Murti of Saraswati for puja in Kolkata
|Mantra||Om Aim Sarasvatyai Svāhā|
|Mount||swan, Hansa Bird, and often peacock|
|An article related to|
Saraswati (Sanskrit: सरस्वती, Sarasvatī ?) is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science. She is the companion of Brahma, also revered as his Shakti (power). It was with her knowledge that Brahma created the universe. She is a part of the trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe. The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India.
Saraswati is known as a guardian deity in Buddhism who upholds the teachings of Gautama Buddha by offering protection and assistance to practitioners. She is known in Burmese as Thurathadi (သူရဿတီ, pronounced: or ) or Tipitaka Medaw (တိပိဋကမယ်တော်, pronounced: ), in Chinese as Biàncáitiān (辯才天), in Japanese as Benzaiten (弁才天/弁財天) and in Thai as Surasawadee (สุรัสวดี).
In the East Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal, and Odisha, Saraswati is considered to be a daughter of Durga along with her brothers Ganesha and Karthikeya. In some Puranas (like Skanda Purana), she is the sister of Shiva (Shivaanujaa).
The name Saraswati comes from saras (meaning "flow") and wati (meaning "she who has flow"). In the Telugu language (తెలుగుభాష) she is also known as chaduvula talli(చదువులతల్లి), Sharada(శారద). In Konkani, she is referred to as Sharada, Veenapani, Pustaka dharini, Vidyadayini. In Kannada, variants of her name include Sharade, Sharadamba, Vani, Veenapani in the famous Shringeri temple. In Tamil, she is also known as kalaimagal (கலைமகள்), Kalaivaani (கலைவாணி), Vaani (வாணி). She is also addressed as Sharada (the one who loves the autumn season), Veena pustaka dharani (the one holding books and a Veena), Vaakdevi, Vagdevi, Vani (all meaning "speech"), Varadhanayagi (the one bestowing boons) and many other names.
Saraswati is strongly associated with flowing water in her role as a goddess of knowledge. She is depicted as a beautiful woman to embody the concept of knowledge as supremely alluring. She possesses four arms, and is usually shown wearing a spotless white saree and seated on a white lotus or riding a white swan.
According to writer Sailen Debnath, "Saraswati is the Goddess of learning; and the meaning of the goddess in association of all the symbols with her signifies that if a learner really understands and pursues the connotative and denotative meaning of the goddess, he or she can easily advance in acquiring knowledge. The realization of the Goddess makes the learner ready to embark on the world of knowledge and wisdom." Debneth identifies seven primary characteristics and symbols of the goddess that relate to her role as a goddess of knowledge.
- Saraswati is the goddess of learning, and not a god; the feminine aspect signifies creativity, as a woman can originate a human being in her womb.
- The white colour of the goddess signifies spotless character and an immaculate mind.
- She is seated on an inverted white lotus, meaning to be in search of the light of knowledge.
- A white swan is the vehicle of the goddess, indicative of inquisitiveness.
- The goddess is playing the vina; this signifies harmony of all mental strings, agencies and attitudes.
- The goddess is worshipped with Palash, a red odourless flower; this symbol is indicative of being free from preconceptions.
- Inkpot with pen and books as symbols.
In the Rigveda, Saraswati is a river as well as its personification as a goddess. In the post-Vedic age, she began to lose her status as a river goddess and became increasingly associated with literature, arts, music, etc. In Hinduism, Saraswati represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the arts, eloquence and power. Hindus worship her not only for "academic knowledge", but for "divine knowledge" essential to achieve moksha. Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and arts, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She is the mother of the Vedas, and chants to her, called the 'Saraswati Vandana' often begin and end Vedic lessons. Saraswati is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning. 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 lotus – the symbol of true knowledge – in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena. She is dressed in white – the symbol of purity – and rides on a white swan – symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity and discrimination. Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography - the consort of Manjushri.
The learned and the erudite attach greater importance to the worship of goddess Saraswati. As a practice, only educated people worship her for knowledge and wisdom. They believe that only Saraswati can grant them 'moksha' - the final liberation of the soul. Saraswati's birthday - Vasant Panchami - is a Hindu festival celebrated every year on the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. Hindus celebrate this festival with great fervor in temples, homes and educational institutes alike.
Stories of Sarawati
The Birth of Saraswati
In the beginning there was chaos. Everything existed in a formless, fluid state. "How do I bring order to this disorder?" wondered Brahma, the creator. "With Knowledge", said Devi.
Heralded by a peacock, sacred books in one hand and a veena in the other dressed in white Devi emerged from Brahma's mouth riding a swan as the goddess Saraswati.
