Saraswati is one of those very few popular
Vedic Gods or Goddesses of Hinduism (others like, Vishnu, Surya)
who still popularly exists since the Vedic age, and didn't fade away with the
emergence of the Puranic Gods and Goddesses (like Ganesha,
during the Puranic age.
~ Form and Iconography
Goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful, white (rarely, yellow)-skinned
goddess, dressed in pure white often seated on a white Nelumbo nucifera lotus
[although Her actual vahana (carrier) is believed to be a swan], which
symbolizes that she is founded in the experience of the Absolute Truth. Thus,
she not only has the knowledge but also the experience of the Highest Reality.
She is mainly associated with the color white, which signifies the purity of
true knowledge. Occasionally, however, she is also associated with the colour
yellow, the colour of the flowers of the mustard plant that bloom at the time
of her festival in the spring. She is not adorned heavily with jewels and gold,
unlike the goddess Lakshmi, but is dressed modestly — perhaps representing
her preference of knowledge over worldly material things.
She is generally shown to have four arms,
which represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect,
alertness, and ego. Alternatively, these four arms also represent the 4 vedas,
the primary sacred books for hindus. The vedas, in turn, represent the 3 forms
* Poetry — the Rigveda contains
hynms, representing poetry
* Prose — Yajurveda contains prose
* Music — Samaveda represents music.
The four hands also depict this thusly
— prose is represented by the book in one hand, poetry by the garland
of crystal, music by the veena. The pot of sacred water represents purity in
all of these three, or their power to purify human thought, or might even her
association to water, flow of water (representing teh smooth flow of knowledge),
or even the river Saraswati.
She is shown to hold the following in
* A pustaka (book), which is
the sacred Vedas, representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge
as well as her perfection of the sciences and the scriptures.
* A akshamala (garland of crystals to meditate), representing the power
of meditation and spirituality.
* A kamandalu (pot of sacred water), representing creative and purificatory
powers, or the smooth flow of knowledge, like water, stored in a pot (to mean
* The veena, a musical instrument that represents her perfection of
all arts and sciences.
Saraswati is also associated with anuraaga,
the love for and rhythm of music which represents all emotions and feelings
expressed in speech or music. It is believed that children born with that name
will prove to be very lucky in their studies.
A white swan is often located next to her feet. The air that the living inhales
is called (by sound) "ham", and the air
that is breathed out is called "sah" (by
sound). Swan, in sanskrit, is called "Hamsa".
So the glorified goddess Saraswati is supposed symbolically to ride the very
essence of being. Again, the sacred swan, if offered a mixture of milk and water,
is said to be able to drink the milk alone. The swan thus symbolizes discrimination
between the good and the bad or the eternal and the evanescent. Due to her association
with the swan, Goddess Saraswati is also referred to as Hamsa-vahini,
which means "she who has a swan as her vehicle". She is usually depicted
near a flowing river, which may be related to her early history as a river goddess.
The swan and her association with the lotus flower also point to her ancient
Sometimes a peacock is shown beside the
goddess. The peacock represents arrogance and pride over its beauty, and by
having a peacock as her mount, the Goddess teaches not to be concerned with
external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth. Although, in
different texts, scriptures, historical sculptures, Saraswati is also found
to be carried by different other vahanas, like the lion, cock and so
Saraswati ~ the river
The hymns of the RigVeda, dedicated to
Saraswati, mention her as a mighty river with creative, purifying, and nourishing
properties. The best theory regarding the Vedic Sarasvati River states that
it was formed by the present headwaters of the Yamuna River. In ancient times,
after they had left the Himalayan foothills, the waters of the Yamuna turned
west instead of east at Paonta Saheb. Next, the river flowed southwest across
the Punjab and Haryana regions along the course of the modern Ghaggar-Hakra
River in a pathway roughly parallel to the smaller Indus River to its west.
The Sutlej flowed further east than it does today, and joined the Sarasvati
somewhere near Bahawalpur. Eventually, the wide river emptied into the Rann
of Kutch, which at the time was a more integral part of the Arabian Sea.
Along the course of the Saraswati, the
Harappan Civilization developed. The earliest known examples of writing in India
have been found in the ruined cities that line the now dry riverbed of the ancient
waterway. Some have postulated that the goddess Saraswati gained her role as
personified communication and the giver of knowledge due to the role of the
Sarasvati River in the development of written language in ancient India.
