Basant Panchami, Saraswati Pooja
As narrated by Grandpa and edited by Bibha Mukherjee
Basant Panchami heralds the beginning of spring. Cool lingering breeze replaces the cold harsh winter and there is a touch of rejuvenation and joy in the air. The buds of leaves and flowers come into full bloom. Girls in different shades of yellow dresses enhance the beauty of nature on the day of Basant Panchami. Kite flying, a popular sport in India, is associated with the Basant Panchami day. It is a day for the students ? no studies, only merry making.
Basant means spring and Panchami is the fifth day of the fortnight of waxing moon (Shukla Paksha) in the month of January-February of English calendar (Magh). This year (2001), the Basant Panchami falls on the 29th of January.
The day of Basant Panchami is dedicated to Goddess Sarasvati. It is not a national holiday in India but the schools are closed and the students participate in decoration and arrangement of the worship place. A few weeks before the celebration, schools become active in organizing various annual competitions of music, debate, sports and other activities. Prizes are distributed on the day of Basant Panchami. Many schools organize cultural activities in the evening of the Saraswati Puja day when parents and other community members attend the functions to encourage the children.
Sarasvati is the goddess of learning. Sarasvati bestows the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge. In the Vedas the prayer for Sarasvati depicts her as a white lady in white dress bedecked with white flowers and white pearls, sitting on a white lotus, which is blooming in a wide stretch of water. She holds Veena, a string-instrument, like Sitar, for playing music. The prayer finally concludes, "Oh Mother Sarasvati remove the darkness (ignorance) of my mind and bless me with the eternal knowledge."
The Vedas describe Sarasvati as a water deity, goddess of a river of the same name. According to popular belief Sarasvati, originating from the Himalayas, flowed southeast, ultimately meeting the Ganges at Prayag, near the confluence of Yamuna. Hence the place is called Triveni. In due time this course of water petered away.
The mythological history of Sarasvati associates her with the holy rituals performed on the banks of the river Sarasvati. She is worshipped as a goddess of speech, attributed to the formation of Vach (words), invention of Sanskrit language and composition of hymns.
In the United States, the Bengali community observes Basant Panchami in the form of community worship of goddess Sarasvati. It is usually organized on the following weekend. Conservative Indians, however, prefer to celebrate it on the day of Panchami. The communities organize cultural activities and the participation of kids is encouraged.