Saraswati- Text & Images and amntras along with aarties

Saraswati: Text & Images

Saraswati is one of the few important goddesses in the Vedas who remain significant in later Hinduism. In the Vedas her character and attributes are clearly associated with the mighty Saraswati River. She is the earliest example of a goddess who is associated with a river in the Indian tradition. As a river goddess she is praised for her ability both to cleanse and to fertilize. Later Vedic literature (the Brahmanas) consistently associates her, even equates her, with the goddess of speech. Increasingly in her later history her association with a river is deemphasized and her association with speech, poetry, music, and culture in general is affirmed. In classical and medieval Hinduism Saraswati is primarily a goddess of poetic inspiration and learning. She becomes associated with the creator god Brahma as either his daughter or wife. In this role she is creative sound, which lends to reality a peculiar and distinctive human dimension. She becomes identified with the dimension of reality that is best described as coherent intelligibility. Saraswati to this day is worshiped throughout India and on her special day is worshiped by school children as the patron goddess of learning.

Saraswati As A River:

Saraswati as the embodiment of the Saraswati River is significant in both a historical and a theological sense. The religion of the Vedic Aryans was primarily a portable religion. It centered around a fire cult that did not require permanent temples or places of worship. The domestic hearth itself was a center of worship. By and large Vedic religion was appropriate for a nomadic people or for a people who only recently had ceased to be nomadic. In fact, the Aryans of the Vedas migrated into Northwest India sometime during the second millennium B.C. and gradually spread throughout the subcontinent in the course of many generations. The reverence given to Saraswati as the embodiment of a river in Northwest India is important because it indicates that the Aryans had begun to identify their culture with a specific geographical location and were beginning to settle down to a non-nomadic way of life.

The transition from a nomadic to an agricultural, village culture is central in the transition from the religion of the Vedic Aryans to classical Hinduism. In classical Hinduism India herself is affirmed to be the center of the world, the navel of the earth, the special and sacred location of the divine. This is dramatically specified in the sacrality of many individual features of the Indian subcontinent, especially the sacredness of the major rivers of the land. The goddess Saraswati, then, represents a very early example of this tendency in the Hindu tradition toward affirming the land itself as holy. The river goddess Saraswati of the Vedas is a prototype of such important later river goddesses as Ganga and Jumna.

The river goddess Saraswati is also important in a theological or religious sense in that she suggests the sacrality inherent in rivers or water in general. While the symbolism of water is rich and complex in the religions of the world/ two typical associations are important in Vedic descriptions of Saraswati. First, she is said to bestow bounty, fertility, and riches. Her waters enrich the land so that it can produce. The waters of the river represent life itself in a dry environment, which Northwest India may have already been at the time of the Aryan migrations. Second, Saraswati represents purity, as does water, particularly running water. Although this characteristic is rarely mentioned directly vis-a-vis Saraswati, it is stated frequently in the Vedas that rituals were often performed on the banks of the Saraswati, which were held to be especially sacred for ritual purposes. This probably suggests the purifying powers of the river.

Saravati's purifying power in the Vedic texts is also suggested in her association with medicine and healing. In the Satapatha-brahmanain particular she is called upon to heal sickness and is referred to as a healing medicine." In the Rig-veda she and the Asvinas, twin gods often associated with healing, are said to heal the god Indra. As a divine physician, then, Saraswati is petitioned to cleanse the petitioner of disease.

A particularly Indian association with rivers is the imagery of crossing from the world of ignorance or bondage to the far shore, which represents the world of enlightenment or freedom. The religious quest in all three native Religions Of India-Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism-is expressed by the metaphor of fording or crossing a wide stream. The river in this metaphor represents the state of transition, the period of re- birth, in which the spiritual sojourner undergoes a crucial metamorphosis. The river represents a great purifying power in which the pilgrim drowns his old self and is born anew, free and enlightened. This imagery is not expressly used in connection with Saraswati in the Vedas, but it may have been understood implicitly and may help to explain the association of Saraswati with inspiration, speech, and wisdom in her later history.

Although Saraswati s nature and characteristics are overwhelmingly associated with a mighty river, this is no ordinary river. Early Vedic references make it clear that the Saraswati River originates in heaven and flows down to the earth This idea, also affirmed in the case of such important later river goddesses as Ganga, is a way of asserting the sacred nature of the rivers in question. The Saraswati (and later the Ganga) represents an ever-flowing stream of celestial grace which purifies and fertilizes the earth. The earthly manifestation of Saraswati as a river thus represents only a partial disclosure other being. Physical contact with her earthly manifestation, however, connects one with the awesome, heavenly, transcendent dimension of the goddess and of reality in general.

