Maa Saraswati (सरस्वती) is the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. 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 is in the Rigveda as a reference to a river and as a significant feminine deity with healing, purifying powers of abundant, flowing waters.
अपो अस्मान मातरः शुन्धयन्तु घर्तेन नो घर्तप्वः पुनन्तु |
विश्वं हि रिप्रं परवहन्ति देविरुदिदाभ्यः शुचिरापूत एमि || …. Rigveda 10.17
[May the waters, may the mother cleanse us, may they who purify, purify us with butter, I come up out of them, pure and cleansed.]
In initial passages, the word refers to Saraswati River and mentioned with other northwestern Indian rivers such as Drishadvati. Saraswati then connotes a river deity.
Sarasvati, is a Sanskrit fusion word of Sāra (सार) which means essence, and Sva (स्व), the fused word 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”.
In Book 2, Rigveda calls Saraswati as the best of mothers, of rivers, of goddesses.
अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति …… Rigveda 2.41.16
Basant Panchami, traditionally refers to the fifth day of the month of Magh (माघ) and it falls in Magha Shukla Panchami, the bright phase of the moon. It is also meant to welcome the arrival of Spring, after the long and dreary winter.
In ancient times, Vasant Panchami was celebrated in honor of the God of love, Kamadev (Who was a close friend of Vasant or Spring) and his wife Rati. It was a celebration of Shringara (शृंगार), where dancing girls, dressed specially in a colorful sari would come to the palace and would sing various songs on love, primarily on Radha Krishna. At the end of the festivities, the flowers and mango leaves would be sprinkled with red gulal, which these girls would apply to cheeks.
Even at present day in the smaller towns and villages of North and East of Indian states one could witness cutely dressed small little Saari-clad girls visiting temples and pandals to worship Goddess Saraswati.
Some Hindus celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami by helping young children learn how to write alphabets on this day.
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, eloquence etc), Varnesvari (goddess of letters), Kavijihvagravasini (one who dwells on the tongue of poets).
A very common name is Sharada, one who loves the Autumn season. In India she is locally spelled little differently, like as in Bengali: সরস্বতী, Saraswati, in Malayalam as: സരസ്വതി, Saraswati, and in Tamil as: சரஸ்வதி, Sarasvatī.
Saraswati images are depicted with symbolism.
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. The Veena, represents all the creative arts and sciences, and her holding represents the harmony created by knowledge. Her iconography is typically in white themes from dress to flowers to swan – the color symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity, discrimination for true knowledge, insight and wisdom to think and reason.
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.
There are many temples dedicated to Saraswati around the world. As per the Brahma Purana, Saraswati was granted a boon by Shri Krishna, that she shall be worshiped on Vasant Panchami day. Hindus celebrate this festival in temples, homes and educational institutes alike. Saraswati Puja also done with Saraswati Avahan on Maha Saptami during Navaratri and ends on Vijayadashami with Saraswati Udasan or Visarjan.
In Kerela 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.
The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India. Saraswati also became a prominent deity in Buddhist iconography also. Saraswati who is revered as a goddess of knowledge, music and arts is also found outside Nepal and India, such as in Japan, Vietnam, Bali (Indonesia) and Myanmar, mostly in Asia.
Outside India, she is known in Burmese as Thurathadi, 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).
Myanmar: In Myanmar she is referred to as Thurathadi, and is considered the Goddess of learning much like in India.
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”.
Cambodia: In Cambodia she is referred to as Vagisvari or Bharti. Saraswati was honoured with invocations among Hindus of Angkorian Cambodia, suggests a tenth-century and another eleventh-century inscription.
Japan: The Japanese counterpart of Saraswati is Benzaiten, and she holds the biwa, a traditional Japanese lute, much like she holds the Veena. Benzaiten is depicted (below) with a musical instrument in Japan, and is a deity of knowledge, music, and everything that flows.
Thailand: In Thailand she is called as Suratswadi. In ancient Thai literature, Saraswati (Suratsawadi) is the goddess of speech and learning, and consort of Brahma. Over time, Hindu and Buddhist concepts on deities merged in Thailand. Icons of Saraswati with other deities of India are found in old Thai Vats. Amulets with Saraswati and a peacock are also found in Thailand.
On Left: Saraswati, Devi of Arts, Emblem of Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
Indonesia: Saraswati is an important goddess in Balinese Hinduism. She shares the same attributes and iconography as Saraswati in Hindu literature of India – in both places, she is the goddess of knowledge, creative arts, wisdom, language, learning and purity.
Reference of Maa 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 through modern times of Hindu traditions.
May the blessings of Maa Sharada be upon you always!