Between 2000 B.C. and 1700 B.C., seismic
activity caused the waters of the river's two main sources to change course.
The Sutlej moved course westward and became a tributary of the Indus River.
The Yamuna moved course eastward and became a tributary of the Ganges. The tremendous
loss of water which resulted from these movements caused the once mighty river
to become sluggish and dry up in the Thar Desert without ever reaching the sea.
Without any water for irrigation or transportation, the dense population of
the river basin soon shifted east with the waters of the Yamuna to the Ganges
River valley. Late Vedic texts record the river as disappearing at Vinasana
(literally, "the disappearing"), and as joining both the Yamuna and
Ganges as an invisible river. Some claim that the sanctity of the modern Ganges
is directly related to its assumption of the holy, life-giving waters of the
Recently, archaeologists using satellite
images have been able to trace the course of the river. A small channel of water
flows near Kurukshetra. A nearby signboard denoting the former path of the once
great Sarasvati River can be seen along the main highway (GT road).
MahaSaraswati [maha (pronounced "mahaa"),
the prefix denoting to something exalted, grand & glorified] is the presiding
Goddess of the Final episode of Devi Mahatmya. Here she is a part of
the trinity of MahaKali, MahaLakshmi and MahaSaraswati.
She is depicted as eight armed. Her dhyana-shloka (hymn to meditate
the form) is:
Wielding in her lotus-hands the
bell, trident, ploughshare, conch, pestle, discus, bow, and arrow, her lustre
is like that of a moon shining in the autumn sky. She is born from the body
of Gowri and is the sustaining base of the three worlds. The MahaSaraswati
I worship here who destroyed Sumbha and other asuras.
(Mahavidya Neel Saraswati)
Mahaneel Saraswati, or NeelSaraswati,
is another form of Mahavidya Tara (pronounced, Taaraa)
or UgraTara, or Ugrajataa. This form is mainly associated
and has a mixture of the Mahaayana and the Vajraayana sects
of Buddhism. Goddess Tara is said to be Vaak-siddhi-pradayini (bestower
of the different mystic powers of speech). There are separate dhyana shlokas
and mantras for her worship in the texts of the Tantric texts of the Tantrasaara.
"O goddess of intellect, favoured
by your, one becomes a Seer; one becomes a Brahman or a knower of the Supreme.
Favoured by you one becomes also possessed of riches. Favoured by you one
gains manifold wealth. Being such, O goddess of Intellect, delight in us and
confer on us wealth."
- Krishna Yajurveda, Mahanarayana
In Hinduism, Matangi
(pronounced: Maatangi)is the aspect of Devi (in other words, the Mahavidya)
who is the patron of inner thought. She guides her devotee to the uncaused primordial
sound. Matangi has a dark emerald complexion and has three eyes, holding the
veena, and is the another (Tantric) form of the Goddess Saraswati, which much
features and qualities in common between both. The Goddess Meenakshi at Madurai
is worshipped as Matangi. Matangi is considered as the daughter of Sage Maatanga.
Matangi is the ninth energy of the DashaMahavidya
(ten tantric forms of the female cosmic energy, or Durga). She is the Goddess
in the form of an Outcaste (Chandala), and in Tantra, represents the
Ucchishtha, or leavings of the sacrifice. These are all mystic symbolisms.
Origins and context in Hinduism
In the Rig-Veda (6,61,7), Saraswati is
credited, in association with Indra, with killing the serpentine being
Vritraasura, a demon which hoarded all of the earth's water and so
represents drought, darkness, and chaos. She is often seen as equivalent to
other Vedic goddesses such as Vaak, Savitri, and Gayatri.
Saraswati represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity,
education, enlightenment, music, the arts, and power. She is not only worshipped
for secular knowledge, but for the true divine knowledge essential to achieve
moksha. She is also referred to as Shonapunya, a Sanskrit word meaning
‘one purified of blood’.
In some Puranas (like Skanda Purana),
she is associated with Shiva and in some Tantras with Ganesha.
According to Brahma Vaivarta Purana
2.6.13-95 Vishnu has three wives, who constantly quarrel with each other, so
that eventually, he keeps only Lakshmi, giving Ganga to Shiva
and Saraswati to Brahma.
