Devi: Goddess Saraswati

Goddess Saraswati [ Goddess of Knowledge and Rivers ] :

Goddess Saraswati (Sarasvati) is the wife (consort) of Lord Brahma and possesses the powers of speech, wisdom and learning. She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning; mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She is said to have invented Sanskrit, language of the Brahmins, of scriptures and of scholarship, and one account says that it was she who discovered soma or amrita in the Himalayas and brought it to the other gods. She is goddess of all the creative arts and in particular of poetry and music, learning and science. She is represented as a graceful woman with white skin, wearing a crescent moon on her brow; she rides a swan or peacock, or is seated on a lotus flower. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lot us (a symbol of true knowledge) in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on the violin (veena). She is dressed in white (sign of purity) and rides on a white goose (swan). Saraswati is one of the important goddesses in the Vedas. Vedic literature consistently associates her, even equates her, with the goddess of speech, poetry, music, and culture in general. In classical and medieval Hinduism Saraswati is primarily a goddess of poetic inspiration and learning. She becomes associated with the creator god Brahma as his wife. In this role she is creative sound, which lends to reality a peculiar and distinctive human dimension. She becomes identified with the dimension of reality that is best described as coherent intelligibility. Saraswati to this day is worshiped throughout India and on her special day is worshiped by school children as the patron goddess of learning. As early as the Vedas Saraswati is consistently identified with Vagdevi, the goddess of speech. It is not at all clear what intrinsic connection between Saraswati and Vagdevi led to this association. Perhaps the centrality of sacred speech in Vedic cult and the importance of Vedic rituals being performed on the banks of the Saraswati River led to the identification of the two goddesses. In any case, Saraswati increasingly becomes a goddess associated with speech, learning, culture, and wisdom; most post-Vedic references to her do not even hint that at one time she was identified with a river. According to Brahma-vaivarta-purana and the Devi-bhagavata-purana, Krishna, who is identified with absolute reality {brahman), divides himself into male and female, purusa and prakrti, spirit and matter, in order to proceed with creation. His female half takes on five forms or five sash’s, dynamic powers, one of which is Saraswati. Her specific creative function in relation to the other saktis is to pervade reality with insight, knowledge, and learning, In relation to prakrti she is said to be purely sattvic, spiritual. These same texts also describe Sarasvatl’s origin from the tip of Krishna’s sakti’s tongue. Suddenly, they say, a lovely girl appears dressed in yellow clothes, adorned with jewels, and carrying a book and a vina (lute). Saraswati is also often said to have her origin in and to reside in the mouths or on the tongues of the god Brahma (Brahma has four or five heads) That is, when Brahma undertakes the creation of the world through creative speech, the goddess Saraswati is born in his mouths. Saraswati is also said to have had her origin from the god Vishnu. Far more characteristic of the later Saraswati is her association with speech. Even in the Rg-veda she is called impeller of true and sweet speech and awakener of happy and noble thoughts (6.61.9). Such epithets as Vagdevl (goddess of speech), Jihvagravasini (dwelling in the front of the tongue), Kavijihvagravasini (she who dwells on the tongues of poets), Sabdavasini (she who dwells in sound), Vagisa (mistress of speech), and Mahavani (possessing great speech)” are often used for Saraswati. Her mythological identification with the tongues of Brahma, Kr$na, and Vi$nu also underlines her identification with speech or creative sound. Saraswati is also identified with thought and intellect. Not only is she speech in the form of coherent sound, she is that which underlies or makes speech possible, namely, intelligence and thought. This association is indicated in such epithets for her as Smrtisakti (the power of memory), Jnanasakti (the power of knowledge), Buddhisaktisvarupini (whose form is the power of intellect), Kalpanasakti (who is the power of forming ideas), and Pratibha (intelligence, or she who is intelligence) As thought and intellect, Saraswati is thus identified with the distinctive ability that distinguishes human beings as special, reasoning. She represents the peculiar human ability to think, which is precisely the ability that has permitted human beings to create and imagine their innumerable cultural products, from cooking pots to philosophic systems. Saraswati’s association with science, learning, and knowledge further reinforces her nature as the goddess of speech and thought. She is called, for example, Vedagarbha (the womb or source of the Vedas or knowledge), Sarvavidyasvarupini (whose form is all the sciences), Sarvasastravasini (who