By Pradeep Chamaria
The fresh season of festivities is almost around the corner. In Kolkata, Saraswati Puja (Basant Panchami in other parts of India) is just a day away, and Holi, Chaitra Navaratras, and Hanuman Jayanti celebrations are also knocking on the doors. With the successful launch of COVID– 9 vaccines, everyone is now happily participating in all kinds of religious festivals, albeit with all safety precautions in place. Artisans who create the life-like idols for the festivals are also happy and busy making eye-catching Goddess Saraswati idols. The atmosphere is full of cheerfulness after a year as the order books are full.
The authorities are also ready and have chalked out elaborate plans keeping in mind the pandemic situation. Saraswati puja will be celebrated on 16 February 2021 and orders have been issued to immerse the idols the very next day, the “Sital Shasthi” in nearby ponds or rivers, thereby completing the process of worshipping.
Saraswati Puja is celebrated on the 5th day of Hindi month of Magh, roughly corresponding to the period between the end of January and middle of February. According to Hindu scriptures, the puja is a celebration of birthday of Goddess Saraswati in educational institutions, club precincts, homes and temples. In West Bengal, it is also a day to celebrate love, the Valentine’s Day of the Bengalis.
Also celebrated as Basant Panchami, it marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, meaning the fifth day (Panchami) of Spring (Basant- the King of all Seasons). This is a time for farmers to celebrate as their agricultural fields are full of yellow flowers of the mustard crop. The day is also considered as a propitious day to begin a new work, get married or perform griha pravesh (house warming ceremony).
The idol of Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of ‘Vidya’ or Knowledge, Wisdom, Learning, Art and Music, and inventor of Sanskrit language is normally portrayed wearing a yellow or white spotless sari and seated on an inverted white lotus or riding a swan.
Goddess Saraswati carries a lotus and scriptures in two of her hands, plays music on her veena (a musical instrument), and a pot of water in her other two hands. The inverted lotus represents ‘a search for knowledge’, the white swan, a symbol of spiritual perfection is the vehicle of the goddess, and the Veena represents harmony and signifies perfection in arts and music. A peacock is also placed on the right side of Saraswati symbolising equilibrium between reason and emotion.
It’s worthy to note here that the Japanese form of Saraswati, Goddess Benzaiten is also depicted holding ‘biwa’, a traditional Japanese flute like musical instrument.
The colour yellow plays an important role in Basant Panchami. People wear yellow coloured clothes and also eat yellow coloured food, like khichdi, sweet dishes containing saffron and decorate homes with yellow flowers.
Basant Panchami celebrations at other places
Like other major gods and goddesses, Saraswati also has ‘ashtottara satanam’ (one hundred and eight names). Goddess Saraswati, or Shri Panchami, Saraswati Panchami is not only worshipped by Hindus but by Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains also. In Punjab, they fly kites, in Bihar the day is celebrated as a harvest festival, and as Ayudha Puja in South India.
In Bengal the goddess is popularly known as Saraswati, Sharada, Veenapani, Bagdevi and Bani. In Telegu she is known as Chaduvula, in Kannada as Sharadamba, and in Tamil as Kalaimaga.
Once celebrated primarily by the Bengali community, this is one of the very few festivals which is now observed in all parts of the country even, going beyond religious faiths. Saraswati puja is also a true representation of communal harmony as students from various religious communities participate. In Delhi, Saraswati Puja was first celebrated almost a century ago by the Bengali schools in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Outside India, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped as Thurathadi in Mayanmar, Biàncáitin in China and Benzaiten in Japan. In Indonesia, the last day called ‘Watugunung’ of the ‘Pawukon calender’ is observed as the day of Saraswati, and in Khmer literature of Cambodia, Saraswati is referred to as Vagisvari and Bharati. In Thai literature too, reference of Saraswati is seen and she is also worshipped as Yang Chen Ma, the goddess of music in Tibet.
(The author is a well-known travel writer. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)