TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8: It’s a Hindu spring festival filled with soaring kites, yellow treats and high hopes for a new season. Vasant Panchami honors the goddess Saraswati in colorful ways. (Get a visual with this photo from the BBC.) Despite the lingering winter chill, Hindus welcome spring by hanging yellow, well-wishing banners for all to see; feasting on yellow foods and treats with family and the community; and stringing garlands made of Marigolds and other yellow flowers. This bright, warm color recalls the sun, but it also serves another purpose: Yellow symbolizes knowledge and intellectual energy, both of which are attributed to the goddess Saraswati. (The Times of India has a helpful article.)
Since the goddess of wisdom, arts and knowledge is front-and-center today, it’s no surprise that schools and universities across India hold special prayers for Saraswati. (Wikipedia has details.) Knowledge is considered so auspicious today that it’s encouraged for very young children to learn to read or write on Vasant Panchami. Still, don’t be fooled about the general atmosphere of Saraswati’s birthday: It remains a day of merriment, frolic and play.
Just as yellow symbolizes several things today, so the popular activity of flying kites, too, serves an important purpose beyond its aesthetic value. Traditionally, kites have been flown on Vasant Panchami to determine the direction of the winds; the weather conditions on this early spring festival are said to determine the weather until Holi. (An article in the Hindustan Times has more.) Sound strange? Not at all. Americans recently observed Groundhog Day and Pagans forecast weather on Imbolc.
This year, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism advised the 1 billion Hindus of the world to reach out a helping hand to honor Vasant Panchami. (Check out an article here.) Statesman Rajan Zed recommended that every Hindu help a needy child to meet his/her educational goals on this auspicious day.