Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and arts, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. Saraswati represents vak or the divine word, but the same inspiration she reflects extends to all Hindu goddesses as arising from chit-shakti, the power of consciousness.
Saraswati is the most lauded goddess of the Vedas as Veda Mata, the mother of Vedic knowledge and all the Vedic deities. Saraswati was also the name of the vast river in northwest India on which the ancient Aryans cultivated the inner divine light through fire rituals and deep meditation.
Saraswati plays with her two hands divine music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena, holding the book of inner knowledge and the mala as the power of mantra. She has a charming human form, diversely portrayed in painting and sculpture throughout the centuries. She rides the swan of elegant movement or the peacock that reveals an unbounded creativity arising from a unitary inner vision.
Saraswati means “she who abounds in wide currents and lakes”. She represents the lake of the still and peaceful mind, on which the lotuses of meditation open. Saraswati is Rasawati or the one who holds the rasa, the inner essence of delight. She directs to look behind the outer forms of the world to the inner message of bliss or ananda.
Saraswati is worshipped on the date of Basant Panchami, a celebration of the beauty of springtime. Today is Basant Panchami. The fifth day of the waxing moon proclaims the growing light of life. It is a festival of learning, not as mere memorisation but as an irrepressible overflowing of the joy of awareness.
Worshiping Saraswati may be as simple as honouring one’s school books and educational tools or formal rituals and temple worship on a larger scale as well. It is an honouring of inner calm and wisdom, encouraging us to be sensitive, compassionate and attuned to the whole of life.
Saraswati holds at once the pure white light of spiritual knowledge and all the rainbow colours of artistic expression. She represents the dance of nature as a spiritual effulgence. The inability to see the divine iconic light through an artistic image shows a limited perception.
Saraswati Puja is a part of Bengali culture and at almost all educational institutions and every Bengali family organizes this Puja. Saraswati Puja has a lot of significance in our life and in our personality. We began our pursuit of writing and formal education with “হাতে খড়ি” (Hatay Khori) – in English. it means chalk in hand – before Maa Saraswati.
Hatay Khori is a well known party in Bengali families, in which small children of chronological age between 3 and 4 are made to perform a ritual of writing the very first letters of alphabet. Brand new black-coloured slate, chalk and books and copies are purchased for the Hatay Khori. After the puja, the Brahmin pandit does the ritual. Little kids are made to take a seat on the lap of pandit, who holds their little fingers making them compose the very first letters primarily, OM or A, B, C as well as some Bengali alphabets like “K-a”, “Kh-a”.
Saraswati Puja is also “হাতে খড়ি” for our management, organizing, crowdfunding, fund-raising and budgeting skills when we started organising Saraswati Puja at our community (পাড়া), school, and university. We are more connected to Saraswati Puja during our teens.
Maharishi Agastya also composed Saraswati Stotram. The first shloka is:
या कुन्देन्दुतुषारहारधवला या शुभ्रवस्त्रावृता
या वीणावरदण्डमण्डितकरा या श्वेतपद्मासना।
या ब्रह्माच्युत शंकरप्रभृतिभिर्देवैः सदा वन्दिता
सा मां पातु सरस्वती भगवती निःशेषजाड्यापहा||
“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.”