The original (spiritual) forms of devas
including Saraswati are present in the spiritual world:
In the centre [of Vaikuntha] reside
the deities of fire, sun and moon, Kurma-avatara, Ananta Sesha, and Garuda,
the master of the three Vedas. The Vedic hymns and all sacred mantras also
stay in that holy place, which is made of all the Vedas, and which is known
in the Smriti-sastra as the yoga-pitha.
Famous Vaishnava scholar Rupa Gosvami
Accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi
and other associates, the catur-vyuha expansions headed by Lord Vasudeva are
manifest in the eight directions, beginning with the east. In the directions
beginning with the southeast, the palaces of Lakshmi, Saraswati, Rati, and
Kanti respectively are situated.
According to Vedanta she is considered
to be the feminine energy and knowledge aspect (shakti) of Brahman, as one of
many aspects of Adi Shakti.
Saraswati and the Gods
(Myths about Saraswati from Different
The Puranas relate Saraswati to mainly
Brahma and Vishnu, and rarely Shiva. Most frequently, she is associated with
Brahma. Her connection with him dates earlier than to any other God. She is
portrayed mostly as his consort and occasionally as his daughter. When Vishnu's
popularity in India increased, myths relating Saraswati to him appeared.
Saraswati and Brahma:
When Saraswati is pictured as a wife of Brahma, she is usually portrayed as
white complexioned, wearing white or yellow garments, and accompanied by a peacock
or/and a swan (symbols of Brahma).
Origin of Brahma's 5 heads due
to Saraswati: Brahma created Satarupa (Saraswati)
out of his own body, and became enamoured with her. He was looking at her amorously.
In order to avoid his glances, Satarupa turned to the right side from his gaze.
In order to see her then, Brahma created a second head. As she passed to his
left and his rear, in order to avoid his lustful glances, two other heads of
the god successively appeared. At last she sprang to the sky, and following
her, a fifth head of Brahma was also formed. (From the Matsya Purana)
Brahma's Great Sacrifice:
Brahma decided to perform a great sacrifice and for that purpose he and his
wife Savitri (one of the names for Saraswati) went to Pushkara. When all the
preparations were made with due rites and ceremonies for performing the sacrifice,
Savitri, detained by some household affairs, was not in attendance. A priest
was immediately advised to call her. But she replied that she had not yet completed
her dress, nor arranged several affairs. Since without a wife no advantage could
be derived by performing a sacrifice, Brahma advised Indra to bring a wife from
wherever he could find one. Indra proceeded accordingly and, he found a milkmaid
Gayatri (another form of Saraswati), who was young, beautiful . Indra seized
her and brought to the assembly. Then Brahma told that he would espouse the
mikmaid and she would be regarded as the mother of the Vedas. Thus Brahma was
united with Gayatri. At this time Savitri, accompanied by the wives of Vishnu,
Rudra and other gods, come to the place of sacrifice. Seeing the milkmaid in
the bride's attire, Savitri became furious and cursed Brahma and all the other
gods and left. But Gayatri repaired most of the curses by performing proper
sacrifices. (From the Skanda Purana)
Origin of Saraswati and Her
Marriage to Vishnu: Once Krishna felt an inclination
to create and thus sprang from him Radha, his shakti. Their union produced the
mundane egg, which Radha threw into the numdane waters. Krishna was incensed
at this unmotherly conduct of Radha and cursed her with everlasting youth and
barrenness. At this point, suddently from the lip of Radha sprang forth a lovely
daughter Saraswati of white complexion wearing yellow dress, bedecked with jewels
and holding a Veena and a book in her hands. Radha again parted herself into
two and her left half was transformed into Kamala or Lakshmi. At this, Krishna
also parted into two and produced the four-armed Vishnu from the left side of
his body. Krishna gave Sarasvati and Lakshmi to Vishnu as wives. (From the
Fight Between Saraswati and
Ganga: Besides Saraswati, Vishnu married Ganga
(the river Ganges). One day Ganga was looking wistfully at her husband, and
Vishnu was reciprocating the glances. This was too much for Saraswati who began
to accuse Vishnu of partiality. Vishnu left the place to give Saraswati time
to calm herself down. But this only served to anger Saraswati more. She advanced
threatingly to Ganga when Lakshmi intervened. Lakshmi held Saraswati away from
Ganga. Saraswati then cursed Lakshmi. Vishnu, having found out about what happened,
cursed both Saraswati and Ganga with transformation into rivers, and also gave
both of them to other husbands. Saraswati was given to Brahma and Ganga to Shiva.
