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Seasons can be likened to the spokes that keep altering in the wheel of time. In fact our whole way of life is guided by the changes brought by the seasons. And Vasant is said to be the prince of seasons. It is the time when first change in the departing winter is noticed. Getting relief from the rigours of chilly cold with the advancing warmth the whole nature swoons in ecstacy. Hence the ancient Hindu calendar starting with this season. Although the actual season starts later on, this day is celebrated as the 'avant garde' signifying the arrival of message of the end of winters. It marks the change in the season and heralds the period of colour, mirth, gaiety and sweetness, fragrance and novelty. Vasant Panchami or Sri Panchami is celebrated on the fifth day half of Magha (Jan.-Feb.). This day is specially dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of learning, wisdom, fine arts and refinement.

On this day, robes, yellow in colour are traditionally worn, taking clue from the fields wearing a mustard flowers' brilliant cover. Yellow colour also signifies maturity and ripeness — a glow of all that is auspicious to a Hindu mindset. In the entire subcontinent right from Peshawar to Patna a common saying is frequent heard on this day. "Aaya Basant, Pala Urant" [Come spring and frost evaporates]. This is a time when people are still a little cautious about discarding winter clothes and keep light woollen sweaters on. However, even a shower can make the season bitterly cold, so people don't discard even heavy woollens.

On this day a grand 'puja' of Saraswati, the goddess of learning, speech and intelligence is held. It is believed that she is the origin (in fact her lute) of every musical note. She is supposed to be associated with the creator, Brahma. The subtle distinction is made between the two. While Brahma is the source of creation, Saraswati is the goddess of creativity. Hence her worship on this day when the creation is creatively at its best. This is generally held to be the season of mating. The 'Purush' mates with 'Prakrati' to create nature.

The puja room, as usual, must be clean and neat with a picture or idol of the Goddess placed in the centre of it. The yellow flowers adorn her image in plenty. She is generally covered with bright yellow raiment. In fact this is the day of yellow colour — clothes, flowers, nature, fields — all have yellow hue enveloping them. Side by side a statue or idol of Ganesh is also placed, clad in the muslin like fine yellow cloth hemmed with Gota-Kinari (gold lined bright cloth). Of course all these decorative pieces must be made ready before the actual day of the festival. The family should be ready for the ceremonies before hand and everyone should preferably wear yellow dresses.

The 'prasadam' of the goddess varies from community to community. Some have 'Ber' and 'Sangari' for the Prasadam. 'Ber' is a kind of plume which grows in abundance in North India. Moreover, since this is the time when 'Ber' starts ripening, they are easily available in the market. 'Sangari' or 'Mooli ki phali' is a kind of bean that develops in the radish plant when the root is allowed to remain under ground for long. It is these beans that throw up seeds when they themselves are ripe. These two items are placed in a large metal platter called 'Thali' alongwith some yellow coloured- preferably - 'besan' (gram flour without husk) 'burfis' or laddoos kept in it. A coconut is indispensable in any festive ceremony in India. Some people also keep sheaf of Sarson (mustard) alongwith some 'puja' items like 'aipan' (a sort of haldi paste), roli (vermilion powder) and rice. A yellow flower, preferably of marigold is also placed in it. The specially made preparation for this occasion 'Peela Meetha Bhat' (yellow sweet rice) is kept in another 'Thali'. The worship is normally begun by the youngest girl in the family.

Why the youngest girl ? It is because in traditional families a girl before puberty is considered to be the purest being—almost a 'devi' in human form. Since it is a worship of a goddess believed to be the most pious and blemishless among all the female deities, the youngest girl is the natural choice.

