(I-DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, FEBRUARY 2012)
Most Devi festivals began as "Vratas--sacred vows and rituals undertaken by women folk for the prosperity of their household and fertility of the land. In due course, these have become community festivals and taken over by male temple priests, women being side-lined. We come across many such festivals during the year like Vasanta Panchami, Vasnta Navaratri, Gangaur, Ganga Dassera, Vata Savitri, Teej, Harlalika, Navaraatri (Festival of Dolls), Sharad Poornima, Karwa Chauth, Diwali, Tulasi Vivah, Uttaana Dvadasi, Kaaradiyan Nonbu, Varalakshmi Vratam, Koodaarai Vellum, Gowri Vrata and others.
Vasanta Panchami comes on the fifth day of waxing moon in the month of Maagha (Jan-Feb). This day shows the sign of transition from winter towards spring in Northern parts of India when the cold barren earth rejuvenates herself to appear as shy nymph bedecked with yellow mustard flowers. This day is linked to Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge the first manifestation of the mother-goddess celebrated in Vedas and Gayatri mantra. Just as the colors of spring get rid of the winter chill Saraswati drives away ignorance with the gift of knowledge. Dressed in yellow colors, women worship her with yellow flowers. In South India Goddess Saraswati is worshipped on the ninth day (Navami) of Festival of Dolls. On this day poet artists dedicate their creative out-pouring to the Mother Goddess.
Actually Chaitra and Vaisakah are the Hindu months that constitute Vasanta Ritu or spring season. It will be more appropriate to attribute Vasanta to the musical mode Rag Basanti which is so dear to Saraswati and she is the Goddess of music and fine arts.
In Bengal, Saraswati is regarded as the Daughter of Siva and Durga. Her sister is Goddess Lakshmi and her brothers are Kartikeya and Ganesha. For Saraswati Pooja, books are placed in front of Saraswati, along with earthen ink-pots and bamboo quills. The ink is made from un-boiled milk, water and a pinch of red colored powder (vermilion) and silver glitter called avro. The next day, before the Goddess is immersed in water, the Saraswati mantra is written on Bel leaves using the milk-ink with the help of quills. All children dip their bamboo quills into the earthen ink- pots and write Aum Sarswatyai Namah. The Goddess is then immersed and the books are put back in their places.
SARASVATI VEDIC MANTRAS
Pranoe devee sarasvatee | Vaajoebhih vaajaneevatee | dheenaam avatri avatu ||
Oh Sarasvati! Bless me with plenty and opulent life and be the controller of our thoughts!
Paavakaa nah sarasvatee | Vaajoebhih vaajaneevatiee yajnam vashtu dhiyaavasu ||
Sarasvati is our purifier. She is the giver of plenty and opulent life. She is the treasure of intelligence and thoughts.
Choedayitree soonritaanaam | Chetantee sumateenaam | yajnam dadhe sarasvatee ||
bestows good speech. She brings good thoughts to mind. May she bless this sacrifice (Yajna)!
Mahoe arnah sarasvati |pra chetayati ketunaa | dhiyoe visvaa viraajati ||
May you awaken the great truth in me by helping me to visualize consciousness! May you brighten all my thoughts!