Saraswathi

Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and nature. She is a part of the trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe.
She is known in Burmese as Thurathadi or Tipitaka Medaw, in Chinese as Biàncáitiān, in Japanese as Benzaiten and in Thai as Surasawadee

Names
The Sarasvati River is an important river goddess in the Rigveda. The Sanskrit name means "having many pools".

In the Telugu language, Sarasvati is also known as Chaduvula Thalli, Sharada. In Kannada, variants of her name include Sharade, Sharadamba, Vani, Veenapani in the famous Sringeri temple. In Tamil, she is also known as Kalaimagal, Kalaivaani, Vaani, Bharathi. She is also addressed as Sharada (the one who loves the autumn season), Veena pustaka dharani (the one holding books and a Veena), Vaakdevi, Vagdevi, Vani (all meaning "speech"), Varadhanayagi (the one bestowing boons).

Characteristics

Saraswati is strongly associated with flowing water in her role as a goddess of knowledge. She is depicted as a beautiful woman to embody the concept of knowledge as supremely alluring. She possesses four arms, and is usually shown wearing a spotless white sari and seated on a white lotus or riding a white swan.

History

Saraswati goddess is found in temples of Southeast Asia, islands of Indonesia and Japan. In Japan, she is known as Benzaiten. She is depicted with a musical instrument in Japan, and is a deity of knowledge, music, and everything that flows.

In the Rigveda, Saraswati is a river as well as its personification as a goddess. In the post-Vedic age, she began to lose her status as a river goddess and became increasingly associated with literature, arts, music, etc. In Hinduism, Saraswati represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the arts, eloquence and power. Hindus worship her not for "academic knowledge", but for "divine knowledge" essential to achieve moksha. Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and arts, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She is the mother of the Vedas, and chants to her, called the 'Saraswati Vandana' often begin and end Vedic lessons. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with 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 has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus – the symbol of true knowledge – in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena. She is dressed in white – the symbol of purity – and rides on a white swan – symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity and discrimination. Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri. The learned and the erudite attach greater importance to the worship of goddess Saraswati.
Saraswati's birthday – Vasant Panchami – is a Hindu festival celebrated every year on the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. Hindus celebrate this festival with great fervor in temples, homes and educational institutes alike.

The forms of Saraswati

Maha Saraswati

In the Devi Mahatmya, Saraswati is in the trinity of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati. She is depicted as eight-armed and is often portrayed holding a Veena whilst sitting on a white Lotus Flower.

Her dhyāna shloka given at the beginning of the fifth chapter of Devi Mahatmya is:
Wielding in her lotus-hands the bell, trident, ploughshare, conch, pestle, discus, bow, and arrow, her lustre is like that of a moon shining in the autumn sky. She is born from the body of Gowri and is the sustaining base of the three worlds. That Mahasaraswati I worship here who destroyed Sumbha and other asuras.

Mahavidya Nila Saraswati

Nilasaraswati is another form of Mahavidya Tara. There are separate dhyana shlokas and mantras for her worship in Tantrasara.

Iconography

The goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes that she is founded in the experience of the absolute truth. Thus, she not only has the knowledge but also the experience of the highest reality. She is mainly associated with the color white, which signifies the purity of true knowledge. Occasionally, however, she is also associated with the colour yellow, the colour of the flowers of the mustard plant that bloom at the time of her festival in the spring. Unlike the goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati is adorned with simple jewels and gold, representing her preference of knowledge over worldly material things

She is generally shown to have four arms, which represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. Alternatively, these four arms also represent the four Vedas, the primary sacred books for Hindus. The Vedas, in turn, represent the three forms of literature:

Poetry — the Rigveda contains hymns, representing poetry.
Prose — Yajur Veda contains prose.
Music — Sama Veda represents music.
Philosophy - Atharvaveda

The four hands also depict this thus—prose is represented by the book in one hand, poetry by the garland of crystal, and music by the veena. The pot of sacred water represents purity in all of these three, or their power to purify human thought.

She is shown to hold the following in her hands:

A book, which is the sacred Vedas, representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as her perfection of natural study and the scriptures.
A mālā of crystals, representing the power of meditation and spirituality.
A pot of sacred water, representing creative and purification powers.
The veena, a musical instrument that represents her perfection of all arts and sciences. Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music, which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music.

A white lotus,kamnadala is also depicted.