"Knowledge helps man find possibilities where once he saw problems." Said the goddess. Under her tutelage Brahma acquired the ability to sense, think, comprehend and communicate. He began looking upon chaos with eyes of wisdom and thus saw the beautiful potential that lay therein.
Brahma discovered the melody of mantras in the cacophony of chaos. In his joy he named Saraswati, Vagdevi, goddess of speech and sound.
The sound of mantras filled the universe with vital energy, or prana. Things began to take shape and the cosmos acquired a structure: the sky dotted with stars rose to form the heavens; the sea sank into the abyss below, the earth stood in between.
Gods became lords of the celestial spheres; demons ruled the nether regions, humans walked on earth. The sun rose and set, the moon waxed and waned, the tide flowed and ebbed. Seasons changed, seeds germinated, plants bloomed and withered, animals migrated and reproduced as randomness gave way to the rhythm of life.
Brahma thus became the creator of the world with Saraswati as his wisdom.
Saraswati was the first being to come into Brahma's world. Brahma began to look upon her with eyes of desire. She turned away saying, "All I offer must be used to elevate the spirit, not to indulge the senses."
Brahma could not control his amorous thoughts and his infatuation for the lovely goddess grew. He continued to stare at Saraswati. He gave himself four heads facing every direction so that he could always be able to feast his eyes on Saraswati's beauty.
Saraswati moved away from Brahma, first taking the form of a cow. Brahma then followed her as a bull. Saraswati then changed into a mare; Brahma gave chase as a horse. Every time Saraswati turned into a bird or a beast he followed her as the corresponding male equivalent. No matter how hard Brahma tried he could not catch Saraswati in any of her forms.
The goddess with multiple forms came to be known as Shatarupa. She personified material reality, alluring yet fleeting.
Saraswati Curses Brahma
Angered by his display of unbridled passion Saraswati cursed Brahma, "You have filled the world with longing that is the seed of unhappiness. You have fettered the soul in the flesh. You are not worthy of reverence. May there be hardly any temple or festival in your name."
So it came to pass that there are only two temples of Brahma in India; one at Pushkar, Rajasthan and the other in Kumbhakonam, Tamil Nadu.
Undaunted by the curse, Brahma continued to cast his lustful looks upon Saraswati. He gave himself a fifth head to enhance his gaze.
Bhairava, Shiva, Confronts Brahma
Brahma's action motivated by desire confined consciousness and excited the ego. It disturbed the serenity of the cosmos and roused Shiva, the supreme ascetic from his meditation.
Shiva opened his eyes, sensed Saraswati's discomfort and in a fit of rage turned into Bhairava, lord of terror. His eyes were red, his growl menacing. He lunged towards Brahma and with his sharp claws, wretched off Brahma's fifth head. The violence subdued Brahma's passion.
Brahma's cut head seared through Bhairava's flesh and clung to his hand sapping him of all his strength and driving him mad. The lord of terror ranted and raved losing control of his senses.
Saraswati, pleased with Bhairava's timely action, rushed to his rescue. With her gentle touch she nursed him like a child, restoring his sanity.
Brahma, sobered by his encounter with the Lord of terror sought an escape from the maze of his own desire. Saraswati revealed to him the doctrine for his own liberation.
Brahma sought to conduct a yagna, fire sacrifice, to cleanse himself and start anew. In order to conduct a yagna ritual the assistance of a wife is needed. Brahma chose Saraswati to be his wife and thus they were reconciled.
Saraswati, her Veena and the song of the Gandharva
The Gandharvas were demigods who sprang from the fragrance of flowers. Once they stole the Soma plant whose inebriating and invigorating sap was much sought after by the devas. The theft of the Soma infuriated all the gods.
Saraswati promised to recover the soma plant. She went to the garden of the gandharvas and with her veena created enchanting tunes: the ragas and the raginis.
"Give us this music," begged the gandharvas.
"Only if you give back the Soma plant to the devas," said the goddess.
The gandharvas returned the Soma plant and learned how to play music from Saraswati. In time they became celestial musicians whose melodies had more power to rouse the mind than any intoxicant.
Saraswati Outwits a Demon
A demon practiced many austerities to appease Brahma. The demon sought to conquer the three worlds and the gods feared that he may ask a boon that would make him invincible; the gods sought the help of the goddess Saraswati. The goddess sat on the tongue of the demon so that when it was time to ask for a boon all he could say was, "I would like to never stay awake."
"So be it," said Brahma.
As a result, the demon who wanted to conquer the three worlds ended up going to sleep forever.
Saraswati, Lakshmi and Brahma
Brahma created the universe with the help of Saraswati. Brahma was the guardian of the cosmos. He too needed Saraswati's support to sustain the cosmos. Using her knowledge he instituted and maintained dharma, sacred laws that ensure stability and growth in society.
