A beautiful aspect about Hindu deities is that each possesses unique attributes that we can aspire to embody.
The purest of the Hindu goddesses is Saraswati (alternately spelled Sarasvati or Saraswathi). She is the goddess of learning, speech, wisdom, music, and the classical arts.
Saraswati is translated as “one who bestows the essence of self."
Saraswati is always dressed in a white sari, to reflect that she is very pure or sattvic. She sits and holds a musical instrument called a veena, which is similar to a lute, in two hands. The sacred sounds and mantras from the Vedas emanate from her instrument. In her other hands, she holds a japa mala for mantra repetition and a sacred text.
The goddess is often depicted seated on a lotus flower. Lotuses bloom from the mud and are traditionally laid at the feet of the Gods in Eastern culture. In other depictions, she is seen with a swan, which is a symbol of purity, discernment, and the individual Self. There are also drawings which show her with a peacock rather than a swan. These birds represent grace, beauty, artistic ability, agility, and harmony.
The book In a world of Gods and Goddesses, calls Saraswati “the goddess of revelation: of song, myth, art, and learning. She is the goddess of rite, of spiritual practice, and knowledge. Saraswati is wisdom, enlightenment, and the divine word.”
The Story of Saraswati
Saraswati is the daughter of Lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe. According to the legend, Brahma was sitting in deep meditation when the sublime quality of pure goodness arose in his thoughts. When he opened his mouth, a beautiful maiden emerged. Brahma named her Vak, which can be translated as “the speech which arises in the most subtle of forms.”
Brahma later gave her the appellation of Saraswati. He told her that she would be able to give the gift of speech to all of humankind, but that she would particularly grace the tongues of the learned. Furthermore, Brahma told Saraswati that she would appear on the earth as a river. The Saraswati River originated in the Himalayas, and was cited by the Vedas as being the most powerful body of water and helping to nurture the people along its banks, just as a devoted mother would do.
Saraswati is said to have vak or vach siddhi - the gift of speech. She speaks sweetly and eloquently. She knows when to utter words and when to listen to the inner sound.
In India, children learn about Saraswati at a young age. Before the school year starts, they take their textbooks, notebooks, and writing instruments and participate in a Saraswati puja. A puja is a ritual worship that involves the chanting of mantras and making offerings, such as flowers, to their educational materials. The puja is performed so that the children may attain their highest aspirations in their studies and do so in a wise and thoughtful manner. Many also pray to Saraswati before starting the school day, as well as before taking examinations.
The Saraswati Puja is performed on a special day each year. This day is known as Vasant Panchami. Vasant is the Hindi word for spring and Panchami refers to the fifth phase of the Moon. In India, all festivals are celebrated according to the lunar calendar. Thus, they fall on different days each year. Vasant Panchami heralds the beginning of spring, and is also the celebration of Saraswati’s birthday.
In 2019, Vasant Panchami falls on February 9th in North America and Europe, and on February 10th in India.
How to Honor Saraswati
As she is the goddess of speech, you want to ensure that you are properly pronouncing her name before you invoke her. In Sanskrit, each letter and syllable has an inner sound vibration. Thus, if you mispronounce something, you may unintentionally be triggering an effect that is other than what you desired. Saraswati is often mispronounced as having the same prefix as the English name Sarah. Phonetically, Saraswati is pronounced as:
- Suh - as in the beginning of such
- Russ - as in Russell
- Vuh - as in the first syllable of variety
- Tee - pronounced like the word tea
There are different ways to propitiate Saraswati. You can create an altar in your home. Ideally, it should be placed in the northeast corner of your home or at least in the northeast corner of the room. You can purchase a statue of her or have a framed photo of her. Put a beautiful, clean cloth under her photo or statue. Offer her yellow or white flowers. Additionally, you can give her water in a stainless steel or silver cup and a sweet treat made without eggs. Chant mantras to her and pray to her to guide you in whatever endeavours are related to education or communication.
As the goddess of speech, you can ask her to guide us when we speak, so that you are able to clearly articulate what you wish to express and so that it properly understood. You can call on her to bestow you with her gifts when you are doing public presentations, playing a musical instrument, singing, composing, writing, and studying.