occasion of Saraswati Puja, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped in the form of idol, made up of soil. On Saraswati Puja, the idol is worshipped by people and prasad is distributed among the devotees after puja. Prasad mainly consists of boondi (motichoor), pieces of carrot, peas and indian plum (ber). On the next day or any day depending on religious condition, the idol is immersed in a pond (known as Murti Visarjan or Pratima Visarjan) after performing a Havana (immolation), with full joy and fun, playing with abir and gulal. After Pratima Visarjan, members involved in the organisation of puja ceremony eat khichdi together.
In Goa,Maharashtra and Karnataka, Saraswati Puja starts with Saraswati Avahan on Maha Saptami and ends on Vijayadashami with Saraswati Udasan or Visarjan.
In 2018, the Haryana government launched and sponsored National Saraswati Mahotsav in its state named after Saraswati.
Saraswati Puja in South India
In Kerala and Tamil Nadu,
the last three days of the Navaratri festival, i.e., Ashtami, Navami, and Dashami, are celebrated as Sarasvati Puja. The celebrations start with the Puja Vypu (Placing for Worship). It consists of placing the books for puja on the Ashtami day. It may be in one's own house, in the local nursery school run by traditional teachers, or in the local temple. The books will be taken out for reading, after worship, only on the morning of the third day (Vijaya Dashami). It is called Puja Eduppu (Taking [from] Puja). Children are happy, since they are not expected to study on these days. On the Vijaya Dashami day, Kerala celebrates the Ezhuthiniruthu or Initiation of Writing for the little children before they are admitted to nursery schools. This is also called Vidyarambham. The child is made to write for the first time on the rice spread in a plate with the index finger, guided by an elder of the family or by a teacher.
In Burma, the Shwezigon Mon Inscription dated to be of 1084 AD, near Bagan, recites the name Saraswati as follows,
- "The wisdom of eloquence called Saraswati shall dwell in mouth of King Sri Tribhuwanadityadhammaraja at all times". – Translated by Than Tun
In Buddhist arts of Myanmar, she is called Thurathadi (or Thayéthadi).:215 Students in Myanmar pray for her blessings before their exams.:327 She is also believed to be, in Mahayana pantheon of Myanmar, the protector of Buddhist scriptures.
Main article: Benzaiten
The concept of Saraswati migrated from India, through China to Japan, where she appears as Benzaiten (弁財天). Worship of Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th through 8th centuries. She is often depicted holding a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute musical instrument. She is enshrined on numerous locations throughout Japan such as the Kamakura's Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine or Nagoya's Kawahara Shrine; the three biggest shrines in Japan in her honour are at the Enoshima Island in Sagami Bay, the Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa, and the Itsukushima Island in Seto Inland Sea.
Saraswati images are depicted with symbolism.
Sarasvati temple at Pilani in North Indian style (above), and South Indian style (below). Her temples, like her iconography, often resonate in white themes.
Balinese Hindu deity Saraswati (top), a Saraswati temple in Bali (middle), and one of many Benzaiten temples in Japan (bottom).
Saraswati Puja or Bengali V-Day?
February 11, 2016
Vasant Panchami or Saraswati Puja is basically a festival celebrated by Hindus in India to mark the advent of spring. Though in India the festivals are celebrated on separate days, in Bengal both of them are observed on the same day or the day after. The festival is celebrated during the month of Magh, which in Gregorian terms comprises parts of January and February. However, in West Bengal, this festival has a special significance in the sense that it is the day when Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu deity of knowledge and learning, is worshipped. The festival is celebrated with great gusto at homes and educational institutions across the province. Among other things, students learn values such as discipline and dedication by working with other students and organizing the festival at home or at school. In certain cases, it has also been seen that the puja has been institutionalized with young kids taking it upon themselves their seniors to organize the festival on a locality-wide scale. They go out to families living in the locality, ask for(a form of monetary collection), gather all that they can from their collections, and organize the festival.
Under normal circumstances, in schools and educational institutions, where the festival is celebrated, the senior students take it upon themselves to organize the festival. They get the idol – the unwritten rule here is to make it as big as possible – get the priest, invite teachers and officials to attend, arrange for bhog and cultural events. The puja happens in the morning and the afternoon and evening are spent in various forms of merrymaking like cultural performances and eating thebhog, which is the food prepared for the goddess’ consumption.
Images associated with the festival
One of the most iconic images associated with the festival is that of books kept (piled would be a more appropriate word over here) on each side of the idol. The basic thought behind such an exercise is the belief of students that the goddess will be pleased with the offerings made to her during the ritual and bless the books, by reading which the students will get good marks in their forthcoming examinations. Normally, you would see books on subjects such as science and mathematics getting preference because of their perceived difficulty as well as the scope of good career that excellence in these subjects promises. At times, students are not even satisfied with that and they pray long and hard so as to obtain theDevi’s blessings and score well in the examinations to come.
One also gets to see lovely artwork during the festival as young girls don their artists’ hats and come up with some stupendousalpanaand footmarks of the goddess. This is basically created by mixing chalk powder with water and then creating a thick mixture to create the said designs. However, these days all religious festivals have been transformed to a major market opportunity for eager sellers and even keener buyers and Saraswati Puja is no exception. These days one can see readymadealpanaand footmarks. Quite often, in order to save time and for want of artistic capability students buy these and complete the decoration.
Anjali, the ritual of paying respects to the deity, is also an important part of the festivities. As part of the same, students get up in the morning, have bath, get ready and skip the breakfast with the basic idea of appeasing the goddess and scoring high. The fruitkoolis an intrinsic part of the festival. It is a small round fruit, which is mostly greenish/brownish in colour and has a sweet and tangy taste. The common belief is that the first kool of the season has to be eaten after offering anjali to Goddess Saraswati. It is said that consuming kool before Saraswati Puja often results in a student performing poorly in the exams. The festival spread is also a remarkable sign considering the immense amount and variety of food on offer. One wonders how students stay hungry for so long!
One can also see plenty of young people dressed in finery in keeping with the occasion, especially young ladies clad in yellow sarees, which seems to be the default option for this festival. In fact, it is the spring season, which is referred to asbasantain Bengali and the colour yellow is associated with the general vivacity all around in springtime. In fact, yellow is referred to asbasantiin Bengali and perhaps from there comes the connection between the festival and the yellow sarees.
Is it the Bengali Valentine Day?
One of the most common scenes for any casual passerby on a Saraswati puja afternoon is that of scores of young couples walking next to each other with a smile on their faces and a glint of mischief in their eyes. Yes, this is the specific reason for which this festival is regarded as the Bengali Valentine’s Day. This year, with the festival dated for 13thFebruary, the day immediately preceding V-Day, the old school people are already discussing how the young couples will have it easy for two days on the go and indulge in romantic weekend escapades. While, this is true to an extent, the main problem with the assumption is that times have changed a lot.
Thanks to greater access to technology, these days youngsters are always in touch with each other, as long as they are awake. They are also more exposed to the western society and parents and teachers, in general, have become far more liberal than before. Value systems have also changed a lot even as the younger generation these days is far more confident in its own ability and not really shy of expressing itself. This has also meant that they get to spend quality time with their loved ones and do not really need a special day like Saraswati Puja, or even Valentine’s Day for that matter, to get away from the glare of the world and spend that extra time with the special person. It is just that these are special occasions when like other people they have a little more fun than usual.
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