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By Varnika Mahajan
What Diwali is to the goddess of wealth Lakshmi, Vasant Panchmi is to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and arts. The whole country observes this auspicious day of harvest, which indicates the arrival of spring.
It is interesting to observe that in Indian culture, we have three goddesses representing, Wealth (Lakshmi), Power (Shakti), and Education (Saraswati), showing the equal importance being laid on all the three aspects.
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Special prayers are offered to Goddess Saraswati on this day and many new schools and training institutes are inaugurated, a trend made famous by the renowned founder of the Banaras Hindu University, educationist Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. He founded the University on Vasant Panchmi day in the year 1916.
The history behind the festival
The story goes like this- Lord Shiva burnt the god of love, Lord Kamadeva, who was sent by other Gods to tempt Lord Shiva while he was absorbed in Samadhi. This was done so that Lord Shiva would come out of Samadhi, marry Devi Parvati and beget a powerful son who would be able to destroy the wicked demon Tarakasura. Kamadeva discharged a powerful arrow at Lord Shiva from behind a tree, which disturbed Shiva’s meditation and, as a result, he became very greatly enraged. This led to the opening of His third eye which reduced Kamadeva to ashes.
Thus, the God of love- Kamadeva is honored on this day. Kamadeva Puja used to be conducted in many parts of the country in the past through such a practice has greatly reduced in the present. Kamadeva is also known as “Atanu” — one without a body and spring or Vasant being Kamadeva’s close friend, spring is closely associated with the latter.
The major celebration on this day though is the Saraswati Puja. As per the accounts of Brahma Vaivarta Purana, a boon was granted by Krishna to Goddess Saraswati that she would be worshiped on Vasant Panchami.
Traditionally a Kalash containing water is set up with colored powder thrown into the air to mark the occasion. Men and women wear yellow color which is a sign of auspiciousness and spirituality, representing the ripening of the spring crops.
People celebrating Vasant Panchami in The East, generally wear yellow color garments, deck up Saraswati’s idol too in yellow. In the Telugu states, Vasant Panchami is observed with prayers to Maa Saraswati and also observing Akshara Abhyasam or Vidya Arambham.
Even the food is colored yellow by using saffron with folks getting together and singing songs connected with spring.
The symbolism behind the imagery of Goddess Saraswati
Seated on a white lotus, Saraswati draped in White with Veena in her hands, symbolizes knowledge, truth, and light. Her four hands often displayed prominently symbolize, manas( sense), buddhi( intellect), Chitta( imagination), and ahamkara(self-consciousness). The Veena represents all the creative arts and sciences, and her holding represents the harmony created by knowledge. Sitting on a white swan, it also symbolizes spiritual perfection, transcendence, and Moksha. Thus, sincere worship of Goddess Saraswati will lead one to Vidya and Moksha.
- At the end of the festivities, the flowers and mango leaves would be sprinkled with red gulal with girls applying it to their cheeks.
- Interestingly, there is a gap of 40 days between Vasant Panchami and Holi and it is believed to be the number of days Rati undertook penance, after her husband Kamadeva was burnt to ashes by Shiva’s third eye.
- Sufi Muslims have been witnessing this day since the 12th century AD. It is said that the poet Amir Khusro, dressed in yellow, took flowers to the saint Nizamuddin, who was mourning the death of his nephew which made him feel better. Sufi Basant is observed in Sufi shrines.
- In Uttarakhand, earthen lamps and incense are lit, to signify worship of the earth as a ‘harvest festival’. On the other hand, people in Bihar and Bengal worship the plow on this day.
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- Vasant Panchmi is also called Shree Panchami.
- Punjab region celebrates it as the Basant Festival of Kites with the observance in Gurdwaras as a Sikh festival.