Brahma also needed the help of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, who gave him the wherewithal to ensure cosmic order.
The question arose: who did Brahma need more? Lakshmi or Saraswati? Wealth or knowledge? The goddesses put forward their arguments. "Knowledge does not fill an empty stomach," said Lakshmi. "Wealth keeps man alive but gives no meaning to life," said Saraswati.
"I need both knowledge and wealth to sustain the cosmos. Without knowledge I cannot plan. Without wealth I cannot implement a plan. Wealth sustains life; the arts give value to life. Thus both Lakshmi and Saraswati are needed to live a full life."
Saraswati Saves the World from Shiva's Third Eye and the Beast of Doom
Shiva was woken from his meditations and looked around to discover a world on the brink of corruption and being unsalvageable. Shiva decided it was time to wipe the slate clean. Shiva, the destroyer, opened his world destroying third eye attempting to destroy the three worlds.. Out came a terrible fire that threatened all existence.
There was panic everywhere. Saraswati calmly stated, "Do not worry. Shiva's fire burns only that which is impure and corrupt.";
She took the form of a river and with her pure waters picked up the dreaded fire from Shiva Badavagni - the beast of doom.
"So long as the world is pure and man wise, this terrible creature will remain on the bottom of the sea. When wisdom is abandoned and man corrupts the world, Badavagni will emerge and destroy the universe," foretold the wise goddess.
Narada , a sage and celestial troublemaker, begins the fight by visiting Saraswati , the Goddess of knowledge, and purposely annoys Her by saying that wealth is more important and abundant. Saraswati angrily said that She will prove that Her power, knowledge is more important. Narada then goes to Vaikuntha to see Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, and also annoys Her by saying that education is more abundant and is the best. Lakshmi also retorted that She will prove that Her power of wealth is more important. Narada finally goes to Mount Kailas, seeking Parvati, the goddess of power and strength and annoys Her too, saying that wealth and knowledge is more important. Parvati too stressed that She will prove that Her power of strength is more important. The three Goddesses, having turned against each other, each decide to choose someone on earth and bless them powers so that each of them can prove their power and make the other two Goddesses lose. Saraswati blesses a mute person, Vidyapati, to speak and gives him all the knowledge in the world. There is a place where a Maharaja rules but he has no children. He is dying so his minister sends the royal elephant into the streets with a garland. The person whose neck the elephant puts the garland on will be the next Maharani or Maharaja. Lakshmi controls the royal elephant and makes it give the garland to a beautiful beggar girl. Now the beggar girl is a very wealthy Maharani and lives in a palace. Due to her beauty, everyone wants to marry her. There is someone who has been a coward his whole life, whom Parvati blesses to become very strong.
Coincidentally the three people chosen by the Goddesses belong to the same country.Three of them became so proud of each other's strength. As for the mute person, he has knowledge. As for the beggar girl, she has money and beauty and for the coward, he has bravery. One day the warrior was crowned chief of the soldier lead. When the singer was given a golden pendant, he rejected the gift and then insults the queen in the presence of all that she is a brainless ruler. Suddenly, the warrior ordered the soldier to be put to prison without the queen's permission. Actually, the queen had fallen head over heels in love with the musician. Secretly she went to the prison and ask him to marry her if he sings of her praise. He rejects. Making the queen angry which she shows the anger to the warrior. The warrior who was very angry killed all the queen's soldiers and replace them with his own soldiers. Soon, everyone listened to only his orders. One Day, the warrior intended to kill both the queen and the musician but suddenly his sword dissapeared. In the end the Trinity of Gods, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu , and Lord Brahma settles the dispute by explaining the importance of knowledge, wealth, and strength combined, and how dangerous it is if each power goes separately. Finally, the three Goddesses reconcile and the three blessed by them along with the common people unite and realise that knowledge, wealth and strength are all equally important in many ways. The three Goddesses blesses the country and Sage Narada, thanking him for making the world understand the unity of knowledge, wealth and strength and for uniting them also.
The Forms of Saraswati
In the Devi Mahatmya, Saraswati is in the trinity of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati. She is depicted as eight-armed.
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.
Mahavidya Nila Saraswati
The goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes that she is founded in the experience of the absolute truth. Thus, she not only has the knowledge but also the experience of the highest reality. She is mainly associated with the color white, which signifies the purity of true knowledge. Occasionally, however, she is also associated with the colour yellow, the colour of the flowers of the mustard plant that bloom at the time of her festival in the spring. Unlike the goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati is adorned with simple jewels and gold, representing her preference of knowledge over worldly material things.
She is generally shown to have four arms, which represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. 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.
