TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 4: Hindus usher in spring and look toward the Holi season today, coloring the landscape with yellow—all in honor of the goddess Saraswati on Vasant Panchami (spellings and titles vary by region).
The first of two spring festivals in India, this “minor” festival ushers in the 40 anticipatory days leading up to Holi, the mega-event across India that is as much associated with spring as blossoming flowers and fresh mangoes. During Vasant Panchami, Hindus worship Saraswati Devi, the goddess of knowledge, music, arts and culture. The Hindu faithful wear yellow, partake in yellow sweets and drape statues of Saraswati in yellow flowers and materials, all to honor the deity who, allegedly, showers the greatest blessings onto those who wear yellow today. It’s believed that Goddess Saraswati will grant spiritual enlightenment to her devotees—a gift far greater than riches or nobility.
KITES, THE GANGA
AND EDUCATIONAL BLESSINGS
In light of the springtime atmosphere, children in the Punjab region fly kites on Vasant Panchami, while in regions such as Baithain, Holi gets a kick-start with residents throwing colored powders at one another and singing Holi songs.
Most commonly associated with Vasant Panchami, though, is the seeking of Saraswati’s blessings over educational institutions. Schools hold prayers and pujas for the goddess, and young children are introduced to the alphabet and first words today (Wikipedia has details). Many students also place their books upon her altar. As such, Vasant Panchami is extremely popular among young people and in college hostels. (The Times of India reports.)
Known for her serenity, Goddess Saraswati embodies the peace of mind that accompanies great wisdom. She is often shown with a white lotus, holding a book in her lower left hand and wearing white clothing. Her four hands represent the four aspects of the human persona: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. In Bengal, statues of the goddess are carried through a procession today and immersed in the holy Ganga. For the next 40 days, statues of Saraswati will be replaced with figures of Holika, a demonness, whose effigy will be burned during Holi.
IN THE NEWS:
MAGH MELA AND DILIGENT DEVOTEES
Despite heavy rains and adverse conditions, Hindu devotees are persisting through Magh Mela with determination, Indian publications report, remaining in camps and temporary sheds during the month of holy baths. (Read more at India Today.) During the month-long Magh Mela, holy baths in sacred rivers have taken place twice, beginning on January 16 and continuing today, on Maghi Poornima (Feb. 14) and on Maha Shivratri (Feb. 27). Special trains have been coordinated to escort pilgrims to and from their destinations during the month, and several places of business—from the court at Kanpur to tanneries—will be closed on Vasant Panchami.
Note: During Vasant Panchami, Sikhs participate in singing the Basant Raga.