A HINDU FESTIVAL WORSHIPPING SARASWATI, THE GODDESS OF KNOWLEDGE, MUSIC AND ART. IT IS CELEBRATED EVERY YEAR ON THE FIFTH DAY OF MAGH
SIGNIFICANCE AND HISTORY:
As the name suggests, Vasant Panchami is made of two words, ‘vasant’ and ‘panchami’ meaning ‘spring’ and ‘fifth’ respectively. Therefore, according to the Hindu calendar this festival is celebrated on the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. The festival is also known as Saraswati Puja in Bengal, Shree Panchami in East India and celebrated as Saraswati Panchami by the Hindus in North India as the birthday of Goddess Saraswati.
According to the Matsya Purana, Saraswati evolved from the mouth of Brahma who while creating the universe and finding it in silence, evoked Vach-Devi (Goddess of Speech) for playing her veena to bring sound to his creation. Saraswati is Surya Kanya (daughter of the Sun God). In eastern India, Odisha and Bengal, Saraswati is regarded as Parvati’s daughter. The Vedas describes Saraswati as the river Goddess who originated from the Himalayas and joined the rivers Ganges and Yamuna to form the Triveni at Prayag for purifying, fertilising and enriching powers. She is the inventor of the Sanskrit language. She is the discoverer of the amrit (immortal drink)
The festival of Vasant Panchami originated in Aryan period when they came and settled in India along the banks of the holy River Saraswati.
The deity’s white idol signifies purity. She rides a white swan symbolising Sattwa Guna, indicating the ability to discriminate good from the bad as separating milk from water. Her four hands denote mind, intellect, alertness and ego, holding a lotus, symbolising Rajas Guna of Lakshmi and truth.
In Western India, the Goddess, seated on a peacock is the consort of Lord Kartika, indicating that wisdom holds back an ego.
Devotees perform rituals dressed in yellow garments representing spirituality and distribute yellow sweets among friends and relatives, strengthening human relationships.
Goddess is worshipped for blessings to succeed in learning, arts and crafts. The festival occurs on the onset of spring when flowers begin to blossom signifying the end of ignorant days and the beginning of enlightened days. The colour of Vasant (spring) being yellow, symbolizes prosperity and energy.
RITUALS AND FEAST:
Vasant Panchami is celebrated when Panchami Tithi prevails during Purvahna Kaal occurring between late mornings and early afternoons for worshipping Saraswathi Devi at temples and homes, schools and colleges.
The celebrants awake early in the morning, take bath, wear yellow clothes and set up a grand pandal. Decorations are made with ‘Ganda’. The statue of the deity wears a white or yellow sari dyed from “Shiuli” flowers, sits on a throne of white lotus flower known as ‘Padmasana’, decorated with a garland of white flowers, yellow Mary gold flowers and a necklace made of white pearls. Two of her four hands hold the musical instrument known as Veena and the other two hands holds a scripture and a lotus. In some idols she rides on a peacock and holds a book called as Aksharamala or Amrithakalasam and shows Chinmudra.
The Goddess’s statue is kept facing East with its face covered on a yellow cloth covering a low flat wooden stool, placed on drawings of Rangoli or Alpana. Books and pen are placed in front of the Goddess.
The priest begins chanting the mantras at the commencement of the puja, the face of the idol is uncovered and devotees assemble in front of the Goddess. ‘Shodasha Upachara’ Puja is performed. The priest ties the earthen pot with a string and unties it only on the next day before the immersion ceremony. The priest performs a havana with wood, joss sticks, incense and ghee. A lamp (diya) is also kept lit. Flowers like basaka, marigolds and flame of the forest is given to each devotee to offer to the Goddess as ‘Pushpanjali’ and repeat mantras after the priest.
The priest performs ‘Aarati’ in the morning and again in the evening. Conch shells are blown and the drums are beaten while Sanskrit slokas are chanted. Tilak of turmeric is put on their forehead.
The ‘Prasadam’ (holy food) offered to the Goddess in Northern and Eastern India are fruits known as ber, in Bengal are boondi ke ladoo, kool and sweet rice and in some places ‘Sangari’ which is a kind of bean which grows on the roots of the radish plant. Some devotees feast on a special pastry called kesar halwa.
On this auspicious day of Abujh Muhurat, the ritual of Akshar-Abhyasam or Vidya-Arambham (Praasana) is performed initiating education to children. Brahmans are feasted and Pitra-Tarpan (ancesteral worship) is performed.
In the evening musical events are organized to please the Goddess.
After the worship in Bengal, clay images of the Goddess are taken in procession and are immersed in rivers or ponds with devotion.