(From the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana)
Saraswati's Connection to the
Sarasvati gives the essence of one’s
self. She provides us with the mundane and spiritual knowledge of our lives.
She is a representation of the science of life, or the Vedanta, which attempts
to unravel the essentials of human existence and the universe concealed within.
She points to the ultimate aim of human life which is to realize the true nature
of the self even if it requires an enormous amount of determination, perseverance
and patience. The knowledge that Sarasvati renders through continual worship,
devotion and discipline is one of an integral vision in which both temporal
and spiritual levels of study are meditated upon, practiced and developed. Therefore,
she allows one to exist in the material world while striving for the plane of
Brahman. The connection one forms with Sarasvati is one with words and music,
which are the very source of the cosmos, the Brahman. She is the impeller of
true, sweet speech, she is the creative process with the syllable, ‘OM.’
She is the potent quality of sound.
Sarasvati is the ocean of understanding,
the consciousness which vibrates with different types of knowledge. She is the
cause of all movements, the source of spiritual light, remover of all ignorance
and promoter of knowledge. Students that are here to discover, invent and create
a new world fall under Sarasvati'’s grace, that is why we must be open
and disciplined to acquire the knowledge which she can give to us. Sarasvati
shows that human destiny involves the refinement of nature. Being fully human
necessitates molding, enhancing and refining the natural world to make it habitable.
Artistic creation as well as knowledge of the sciences epitomize human culture;
integrated knowledge refines the world into something beautiful and special.
Saraswati's Connection to Other
Sarasvati is well known in a variety
of other religions outside of Hinduism. She appears in Jainism and Buddhism,
and has made her way from India to Japan as well as to other places around the
In Jainism, Saravsvati has been given
many titles, a few of these include: The Dispeller of Darkness & Ignorance,
The Remover of Infatuations, The Destroyer of Miseries and The Bestower of Knowledge.
As in Hinduism, she also stands as a symbol of purity.
In the transition from early (Theravada)
Buddhism to Mahayana Buddhism, may elements of Hinduism were transplanted into
Buddhism. In early Buddhist mandalas, various divinities were depicted of Mahayana
Buddhism. In those early Buddhist mandalas, Sarasvati is located in the south-west
of the innermost circle, between Brahma and Vishnu, symbolizing her close connection
with these two deities. In Buddhism, Sarasvati is the Bestower of Knowledge,
Intelligence & Memory; and she confers wisdom and learning upon her worshippers.
She possesses many forms within Buddhism, including Vajra-Sarasvati, Vajrana-Sarasvati,
Vajra-Sarada and Mahasarasvati. During a period of Tantric dominance within
Buddhism, many of the Mahayana Buddhist texts were transmitted through the Himalayan
passes to Nepal, Tibet, Java, China and eventually Japan.
In Tibet, she is known as Vajra-Sarasvati
and is often depicted as wielding a Thunderbolt (vajra). In Japan, the goddess
Benzaiten or Benten is seen as a manifestation of Sarasvati. Her full name in
Japanese is Dai-Ben-Zai-Ten or The Great Divinity of Reasoning Faculty. She
is believed to confer power, happiness, riches, long life, fame and reasoning
powers. In later times she came to be regarded as one of the seven deities of
good fortune. A myth in Japan speaks of a hideous pond dwelling serpent that
terrorized the villages and devoured the children for miles around. Benten could
not bear to witness such destruction. Therefore she stirred up an earthquake
and hovered above the serpent's lair in the dust clouds. Descending, she called
it forth. At first Benten was filled with loathing. But the serpent king wooed
her with soft and tender words until her heart was melted, and--making him promise
to mend his savage ways--she married him. It is interesting to note that Ben-Ten,
as goddess of speech was won by words.
In Hinduism, Saraswati
(also spelt: "Sarasvati") is one of the three main goddesses,
the other two being Lakshmi and Durga, that
form the female counterpart of the Trimurti [the three main gods: Brahma
(of srishti, or creation), Vishnu (of sthiti,
or beingness & protection) and Shiva (of samhaar,
or destruction)]. Saraswati has been regarded as a river goddess during the
Vedic age, and gradually, down the Puranic ages, emerged to be a goddess of
knowledge, music and the arts. Most popularly, she is the consort of Brahma,
the Hindu god of creation.
