Saraswati Puja is undoubtedly the most popular festival in the eastern region. Saraswati is the goddess of learning, arts and crafts. According to her different specialities she is known by different names like Bakdevi, Biraj, Sarada, Brahmi, Satarupa, Mahasweta, Sarbasukia, Prithudar, Bagiswari and, ofcourse, Saraswati.
This festival is held in the month of Magh (January-February). It is a festival celebrated by the youth, particularly students who invoke the blessings of the goddess for success in learning, arts and crafts. Throughout Bengal Saraswati Puja is celebrated in schools, colleges, clubs as well as homes.
Among all the Hindu deities, Saraswati stands out as the most controversial. Her origin is shrouded in mystery. Starting from the Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads to the popular ancient mythology, Saraswati appears through a veil of mystery.
According to the Matsya Purana, Saraswati evolved from the mouth of Brahma. Such was her beauty and grace that Brahma pursued her. As she fled in different directions a head appeared and so Brahma is attributed with five heads, she was the most unique creation of Brahma. Saraswati is our equivalent of the classical Goddess Minerva and also the Teutonic Goddess Fira. The moon and the lotus associated with Saraswati are both symbols of eternal womanhood.
Some of the many mythological stories connected with Saraswati have interesting sociological interpretations. The gods and the demons by mutual agreement decided to churn the ocean for the Arnrit or the elixir of life. Mainak mountain was used as the churning rod and Basuki as the churning rope. when Lakshmi appeared with the Arnrit kunbha both wanted the elixir. Saraswati with her exquisite beauty lured away the asuras. As the Gods were drinking the Arnrit, Rahu and Ketu, two asuras saw them and slipped in with the Gods. As they drank the Arnrit which would make them immortal like the gods, Vishnu detected them. He immediately cut off their heads. The two enraged asuras, swallowed the sun and moon but could not retain them as their throats were cut. This led to the origin of the solar and lunar eclipse. Saraswati, who was instrumental in helping the Gods to be immortal, was established in the heavens as the Goddess Saraswati.
The Gods and the Gandharvas both wanted the Soma Ras. It was again Saraswati who with her beauty and grace lured and so exhausted the Gandharvas that they could not acquire the Soma Ras which naturally went to the gods.
The Aryans fought with the non-Aryan Comi tribes (tribal dominance among the Aryans) like Nished, Sabar and Pulindar on the banks of the river Saraswati. At the request of Vishnu, Saraswati disappeared underground and again reappeared in far off Rajasthan. The tribals were thus deprived of the life-saving water. They were forced to abandon the area. In both cases we see the importance of the river Saraswati in Aryan life and how Saraswati was used to deprive the weak of water, without which life is impossible. Saraswati is known as Prithudhar (subjugator of the Aryans).
Vashishtha and Vishwamitra, the two sages, were both violently opposed to each other. Vishwamitra ordered the river Saraswati to wash away Vashishtha along with all he possessed. Saraswati refused to comply with his command. To punish Saraswati, he turned the water of the river into blood. At the behest of Shiva, the two sages became amicable and once again there was pure water in the river Saraswati.
In some areas she is believed to be the daughter of the Sun or Surya Kanya. In Western India, Saraswati is seen with the lion or peacock. She is married to Kartikeya. This is really the sun cult.
In Eastern India, particularly Bengal, Saraswati has been absorbed into the Bengali culture. She has been given the mantle of daughter of Parvati and is treated as a daughter. Vishnu had three wives-Saraswati, Ganga and Lakshmi. He was tired of Saraswati because of her superior knowledge and to gave her away to Brahma. Ganga was too frivolous and so was given to Shiva. Lakshmi quiet and sedate, remained his wife. These were the three Sris.
History tells us that the Aryans came to India through the. Khyber pass and settled in Punjab, Haryana and North Rajasthan. Saraswati is one of the seven holy rivers flowing through modern Punjab, Haryana and North Rajasthan.
In the North West along the banks of the river Saraswati. They were a pastoral people and the river was their means of communication as well as source of life.
Hence Saraswati was highly venerated and is associated with the fertility cult.
The mythological background of Saraswati shows the importance of the river Saraswati in the life of the Aryans settled along her river banks. Sociologically the River Saraswati was an important factor in ancient civilization. She is therefore a part of the fertility cult.
The Aryans who lived along the banks of the river were pastoral and rural.
All early development took place on the river bank. Consequently Saraswati came to be venerated as a symbol of knowledge.
It is evident that the upper strata of society used their superior knowledge and expertise to deprive the ignorant lower half of society.
The other name of Saraswati is Prithudhara. It has an important sociological aspect. The Comi tribes were subdued by being deprived of the most essential requirement, water. This story influenced Tagore to write Muktadhara (a play) where Bibhuti the engineer uses his superior knowledge to deprive the ignorant farmers by constructing a dam to divert the river water and satisfy the king.
The story of Kalidas has been built around Saraswati. There was a proud and learned princess who rejected all suitors who could not match her knowledge. The pundits in anger planned to marry her off to a fool. They saw a man cutting the branch on which he was sitting and decided he was the ideal fool for the princess. Kalidas was presented to the princess as a man of wisdom who only spoke in signs. The pundits answered all the princess's questions by interpreting Kalidas's signs. The two were married but on the wedding night the princess realized she had been duped. She kicked Kalidas out of her bed. He in sorrow and shame went to commit suicide. The Goddess Saraswati appeared and asked him to take a dip in the river. As he emerged from the river Kalidas was transformed. He began to recite verses in praise of the Goddess. Unfortunately for him he began to praise her beauty not from her feet upwards but from her breasts downwards. Saraswati in anger cursed Kalidas for his audacity. He would die in an ignonimous place.
This festival is celebrated all over Bengal with great fervour and gaiety.