The reason that makes the devout consider the Goddess Saraswati to be totally a positive and blemishless deity is due to many psychological predilections. Normally we have Durga, Chandi, Kali, Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati as the most revered female deities. Among these the first three are considered the alternative manifestations of Mother Parvati with different qualities. For instance Durga, Kali or Chandi are deemed ultimate repository of anger, wrath and vengeance or all the sentiments that a being might develop in vengeance against an iniquity. Most certainly all of them are necessary to remove the evil forces but it can't be gainsaid that they are the negative attributes. This leaves only Saraswati and Lakshmi. Lakshmi is tainted by the colour of gold and riches which to the Indian psyche is again the negative merit. The Indian mind-set never believes affluence and riches to be the ultimate aim of any body's life. Hence the choice of the ideal female deity, free from any negative attribute falls on Saraswati.

Goddess Saraswati is described as a graceful four armed lady seated on a swan and holding a book, the lute and a rosary in her hands. Each of the objects that she holds in her hands has a symbolic interpretation.

First of all, let us consider her mount, the swan. In Hindu Mythology, the swan is considered to be very sensible bird which has a knack of separating water and milk from their solution. Since it is the mount of the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of discernment, it is naturally considered to be her mount.

The four arms of the goddess symbolically represent the four directions. The crystal white headed rosary represents concentration of mind. She is sometimes shown carrying a book in her hand too, which suggest her to be the goddess of learning. Also many rhymes and strotras describe Saraswati as being seated upon white lotus. Now lotus is also the most revered flower for the ancient Indians. They considered this flower to be capable of being pure despite its growing in the filthy shallow water. In other words, it is a rare flower that maintains its intrinsic pure quality and is never sullied by the impurity of the circumstances.

A statue or image of Saraswati, as described above, is then placed in the puja room with all the needed puja items and the- youngest girl performs the ritual worship. The puja is then begun by the youngest girl by applying the 'teeka' on everyone's forehead and then by turns, everyone sprinkle water 'aipun' and 'roli' by the third finger of the night hand dipped in each liquid, holding the finger each time by the thumb loosely and then letting it go with a light jerk, so as to sprinkle the attached liquid on to the deity. This is done thrice with each type of liquid in the 'thali'. The rice and flowers are picked up by the fingers and thumb and showered on to the gods. Everyone puts a little colour onto the gods. The lady of the house then takes the radish beans, 'bers' and laddoos and a betel leaf along with the nariyal (coconut) to the each member present. Following the puja, the prasad and the 'Meetha Chawal' is distributed among them. Some communities do not have the sweet — saffroned- rice at the conclusion of the puja and prefer to have it after lunch. In the end, the puja is concluded with 'Aarti'.

Basant Panchami is rarely held as the holiday now in India. When it used to be a holiday, following the puja, the numbers of the household used to assemble on the roof top to enjoy kite-flying. But now this activity has been reserved for Independence Day, although in Pakistan the kite-flying is still observed with great gusto on this very day.

Since Goddess Saraswati is also believed to be the origin of fine arts, people celebrate it with holding music concert and poetic symposiums. Also, Vasant Panchami is held to be the day reminding people that 'holi' is not far away. Hence 'holi' singing programmes are also held on this day. Many families choose this day as the day to test their children's natural tendency. Many objects like a pen, paper, a sword, a flower, some pieces of sweets are placed before the boy or the girl to be initiated and the child is asked to lift any object from the collection. If the child lifts the pen, he or she is believed to be having a special inclination for learning and if the chosen object lifted is some kind of weapon then it is predicted that person will become a warrior when grown up.

On this day the puja of Saraswati ends with the following most popular hymn to the goddess.

"Ya Kundendu tushar har dhavala

Ya shubra vastra vata Ya veena vardant mandita kara

Ya shwet padmasana Ya Brahma chyuta Shankaran prabhritibhir

Daivai sada vandita Sa mam patu Saraswati Bhagawati

Nish shesha Jadya paha"


She who is bright as the flower of Kunda, the moon and a snow coloured-tiara; who is ever clad in spotlessly white clothes; whose hands are bedight with a lute; who is seated on a white-lotus; all the gods including Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh ever hymn whose glory and who removes all kinds of inertia of the beings—such Goddess Saraswati may ever protect and nurture me !