The four hands also depict this thus—prose is represented by the book in one hand, poetry by the garland of crystal, and music by the veena. The pot of sacred water represents purity in all of these three, or their power to purify human thought.
She is shown to hold the following in her hands:
- A book, which is the sacred Vedas, representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as her perfection of the sciences and the scriptures.
- A mālā of crystals, representing the power of meditation and spirituality.
- A pot of sacred water, representing creative and purification powers.
- The vina, a musical instrument that represents her perfection of all arts and sciences. Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music, which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music.
The beautiful human form of Saraswati comes to the fore in this English translation of the Saraswati hymn:
"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."
A hansa / hans or swan is often located next to her feet. The sacred bird, if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes discrimination between the good and the bad or the eternal and the evanescent. Due to her association with the bird, Saraswati is also referred to as Hansvahini, which means "she who has a hansa / hans as her vehicle".
She is usually depicted near a flowing river, which may be related to her early history as a river goddess.
Sometimes a peacock is shown beside the goddess. The peacock represents arrogance and pride over its beauty, and by having a peacock as her mount, the goddess teaches not to be concerned with external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth.
In Hindu beliefs, great significance is attached to offering honey to this goddess, as honey is representative of perfect knowledge. Hymns dedicated to her include Saraswati Vandana Mantra.
In Tamil Nadu, the Koothanur Saraswathi temple in Koothanur, Tiruvarur District, Tamil Nadu
Saraswati Puja calendar:
- Saraswati Puja Avahan – Maha Saptami – Triratra vratam starts in Andhra Pradesh.
- Saraswati Puja (main puja) – Durgashtami
- Saraswati Uttara Puja – Mahanavami
- Saraswati Visarjan or Udwasan – Vijaya Dashami
- Saraswati Kartik Purnima on (Sristhal) siddhpur of Gujaratis ancient festival since Solanki ruling of Patan state.
Sarasvati Puja in Eastern India
In the eastern part of India—Tripura, Orissa, West Bengal, Bihār and Assam,—Saraswati Puja is celebrated in the Magha month (January–February). It coincides with Vasant Panchami or Shree Panchami, i.e., the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. People place books near the goddess' statue or picture and worship the goddess. Book reading is not allowed on this day.
Sarasvati Puja in South India
In the southern states of India, Saraswati Puja is conducted during the Navaratri. Navaratri literally means "nine nights", but the actual celebrations continue during the 10th day, which is considered as Vijaya Dashami or the Victorious Tenth Day. Navaratri starts with the new-moon day of the bright fortnight of the Sharad Ritu (Sharad Season of the six seasons of India) during September–October. The festival celebrates the power of the feminine aspect of divinity or shakti. The last two or three days are dedicated to Goddess Saraswati in South India.
In Karnataka the Mysore Dasara festival includes Sharada puje. During the Navarathri season they keep various dolls on raised platforms this arrangement is called ("Gombe koorisuvudu"). Pustaka puje and musical instruments puja is also done on Saraswati pooja day.
In Tamil Nadu, Sarasvati Puja is conducted along with the Ayudha Puja (the worship of weapons and implements including machines). On the ninth day of Navaratri, i.e., the Mahanavami day, books and all musical instruments are ceremoniously kept in front of the Goddess Sarasvati early at dawn and worshipped with special prayers. No studies or any performance of arts is carried out, as it is considered that the goddess herself is blessing the books and the instruments. The festival concludes on the tenth day of Navaratri (Vijaya Dashami), and the goddess is worshipped again before the books and the musical instruments are removed. It is customary to start the study afresh on this day, which is called Vidyarambham (literally, "Commencement of Knowledge").
In Kerala, 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 Veypu (Placing for Worship). It consists of placing the books for Pooja 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 reputed teacher. The little ones will have to write "Hari Shri Ganapataye Namah" and recite the same to mark the auspicious entry into the world of education. This is considered a memorable event in the life of a person. In some parts of Kerala bordering Tamil Nadu, Ayudha Puja is also conducted during this period.
Respect for written material
In India, it is customary that, out of respect, when a person's foot accidentally touches a book or any written material (which are considered a manifestation of Saraswati) or another person's leg, it will be followed by an apology in the form of a single hand gesture (Pranāma) with the right hand, where the offending person first touches the object with the fingertips and then the eyes, forehead and/or chest. This also counts for money, which is considered a manifestation of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
Bani Archana, 2013 (Saraswati puja festival, 2013), Jagannath Hall, University of Dhaka
Bani Archana, 2012 (Saraswati puja festival, 2012), Jagannath Hall, University of Dhaka
Stone sculpture of Gnana Saraswathi at the Gangaikonda Cholapuram
Sringeri Temple of Toronto
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