Saraswati Puja 2021

Devī Sarasvatī: Speech and the Muse

Saraswati Puja, also known as Basant Panchmi is an indic festival celebrated on the fifth day of Shukla Paksha of Magh month of lunar Hindu calendar. On this day, people across India worship Goddess Sarasvatī.

By Sreejit Datta, Director of Civilisational Studies Practice & Resident Mentor at Rashtram

Today, we are worshipping Sarasvatī, the Goddess of speech who carries a Vīṇā in her fair hands, and who has been invoked and worshipped from the Rig Vedic times to this day in an unbroken Hindu tradition of paying homage to nature and knowledge. Sarasvatī thus continues to be the symbol of the vitality of Hindu Civilisation and its cradle, Bhāratavarṣa. In Ancient India, The Goddess embodied this principle of inexhaustible life in the form of the River Sarasvatī, which has now gone subterranean (Mahapatra, 2002). In the age of the Mahabharata as in the modern times, the Goddess has been invoked at the beginning of literary works by Indian poets from Vyasa to Tagore.     

Sarasvatī is also known as Bhāratī, the Goddess who sustains not just as the Great River, but also as Vāk – the support of the gods and of the entire creation. The Vāk Sūkta found in the Rig Veda proclaims:

“I TRAVEL with the Rudras and the Vasus, with the Ādityas and All-Gods I wander.
I hold aloft both Varuṇa and Mitra, Indra and Agni, and the Pair of Aśvins.
I cherish and sustain high-swelling Soma, and Tvaṣṭar I support, Pūṣan, and Bhaga.
I load with wealth the zealous sacrificer who pours the juice and offers his oblation
I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.
Thus Gods have established me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.
Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them,—each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken
They know it not, but yet they dwell beside me. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.
I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that Gods and men alike shall welcome.
I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him a sage, a Ṛṣi, and a Brahman. …”  

(Rig Veda 10.125, tr. by Ralph T.H. Griffith, [1896], at sacred-texts.com)

In every era, Goddess Sarasvatī has been envisioned by Bhāratavarṣa’s poets and seers (and by poet-seers) as the divine inspirer who resides in their heart, which is the seat of all creativity. They say the Goddess descends upon the speech of the poet whom She favours. The nineteenth-century Bengali poet Madhusudan Dutt uses this metaphor in a powerfully evocative ‘argument’ to his Meghnād-Vadh Kāvya. There, Dutt describes the metamorphosis of Ratnākara the Brigand to “Kāvya-Ratnākara” (the jewel-mine in the ocean of poetry) Vālmīki, the poet-seer of Rāmāyaṇa, as a result of the sheer force of the Goddess’s boon. Her grace is then sought by Dutt in the subsequent lines of the epic Bangla poem, the first of its kind, before undertaking his literary enterprise using a major theme from Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa. This he does in a language which is rich in its imagery and suggestive power. Among other things, Dutt tells the Rasika reader that a mere touch of the Goddess turns the Viṣa-Vṛkṣa (Poison Tree) into a magnificent Candana-Vṛkṣa (i.e., the Sandalwood tree). In this connection, Dutt brings up the idea of immortality through poetic creation. He hails the poet-seer of Rāmāyaṇa as “Mṛtyuñjaya – one who has conquered death like Umāpati Śiva” – by the blessings of the Goddess and seeks the same boon for himself. 

Another of Modern India’s great poets, Tagore sings of the Goddess in euphoric lyrics and songs as the nectar-like speech that has assumed a Vīṇā-playing form, and that reclusive form dwells in the lotus-forest of the poet’s innermost heart. That abode, the poet goes on to tell us, is ever abuzz with the sweetest of sounds. There, we are told, eternal spring reigns and all directions resound with the music of the koel. The poet’s intoxicated mind, like a bee, swoons at the fragrance of the lotus in this forest. The poet beseeches the Goddess not to dwell forever in that secret shadowy abode of the mind, enveloped in māyā – and to appear before him in the light, even if for once, so he may look upon Her with his own eyes.    

May every one of our minds become the abode of Sarasvatī! 

References:

  1. Gitabitan.net, Rabindranath Tagore. Gitabitan. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from http://www.gitabitan.net/top.asp?songid=1381
  2. Mahapatra, R. (2002, November 15). Saraswati underground. Down To Earth | Latest News, Opinion, Analysis on Environment & Science Issues | India, South Asia; Down To Earth.
    https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/rivers/saraswati-underground-15455
  3. Vāk Sūkta (Rig Veda 10.125) Retrieved from https://www.sacred-
    texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv10125.htm
Apply Now