Basant Panchami: Saraswati Puja Festival
Also known as Saraswati Puja, this festival is celebrated in Nepal, India and Bangladesh to invoke wisdom and consciousness in human beings. Apart from wisdom, Saraswati is also the deity for fine and performing arts. The day is also called Basant Panchami which falls in Falgun (Phalgun in Hindi) month of Bangla calendar; that is February of the Gregorian calendar. In West Bengal Saraswati Puja is celebrated in Hindu households and also in schools and colleges. Bengali men are usually dressed in traditional pajamas and Punjabi. Women are dressed in yellow (basanti) colored sari. With Her grace, the mute, it is believed, have been able to speak and people have been blessed with the ability to write or compose poems. Musicians sing here and many even choose to perform here first. Instrumentalists have puja performed for their instruments here. Apart from art and culture, Goddess Saraswati also showers Her blessings for the education of children.
Kite flying is the major and most colorful event of this festival. The sky is covered with different colorful fighter kites. The kites (Patang in Hindi) are of medium size normally from 1 feet to 4 feet across and made of paper on a frame of bamboo strips. Preparation for this festival start many days earlier and people spend a lot of money on the kites. New clothes are purchased for this festival and many delicious dishes prepared for this particular occasion. In Haryana, sweet yellow rice, flavored with saffron, is prepared for Basant Panchami.
Notebooks, pencils and pens are kept at the Devi’s feet for blessings and then used by the students. A notice board asks the students to write their names, address and the roll number on a piece of paper and put it in the hundi after praying for success! It is believed the Goddess blesses them for good and positive results.
Her expression is so serene and calm even as She is majestic. She is seated on a white lotus in Padmasana, adorned by a pure white silk sari, has a book in Her lower left hand, Her lower right hand showing the Chinmudra, Aksharamala in Her right upper hand, and Amrithakalasam in Her left upper hand. Both eyes are full of compassion. The vehicle assigned to each of the three goddesses also symbolically represent their special powers. Goddess Saraswati is the consort of Lord Brahma (Lord of Creation) and is the Goddess of wisdom and learning. Saraswati is the one who gives the essence (sara) of our own self (swa). She is considered as the personification of all knowledge – arts, sciences, crafts and other skills. She has a beautiful and elegant presence, is pure white in colour, clad in a white sari, seated on a white lotus, representing purity and brilliance. She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning; mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She has the sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus (a symbol of true knowledge) in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on the Veena.
She is dressed in white (sign of purity) and rides on a white goose (swan). The swan is known for its peculiar characteristic of being capable of separating water from milk, indicating that we should possess discrimination in separating the bad from the good. The seat being a lotus or peacock implies that the teacher is well-established in the subjective experience of truth. When sitting on a peacock she reminds us that wisdom suppresses ego.
Like Brahma, she is not worshiped much in temples. However, every year Saraswati Pooja (Navaratri) is celebrated by people all over India, be it students, workers, craftsmen, businessmen offering their prayers for a successful and fruitful year. However, Saraswati does have a temple in Koothanur in Tanjavur district (Tamil Nadu). There is an important Saraswati Temple in Basar at a distance of 40 km from Nizamabad in Adilabad District, Andhra Pradesh on the banks of Godavari River.