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)