Vasant Panchami:​ The festival that honours Goddess Saraswati

The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which means river. Thus, people living in the Indus Valley of the Indian subcontinent were referred to as Hindus.  The Hindu pantheon includes many deities.  Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of life and look back on a common history. 

The Hindus are divided by cultures but united by religion.  Most Hindu festivals fall in either of the two seasons, summer and winter. The festivals are marked around those points of the year which are at or near the SUMMER SOLSTICE and WINTER SOLSTICE, during which light and warmth begin to increase and decrease,  respectively.  In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure that they celebrated all the seasonal changes. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

One such seasonal event is Vasant Panchami. Vasant Panchami is an important Indian festival celebrated every year in the month of Magh according to the Hindu calendar. Celebrated on the fifth day of Magh, the day falls somewhere between the months of February or March, according to the Gregorian calendar. The significance of the day lies in the worship of Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning, who bequeaths the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge. Mother Saraswati is the consort of Lord Brahma, the Creator. The divine couple together engages in creating mankind and imbuing self-awareness and intelligence in mankind.

Hindu mythology describes Goddess Saraswati as a lady dressed in pristine white attire, white flowers, and white pearls, sitting on a white lotus set in a wide stretch of water. The Goddess also holds a Veena, a string-instrument, for playing music.  The four arms of Goddess Saraswati represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. She rides on a white swan. The swan is known for its peculiar characteristic of separating water from milk, indicating that one should possess clear vision and knowledge to discriminate between good and evil. Children are taught to read and write their first words on this day.  It is considered auspicious to begin a child’s education on Vasant Panchami. The grown-ups are educated about the oldest of the Hindu writings – The “Vedas”.

The word “Veda” comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from oral traditions contain hymns, instructions, explanations,  chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. Students keep their notebooks, pens and educational items near the statue of Goddess Saraswati and chant Ma Saraswati shlokas to get her blessings. They distribute sweets among the devotees and share their joy of winning Ma Saraswati’s blessings.

‘Yellow’ is the dominant colour of this festival as it signifies the ripening of fruits and crops. The mustard fields in North India bloom during this season giving a yellow coat to nature. People wear yellow clothes, offer yellow flowers to the Goddess and put a yellow, turmeric tilak on their forehead. They visit temples and offer prayers to various Gods. New clothes are purchased for this festival and many delicious dishes are specially prepared for this particular occasion. The colour yellow is deeply associated with teachers, with wisdom and also with auspiciousness. The other Gods who are shown wearing yellow attire in Hinduism are Lord Dakshinamurti, Lord Dattatreya and Brihaspati or Guru (Jupiter). Notably, all these God forms are associated with imparting wisdom. Hence we find that associating the color yellow with Mother Saraswati has a deep significance of portraying Mother Saraswati as the Goddess of wisdom.

And last but not the least, let our prayer go: May Maa Saraswati bless us all to attain enlightenment through knowledge and rid ourselves of lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance. Happy Vasant Panchami!

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