Saraswati In Later Hinduism:

Saravati's connection with a river steadily decreases in later Hinduism. Although she continues to be associated with a river in some late sources' her characteristics and appearance increasingly bear little or no relation to a goddess who embodies the sacrality of a river.

As early as the Brahmanas Saraswati is consistently identified with Vagdevi, the goddess of speech. It is not at all clear what intrinsic connection between Saraswati and Vagdevi led to this association. Perhaps the centrality of sacred speech in Vedic cult and the importance of Vedic rituals being performed on the banks of the Saraswati River led to the identification of the two goddesses. In any case, Saraswati increasingly becomes a goddess associated with speech, learning, culture, and wisdom; most post-Vedic references to her do not even hint that at one time she was identified with a river.

In later Hinduism Saraswati is sometimes said to have been born from the god Brahma. Brahma, desiring to create the world, goes into meditation, whereupon his body divides in two, half male and half female. Enraptured by his female half, who is Saraswati, Brahma desires her, mates with her, and creates the demigod Manu, who subsequently creates the world A similar version of her origin is found in the Brahma-vaivarta-purana and the Devi-bhagavata-purana. According to these texts, Krishna, who is identified with absolute reality {brahman), divides himself into male and female, purusa and prakrti, spirit and matter, in order to proceed with creation. His female half takes on five forms or five sash's, dynamic powers, one of which is Saraswati.

Her specific creative function in relation to the other saktis is to pervade reality with insight, knowledge, and learning, In relation to prakrti she is said to be purely sattvic, spiritual. These same texts also describe Sarasvatl's origin from the tip of Krishna's sakti's tongue. Suddenly, they say, a lovely girl appears dressed in yellow clothes, adorned with jewels, and carrying a book and a vina (lute). Saraswati is also often said to have her origin in and to reside in the mouths or on the tongues of the god Brahma (Brahma has four or five heads) That is, when Brahma undertakes the creation of the world through creative speech, the goddess Saraswati is born in his mouths.

Saraswati is also said to have had her origin from the god Vishnu. In several places she is said to be his tongue or to be held in his mouth." Her association with Vishnu makes her the co-wife of Lakshmi in many myths. In this relationship Saraswati for the most part represents spiritual, ascetic, or religious goals and values, whereas Lakshmi represents worldly well-being as manifest in wealth, material power, and fertility. In some texts the two goddesses do not get along very well, suggesting, perhaps, a tension between bhukti (sensual enjoyment) or dharma and mukti (spiritual liberation or perfection) in Hinduism.

Although Saraswati's nature and appearance change dramatically from the Vedic period to later Hinduism as her association with a river decreases, she does maintain some characteristics of her earlier history, in a few cases even maintaining her association with a river. She is associated, for example, with clouds, thunder, and rain and is said to be the presiding deity of rain. In the Vamana-purana she is described as moving through the clouds and producing rain. The Vamanapurana also identifies Saraswati with all waters. Her association with Soma in some texts' and with Water in general suggests that Saraswati is identified with the underlying sap of vitality necessary for all living things, that she nourishes life and promotes fertility. These continued associations with water, and sometimes with rivers, indicate a certain continuity between the river goddess of the Vedas and the later goddess. Even in reference to her association with waters, though, Saraswati's character is much changed. In the later tradition she is not so much a river goddess as a goddess who manifests herself through the life-giving and purifying nature of all water: rain, rivers, ponds, and so On. Like Soma she pervades creation; she has transcended her association with a specific river.

Far more characteristic of the later Saraswati is her association with speech. Even in the Rg-veda she is called impeller of true and sweet speech and awakener of happy and noble thoughts (6.61.9). Such epithets as Vagdevl (goddess of speech), Jihvagravasini (dwelling in the front of the tongue), Kavijihvagravasini (she who dwells on the tongues of poets), Sabdavasini (she who dwells in sound), Vagisa (mistress of speech), and Mahavani (possessing great speech)" are often used for Saraswati. Her mythological identification with the tongues of Brahma, Kr$na, and Vi$nu also underlines her identification with speech or creative sound.