- Worshiped not only in India but other countries too, the goddess is called by many names- Brahmani( Goddess of Science), Vani( referring to the flow of music). In Telugu-speaking states, she is referred to as Chaduvula Thalli( Goddess of education) and as Kalaimagal, Kalaivani in Tamil. A very common name is Sharada, one who loves the autumn season. (Image source: besthdwalls.in)
(The article was originally written in 2016, and is re-edited on February 16, 2021)
The city of Delhi has seen it all; from sultanate rule, to dynasties, and to colonial rule. From monarchy to democracy, Delhi has gone through its phases. But, in order to know and explore the nuances of Delhi, you must read these beautiful books.
1. City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple
This book was written while Dalrymple was still flirting with his love for the Medieval India. The author writes, "Moreover the city- so I soon discovered- possessed a bottomless seam of stories: tales receding far beyond history, deep into the cavernous chambers of myth and legend," and just like this, Dalrymple takes you in a tour to discover Discover Delhi.
2. Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller by Raza Rumi
This book explores how the author explores his identity as a South Asian Muslim and how his city of Lahore is a mirror image of Delhi. Rumi, in this book, tries to co-relate the past with the present by comparing its festivals, streets, and markets.
3. Delirious Delhi: Inside India's Incredible Capital by DavePrager
This book is quite interesting. The story of this book revolves around the lives of Dave and Jenny who have recently moved to Delhi when their firm began to go down. The city of Delhi in this book is shown through their eyes as they try to make their way in the city that holds together a very large population.
4. The Heart has its Reasons by Krishna Sobti, Translated by Reema Anand, Meenakshi Swami
The original title of this book is "Dil - o - Danish". This book tells the reader about the streets of Old Delhi and almost transport the reader back in the past. This book is basically set in the 1920's, and tells the tale of a man's extramarital affair, his children out of wedlock, black magic, and Chandni Chowk's rich culture of sweets and the perils of being a widow. Interestingly, many have compared the author of this book to Jane Austen.
5. Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh
Who would talk about Delhi and not remember Khushwant Singh? This amazing book is just like a narrative of the author's fulfilled love affair with the city and with a eunuch. The narrator in this book is an aging man who is trying to discover the city. This book is truly a masterpiece, where it takes the readers on the history of Delhi glimpsing at what makes the city what it is– simply beautiful.
There are some of the Indian cities which are older than time. Therefore, we must know which cities are they, and what has been their history!
1. Varanasi (1200 BC–)
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities of India, and has been a center of religious and cultural activity since the Bronze Age. In fact, this city might have been in existence from a very long time, since it finds mention in the Rig Veda. It is believed that the city of Varanasi was thriving for more than 1600 years before the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe. This city is one of the holiest places for Hindus and Jains, and even Lord Buddha gave his very first sermon here in 528 BC. In Hinduism, it is believed that dying in Varanasi brings salvation, which is the reason why the city is always brimming with pilgrims.
2. Ujjain (700/600 BC–)
Ujjain was once considered as one of the most prominent cities in the Middle India. In fact, the name of this city is repeatedly mentioned in the literature of that period, i.e. in the works of stalwarts like Kālidāsa. This city has seen the rise and fall of numerous empires, from the Mauryas to the Avantis, Nandas, and even the Guptas. This city, just like Varanasi, is also considered as one of the holiest cities in India, and hosts one of the officially recognized Kumbh melas, the Ujjain Simhastha Kumbh, in which people across the world take place.
3. Madurai (500 BC–)
Madurai been a major center of culture and trade for more than 2500 years. In fact, the name of this city has been mentioned in the writings of the great traveler, Megasthenes, and has been ruled by several empires from the Pandyas and the Cholas to the Karnata, and finally the British. Interestingly, ‘'Koodal,' was one of its ancient name which means 'a congregation of learned men'. There is no doubt that Madurai was an epicenter of scholars and religious teachers in the southern part of India.
4. Thanjavur (300 BC–)
Thanjavur was formerly known as Tanjore. This city is pretty famous for its Tanjore style of painting, which is a traditional style that is characterised by the use of gold foil, religious imagery, and simple compositions. This city is best known for being the home of the Great Living Chola Temples, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Till date, people across the world visit this place in order to experience its rich history and heritage.
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