The beautiful human form of Saraswati comes to the fore in this English translation of the Saraswati hymn:
"May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops, who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus, who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance. "

A hansa or swan is often located next to her feet. The sacred bird, if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes discrimination between the good and the bad or the eternal and the evanescent. Due to her association with the bird, Saraswati is also referred to as Hansvahini, which means "she who has a hansa as her vehicle".

She is usually depicted near a flowing river, which may be related to her early history as a river goddess.

Sometimes a peacock is shown beside the goddess. The peacock represents arrogance and pride over its beauty, and by having a peacock as her mount, the goddess teaches not to be concerned with external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth.

Worship

In Hindu beliefs, great significance is attached to offering honey to this goddess, as honey is representative of perfect knowledge. Hymns dedicated to her include Saraswati Vandana Mantra.

Temples

There are many temples, dedicated to Saraswati around the world. Some notable temples include;

In Karnataka, the Shringeri Sharadamba Temple is a revered pilgrimage spot. There are other Sharada temples also.

In Andhra Pradesh, the Gnana Saraswati Temple in Basar, on the banks of the River Godavari. Two more temples in Medak namely Wargal Saraswati temple and Shri Saraswati Kshetramu.

In Ernakulam district of Kerala, there is a famous Saraswati temple in North Paravur, namely Dakshina Mookambika Temple North Paravur.

In Tamilnadu, Koothanur is a town situated in the Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu, India. The town is located at a distance of 25 kilometres from Tiruvarur. it is the only temple in Tamil Nadu for the goddess Saraswati.

Festivals

In Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, Saraswati Puja starts with Saraswati Avahan on Maha Saptami and ends on Vijayadashami with Saraswati Udasan or Visarjan.

Saraswati Puja calendar:

Saraswati Puja Avahan – Maha Saptami – Triratna vratam starts in Andhra Pradesh.
Saraswati Puja (main puja) – Durga Ashtami
Saraswati Uttara Puja – Mahanavami
Saraswati Visarjan or Udasan – Vijaya Dashami
Saraswati Kartik Purnima on (Sristhal) siddhpur of Gujaratis ancient festival since Solanki ruling of Patan state.
Saraswati Puja in South India

In the southern states of India, Saraswati Puja is conducted during the Navaratri. Navaratri literally means "nine nights", but the actual celebrations continue during the 10th day, which is considered as Vijaya Dashami or the Victorious Tenth Day. Navaratri starts with the new-moon day of the bright fortnight of the Sharad Ritu (Sharad Season of the six seasons of India) during September–October. The festival celebrates the power of the feminine aspect of divinity or shakti. The last two or three days are dedicated to Goddess Saraswati in South India.

In Karnataka, the Mysore Dasara festival includes Saraswati Puja. During the Navratri season they keep various dolls on raised platforms this arrangement is called ("Gombe koori suvudu"). Books and musical instruments worship is also done on Saraswati puja day.

In Tamil Nadu, Sarasvati Puja is conducted along with the Ayudha Puja (the worship of weapons and implements including machines). On the ninth day of Navaratri, i.e., the Mahanavami day, books and all musical instruments are ceremoniously kept in front of the Goddess Sarasvati early at dawn and worshipped with special prayers. No studies or any performance of arts is carried out, as it is considered that the goddess herself is blessing the books and the instruments. The festival concludes on the tenth day of Navaratri (Vijayadashami), and the goddess is worshipped again before the books and the musical instruments are removed. It is customary to start the study afresh on this day, which is called Vidyarambham (literally, "Commencement of Knowledge").

In Kerala, the last three days of the Navaratri festival, i.e., Ashtami, Navami, and Dashami, are celebrated as Sarasvati Puja. The celebrations start with the Puja Vypu (Placing for Worship). It consists of placing the books for puja on the Ashtami day. It may be in one's own house, in the local nursery school run by traditional teachers, or in the local temple. The books will be taken out for reading, after worship, only on the morning of the third day (Vijaya Dashami). It is called Puja Eduppu (Taking [from] Puja). Children are happy, since they are not expected to study on these days. On the Vijaya Dashami day, Kerala celebrates the Ezhuthiniruthu or Initiation of Writing for the little children before they are admitted to nursery schools. This is also called Vidyarambham. The child is made to write for the first time on the rice spread in a plate with the index finger, guided by an elder of the family or by a reputed teacher. The little ones will have to write "Hari Shri Ganapataye Namah" and recite the same to mark the auspicious entry into the world of education. This is considered a memorable event in the life of a person. In some parts of Kerala bordering Tamil Nadu, Ayudha Puja is also conducted during this period.

Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saraswati

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