Vasant Panchami which heralds the coming of Spring and which is almost synonymous with Saraswati Puja, is not a major, major festival on the Hindu calendar but it is one that means a lot to me.
It brings back fond memories, of rushing home from school to our community hall, where the most delicious feast, bhog, awaited us on this day. First, we’d take our textbooks and notebooks and lay them at the feet of this beautiful, larger than life, idol of the goddess and seek her blessings in the coming exams. She was after all the goddess of learning and all wisdom flowed from her. Then we’d sit down to enjoy the feast that all the aunties had been cooking since the night before. As the books piled up steadily amongst the fruits and flowers and incense, a sense of wellbeing and joy would wash over the place. I still carry that with me.
Perhaps, I was just a little nerdy and instinctively loved the idea of celebrating learning and studying. An idea which, I have now come to realise, is fundamental to Hinduism. It’s interesting to know that in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, we find hymns praising only two Goddesses, Saraswati and Usha (Dawn). All the other goddesses came later, including Laxmi the goddess of wealth.
There is another reason why this festival warms my heart and fills my day with sunshine (or the promise of it, here in London). It is a celebration of love. Romantic love. A Hindu version of Valentine’s Day going back at least tens of centuries if not millennia. A time when we were little less prudish and lot more in sync with nature.
I found a rather good translation (which is rare) of a very special hymn from the Rig Veda composed by Agastya Rishi in praise of Goddess Saraswati. Sharing it here with thanks.