Celebration in West Bengal
Saraswati Puja is celebrated with a lot of fervour and zeal all across India and especially in nearly every household in Eastern India specifically West Bengal.
This religious festival is a day-long event and is mostly celebrated by the class of educated people since they believe that performing this ritualistic devotion will enable them to get the blessings of the deity of learning, Goddess Saraswati.
Thereafter they can achieve higher wisdom and insight into the life of things and can attain moksha or salvation of the soul.
Advent of Spring
This festival is celebrated in the month which is the beginning of Spring or “Basant”. It is also known as “Basant Panchami” or “Shree Panchami” as it is celebrated on the fifth day of the advent of Spring.
Being a very popular festival celebrated in almost every household in Eastern India, children are well acquainted with this festival and look forward to it with joy and eagerness.
In this festival little girls wear yellow saris and perform the puja, dances and poetry recitations for the goddess of learning.
Special programmes are held in schools and colleges of West Bengal where myriad cultural activities are performed and academic competitions organised like poster making, alpana or rangoli making and sit and draw competitions.
Procedure of the Worship
The procedure of the puja of Maa Saraswati is very intricate and interesting. A week before the day of the puja idols of the goddess are sold in various parts of the city, especially in the locality of Sealdah.
Since this is a household family puja the idols are not life-like or gigantic in size as is the case with the idols Goddess Durga in Durga Puja.
Rather the idols are delicately crafted portable-sized ones which can be easily carried in our hands and which will fit inside our houses.
People flock to several places in the city to buy idols of their choice. On the day of Saraswati Puja young girls take a a bath early in the morning and dress up in mustard yellow and green or mustard yellow and red saris.
The worship of the Goddess takes place in the morning and “alpana” or “rangoli” is made on the floor with powdered rice and flowers.
Students pile up their books in front of the deity earnestly seeking her blessings for academic excellence. Among the offerings made to the deity are the leaves of aloe vera or “tulsi”, barley sheafs and mango blossom. Palash is an important flower used for this puja.
“Kul” or red berries are especially offered to the Goddess after which her devotees partake of the same.
After worshipping the deity “Prashad” or a salver of assorted fruits diced and cut are distributed to the devotees and their family members. Thereafter the youngsters go out with friends and celebrate the day with gaiety and fun.
The immersion of the idol takes place the following day. With a lot of fanfaronade and pomp the idol the Goddess is carried to a nearby lake or river by the students for the purpose of immersion.
The Mythology of Saraswati
Goddess Saraswati is the embodiment of knowledge, wisdom and learning. The word Saraswati has etymologically originated from “sara” and swa” or knowledge (sara) and self (swa).
It signifies the inner wisdom or self-knowledge. She is envisioned as being dressed in either in a white saree or mustard yellow-coloured (basanti) saree.
In her two rear hands she holds the rosary or prayer beads and the books In her two hands in front she is depicted as playing the musical instrument of the “veena.”
She is always shown sitting on an inverted lotus and riding astride a graceful white swan just as Goddess Durga rides astride the lion.
The entire image of Saraswati is one of calm tranquility and serene placidity.
Goddess Saraswati is the imperial consort of Lord Brahma. She is the goddess of all the creative arts and in particular of poetry and music, learning and science.
She executes the plans which are envisioned by Brahma and is thus the creative power behind Brahma’s vision.
She is regarded as the water deity and is revered for her purifying and refining powers. She is believed to have invented Sanskrit, the language of the religious scriptures and the erudite intellectuals.
It is also believed that it was Goddess Saraswati who discovered nectar or ‘Amrit’ in the Himalayas and gave it to the other Gods.
Symbolism of Saraswati
The beautiful graceful form of the goddess is embedded with deeper meanings lying beneath the surface The white swan on which she rides symbolizes grace and poise and peace.
The lake on which the swan glides is a symbol of the human mind which can have various depths.
The book she carries in her hand is the book of inner knowledge and the rosary she carries in another hand is a symbol of the power of prayer and chanting.
The veena played by her is a divine instrument of the music of the cosmos and connects the arts to knowledge.
The lotus flower she is seated upon is inverte and open and signifies the necessity and power of yogic meditation to calm the mind and absorb full knowledge.
Saraswati means “she who exists in seas and lakes”. She is an important goddess in Vedic lore and represents the feminine power of creation and nurturing.