As a river/water goddess, Saraswati symbolizes
fertility and prosperity. She is associated with purity and creativity, especially
in the context of communication, such as in literary and verbal skills. In the
post-Vedic age, She began to lose her status as a river goddess and became increasingly
associated with literature, arts, music, etc. Her name literally means "the
one who flows", which apparently was applied to thoughts, words, or the
flow of a river (in Sanskrit: "dhaaraa-pravaah").
Saraswati Puja is performed on the 5th
day of brighter fortnight of the Magha month of Hindu Calendar( Also
known as Basant Panchami). This is the most popular celebration in
West Bengal and Bangladesh, and millions of Bengali Hindus worldwide.
In several parts of India, generally
states to the south, Saraswati Pooja are conducted during Navaratri
- a 9 day long festival celebrating the power of feminity. Navratri is celebrated
in all goddess-temples of India- esp with great pomp and splendor in south and
east India. The last three days of Navaratri starting from Mahalaya Amavasya
(the New Moon day) are dedicated to the goddess. On the ninth day of Navaratri
(Mahanavami), books and all musical instruments are ceremoniously kept near
the gods early at dawn and worshipped with special prayers. No studies or any
performance of arts is carried out, as it is considered that the Goddess herself
is blessing the books and the instruments. The festival is concluded on the
tenth day of Navaratri (Vijaya Dashami) and the goddess is
worshipped again before the books and the musical instruments are removed. It
is customary to study on this day, which is called Vidyarambham (literally,
Commencement of Knowledge). All students are traditionally required to study
a part of all that they have learn till that day, and also to start the study
of something new on the same day. Gurus ( Preceptors) are worshipped on this
day as embodiments of Saraswati. In major part of India this Navratri is associated
with Goddess Durga, but down South is celebrated as Saraswati Puja.
Major temples for the goddess are in
Basara Town ( Andhra Pradesh), Shringeri (Karnataka), Pushkar (Rajastan), Panachikkad
(Kerala), South Paravoor (Kerala). Though temples for saraswati are rare, there
are some minor temples in Kumbakonam,Koothanur (Tamilnadu), Basar, Nuzvid(Krishana
Dt..)(Andhra Pradesh), Bharathi temple (known as Kollam Bharathi locally) near
Atmakur, Kurnool Dist in Andhra. Also Deupatan, Kamalakshi, Thimi, Bhadrakali
,Gairidhara in the Kathmandu region have her temples.
The Worship of Goddess Saraswati
The goddess's abode is mentioned as being
in the state of Kashmir, among the Himalayas. Her favorite fruit is supposed
to be the apple.
In Hindu mythology, great significance
is attached to offering honey to this goddess, as honey is the nectar or the
main theme, or essence of the creation's/beauty's (here, flower) being, and
is representative of perfect knowledge.
A Prayer to Goddess Saraswati
– (Saraswati Vandana Mantra)
Yaa Kundendu tushaara haaradhavalaa,
Yaa veenavara dandamanditakara, Yaa shwetha padmaasana
Yaa brahmaachyutha shankara prabhutibhir Devaisadaa Vanditha
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswatee Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa
"May Goddess Saraswati, who is
fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty
dew drops; who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm
rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus; who is surrounded and
respected by the Gods, protect me. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness,
Different Names of Saraswati
Vedaroopa - There is
nothing in the universe, which is not in the Vedas, and Saraswati is the concrete
form of the Vedas.
Vedavaadini - The reciter
of the Vedas.
Sarvashukla - Associated
to everything, immaculately white and pure.
Shweta - One who is clad
and adorned with white.
Vaak - Speech.
Vidya - Knowledge.
Bhaarati - Eloquence,
or the soul of Bhaarata, or India
Mahavidya - Ttranscendent
Vaak - Speech.
Vaani - Transcendent
Aaryaa - The noble one.
Braahmi - Power of the
immense being (and also, as the consort of Lord Brahma).
Kaamadhenu - The wish
Bijagarbhaa - Womb of
the seed or womb of the elements of speech.
Dhanesvari - Divinity
Vaagdevi - Divinity of
Vinapani - The one that
holds the vina.
Saarada - Giver of essence.
Vaageshvari - Goddess