dwells in all books), Granthakarini (who causes books to be made), and many other such names. As mind, intellect, and thought, she inspires the arts and sciences. She is also the accumulated products of human thought. She is the sum of the human intellectual tradition as preserved in the sciences. As the great goddess who bears culture, or who embodies culture, she is sometimes associated with the Brahmans, whose special duty is to preserve culture. She is manifest and especially revered in schools and wherever education takes place. Saraswati is also said to underlie, inspire, or embody the arts. She is said to provide inspiration to poets and to be present wherever artistic excellence is evident. Poets often praise her assistance or ask for her help. She is said to be associated with the Gandharvas, a supernatural race that excels at dancing,” and she is often associated with music, both instrumental and vocal. In short, Saraswati is manifest wherever human culture exists. Inspiring and embodying both the arts and sciences in human culture, she represents the greatness of human civilization in all its richness and diversity. Beyond Saraswati’s associations with culture, which dominate her character, are certain cosmic associations or certain tendencies and epithets that suggest her primordial, absolute nature. Such names as the following identify Saraswati as a great, universal goddess whose functions extend to the creation of the worlds: Jaganmata (mother of the world), Saktirupini (whose form is power or sakti), and Visvarupa (containing all forms within her). It is fairly easy to imagine how Saraswati’s character as the inspiration and embodiment of culture might lead to her assuming such cosmic characteristics. As the reality that permits human beings to achieve dominion over all other creatures, that permits or inspires the beauty and grace manifest in the arts, that has enabled human beings to achieve an almost godlike nature in the physical world sits masters and molders, this goddess of culture comes to be extolled or equated with the highest powers of the cosmos. The predominant themes in Saraswati’s appearance are purity and transcendence. She is almost always said to be pure white like snow, the moon, or the kunda flower or to shine brilliantly and whitely like innumerable moons ~ Her garments are said to be fiery in their purity, or they are described as whiter and she is sometimes said to be smeared with sandalwood pasted Sarisvati’s gloaming white body and garments express well her purity and transcendence, and these themes are in keeping with her typical association with the sattva guna, the pure, spiritual thread of prakrti. Saraswati is rarely described as having fearsome aspects and is usually portrayed as calm and peaceful. These qualities are conveyed in the serene, white images of her in Hindu art. Saraswati’s transcendent nature, which removes her from the impurities of the natural world and its rhythms of growth and fertility, is also suggested in her vehicle, the swan. The swan is a symbol of spiritual transcendence and perfection in Hinduism. Spiritual masters and heroes are sometimes called supreme swans (paramaharnsa) in that they have completely transcended the-limitations and imperfections of the phenomenal world. Saraswati, astride her swan, suggests a dimension of human existence that rises over the physical, natural world. Her realm is one of beauty, perfect, and grace; it is a realm created by artistic inspiration, philosophic insight, and accumulated knowledge, which have enabled human beings to so refine their natural world that they have been able to transcend its limitations. Saraswati astride her swan beckons human beings to continued cultural creation and civilized perfection. Saraswati is also typically shown seated on a lotus. Like the swan, the lotus seat of the goddess suggests her transcendence of the physical world. She floats above the muddy imperfections of the physical world, unsullied, pure, beautiful. Although rooted in the mud (like man rooted in the physical world), the lotus perfects itself in a blossom that has transcended the mud. Saraswati inspires people to live in such a way that they may transcend their physical limitations through the ongoing creation of culture. The benefits to be derived from the worship of Saraswati, of the blessings that she is expected to bestow on her devotees, usually relate to the themes that we have noted as central to her character. She gives eloquence, wisdom, poetic inspiration, and artistic skill” She removes speech defects and dumbness and grants charming speech and a musical voiced” Although she is sometimes said to grant wealth, long life, worldly enjoyments, and final salvation, she is primarily the goddess of wisdom and learning and specializes in promoting success among philosophers, scholars, and artists, who are her special devotees. Throughout India today Saraswati’s special puja is celebrated in early spring. On this day images of the goddess are established in schools and universities, and special cultural programs take place.This is also the day when books, pens, musical instruments and gurus are formally worshiped.