The importance of speech in Hinduism is both ancient and central. The entire creative process is held to be distilled in the syllable om, and the idea of creation proceeding from sabda-brahman (ultimate reality in the form of sound) is often mentioned in Hindu texts. The potency of speech and sound is also seen in the centrality of mantras in Hinduism. A mantra, which may consist of words or of sounds alone, is held to possess great power. Indeed, the mantra of a given deity is declared to be equivalent to the deity itself. To pronounce a mantra is to make the deity present. The name of the deity and the deity itself are equivalent. There resides in sound a potent quality, and this quality is embodied in the goddess Saraswati.

Speech is also important and revered because it permits communication between people. Speech, to a great extent, sets human beings apart from all animals. Speech is also associated with rationality and refinement. Speech represents coherent sound that permits the transmission of ideas, wisdom, and culture. As the embodiment of speech, then, Saraswati is present wherever speech exists. And so it is that she is preeminently associated with the best in human culture: poetry, literature, sacred rituals, and rational communication between individuals.

Saraswati is also identified with thought and intellect. Not only is she speech in the form of coherent sound, she is that which underlies or makes speech possible, namely, intelligence and thought. This association is indicated in such epithets for her as Smrtisakti (the power of memory), Jnanasakti (the power of knowledge), Buddhisaktisvarupini (whose form is the power of intellect), Kalpanasakti (who is the power of forming ideas), and Pratibha (intelligence, or she who is intelligence) As thought and intellect, Saraswati is thus identified with the distinctive ability that distinguishes human beings as special, reasoning. She represents the peculiar human ability to think, which is precisely the ability that has permitted human beings to create and imagine their innumerable cultural products, from cooking pots to philosophic systems.

Saraswati's association with science, learning, and knowledge further reinforces her nature as the goddess of speech and thought. She is called, for example, Vedagarbha (the womb or source of the Vedas or knowledge), Sarvavidyasvarupini (whose form is all the sciences), Sarvasastravasini (who dwells in all books), Granthakarini (who causes books to be made), and many other such names. As mind, intellect, and thought, she inspires the arts and sciences. She is also the accumulated products of human thought. She is the sum of the human intellectual tradition as preserved in the sciences. As the great goddess who bears culture, or who embodies culture, she is sometimes associated with the Brahmans, whose special duty is to preserve culture. She is manifest and especially revered in schools and wherever education takes place.

Saraswati is also said to underlie, inspire, or embody the arts. She is said to provide inspiration to poets and to be present wherever artistic excellence is evident. Poets often praise her assistance or ask for her help. She is said to be associated with the Gandharvas, a supernatural race that excels at dancing," and she is often associated with music, both instrumental and vocal. In short, Saraswati is manifest wherever human culture exists. Inspiring and embodying both the arts and sciences in human culture, she represents the greatness of human civilization in all its richness and diversity.

Beyond Saraswati's associations with culture, which dominate her character, are certain cosmic associations or certain tendencies and epithets that suggest her primordial, absolute nature. Such names as the following identify Saraswati as a great, universal goddess whose functions extend to the creation of the worlds: Jaganmata (mother of the world), Saktirupini (whose form is power or sakti), and Visvarupa (containing all forms within her). It is fairly easy to imagine how Saraswati's character as the inspiration and embodiment of culture might lead to her assuming such cosmic characteristics. As the reality that permits human beings to achieve dominion over all other creatures, that permits or inspires the beauty and grace manifest in the arts, that has enabled human beings to achieve an almost godlike nature in the physical world sits masters and molders, this goddess of culture comes to be extolled or equated with the highest powers of the cosmos.

Saraswati's iconography illustrates her associations with culture, particularly the arts and sciences, and shows her to be a goddess who is for the most part set apart from the natural realm of growth, fertility, blood, and other phenomena often associated with or central in the iconography and mythology of other goddesses. She is usually depicted as having four hands, and the most common items held by her are a book, a lute {vina), a rosary, and a water pot. The book associates her with the sciences and with learning in general. The lute associates her with the arts, particularly the musical arts, and the rosary and the water pot associate her with the spiritual sciences and with religious rites.

The predominant themes in Saraswati's appearance are purity and transcendence. She is almost always said to be pure white like snow, the moon, or the kunda flower or to shine brilliantly and whitely like innumerable moons ~ Her garments are said to be fiery in their purity, or they are described as whiter and she is sometimes said to be smeared with sandalwood pasted Sarisvati's gloaming white body and garments express well her purity and transcendence, and these themes are in keeping with her typical association with the sattva guna, the pure, spiritual thread of prakrti. Saraswati is rarely described as having fearsome aspects and is usually portrayed as calm and peaceful.

These qualities are conveyed in the serene, white images of her in Hindu art. Saraswati's transcendent nature, which removes her from the impurities of the natural world and its rhythms of growth and fertility, is also suggested in her vehicle, the swan. The swan is a symbol of spiritual transcendence and perfection in Hinduism. Spiritual masters and heroes are sometimes called supreme swans (paramaharnsa) in that they have completely transcended the-limitations and imperfections of the phenomenal world. Saraswati, astride her swan, suggests a dimension of human existence that rises over the physical, natural world. Her realm is one of beauty, perfect, and grace; it is a realm created by artistic inspiration, philosophic insight, and accumulated knowledge, which have enabled human beings to so refine their natural world that they have been able to transcend its limitations. Saraswati astride her swan beckons human beings to continued cultural creation and civilized perfection.

Saraswati is also typically shown seated on a lotus. Like the swan, the lotus seat of the goddess suggests her transcendence of the physical world. She floats above the muddy imperfections of the physical world, unsullied, pure, beautiful. Although rooted in the mud (like man rooted in the physical world), the lotus perfects itself in a blossom that has transcended the mud. Saraswati inspires people to live in such a way that they may transcend their physical limitations through the ongoing creation of culture.

The benefits to be derived from the worship of Saraswati, of the blessings that she is expected to bestow on her devotees, usually relate to the themes that we have noted as central to her character. She gives eloquence, wisdom, poetic inspiration, and artistic skill" She removes speech defects and dumbness and grants charming speech and a musical voiced" Although she is sometimes said to grant wealth, long life, worldly enjoyments, and final salvation, she is primarily the goddess of wisdom and learning and specializes in promoting success among philosophers, scholars, and artists, who are her special devotees.

A persistent theme in the Hindu tradition is that human destiny involves the refinement of nature. Although the ultimate goal of the religious quest may be moksha, the complete release from the phenomenal world, Hindus affirm that being fully human necessitates molding, enhancing, and refining the natural world in order to make it habitable for human beings. Such important Hindu ideas as dharma, the samskaras (life-cycle rituals), and the varna-jati (caste) system all suggest this emphasis. The arts and sciences, however, seem to be the most obvious and concrete manifestations of this theme in the Hindu tradition. Artistic creation and the accumulated knowledge of the sciences, including philosophy, epitomize human culture and demonstrate the extraordinary ability of human beings to mold and refine the natural world into something beautiful and specially human. Saraswati presides over and inspires this dimension of being human in the Hindu tradition.

Many goddesses both within and outside the Hindu tradition gain their immense vitality and popularity through their associations with certain aspects of the natural world. Fertility, sexuality, growth, blood, and the sap of life in general seem to be embodied in many goddesses. Hinduism also attributes great power to goddesses. They are typically referred to as saktis (powers), and several Hindu goddesses are particularly adept at warfare and are most at home on the battlefield. Several other Hindu goddesses seem to be particularly popular among women and to specialize in family and domestic blessings. Many goddesses provide models for the most significant female roles in Hindu culture, or at least they participate in these roles, albeit in ways that do not always conform to dharmic models. Saraswati has very few of these associations.

Her pure, milky-white appearance and completely sattvic nature dissociate her from the mud of existence, from the vigorous, fecund sap of fertility. Her sexual encounters are not emphasized, and when her father/husband Brahma does desire her, she seeks to flee from him. Her motherhood is usually only metaphorical: she is said to give birth to artistic creations by providing inspiration or to have given birth to the Vedas in the sense that she personifies wisdom. In the Devi-bhagavatapurana she is said to be ascetic in nature and to grant boons to those who perform asceticism. Her presence is therefore not usually sought in the home. She is not a domestic goddess. Nor is her presence sought in the fields, where fertility is crucial, or in the forests and mountains, where isolation from culture is desired in the quest for moksha. Her presence is sought in libraries and schools, by those who create and bear culture in the ongoing task of transforming the natural world into a refined and civilized habitation for human beings.

Throughout North India today Saraswati's special puja is celebrated in early spring. On this day images of the goddess are established in schools and universities, and special cultural programs take place. A Banares Hindu University there is a procession of faculty and student; on this day (which corresponds to the anniversary of the university's founding). This is also the day when books, pens, musical instruments and gurus are formally worshiped.

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