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Archive for the tag “Saraswati”

Vijaydashmi- Celebrating Many a Victory

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Over nine days the festive fervour of Navratri builds up to heightened activity on the eight and ninth days and ends in a crescendo on Vijayadashmi,the tenth day of the tenth day of the month of Ashwin. It is one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar and is steeped in layers of ancient traditions.

Vijayadashmi literally means victory on the tenth day. Legend has it that on this day King Rama killed the ten headed demon Ravana in Lanka. Hence the festival is also known as Dusherra, meaning das-harra or ten heads.

It is also the day when Durga is said to have slayed the demon Mahishasur ending a long raging battle. Thus Vijayadashmi celebrates the victory of good over evil. Not just in historical and mythical wars but on the battlefield of life. The Nine Nights of the Goddess symbolically end in the spiritual regeneration of every devotee and aspirant.

In another story, Hindus believe that during Navratri, Pravati the daughter of the mountains and the wife of Shiva comes to visit her parents. Before she departs on the ninth day to be re-united with Shiva in the Himalayas, she blesses her people with a bountiful harvest. This is critical. For the end of Navratri marks the beginning of the harvest before the long winter sets in. And so the blessings of the Divine mother who represents abundance in all forms, are sought and received.

In the cities away from the farmlands, it is the day to start all new ventures and strike new business deals. The day to buy gold and houses.

For artists and artisans whose wealth lies in their art, this is the day to worship their tools and instruments. In offices the ledgers and these days even computers are worshipped. Students lay out their books beautifully before Goddess Saraswati and worship them with kumkum and flowers. ( As a child this was my favourite part of the festival for it meant no studying for the day!)

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And as such it is a national holiday with different parts of India celebrating it in their own special way.

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In the north of India and in Maharashtra Ram Lila, the story of Rama is enacted in the streets by drama troupes and ends in the burning of large effigies of the ten-headed Ravana.

                                                                                                     

An artist paints Ravana’s head

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In Maharashtra gold coin shaped leaves of the apta tree are given to the elders in the family seeking their blessings and to friends wishing them prosperity in the year to come.

In the south of India, Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, is worshipped making this a preferred day to begin formal education.

 

 

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In the east, especially Bengal, Vijayadashmi marks the end of Durga Puja and the Goddess is returned to her home by immersing her idol in a river or the sea.

This year however the navami and dashmi overlap as per the lunar calendar and both the ninth and tenth day will be celebrated today.

Navratri-Nine Nights of the Goddess

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The festival of Navratri began last night. For nine nights to come the Goddess, Devi will be celebrated and worshipped in all her names and forms across India.

From the personal kul devi, goddess of the clan to gaon devi, guardian of the town and finally as her all encompassing avatars of Durga, Laxmi and Saraswati she will reign over our hearts and minds.

But essentially she is Shakti, the nameless, formless energy that manifests as the ever changing Cosmos. She is the creative feminine principle. She is the Divine Mother. Just as she holds up the cosmos, she sustains us too. Nurturing us and holding our hands as we navigate our lives. To her we turn for courage and comfort.

And to her we turn to find ourselves.

Although the festival of Navratri is a joyous celebration marked by elaborate pujas, feasts and dancing through the night, it has a deeply spiritual significance.

For the first three nights we worship the Goddess as Durga, the warrior goddess who armed with her many weapons destroys all evil. We pray to Durga that she many transform all that is petty and limiting within us, and dispel the ignorance and darkness that envelopes us. For it is only when we are freed of all negativity that we can open our hearts and lives to all things positive.

It is then that we are ready to worship Laxmi, the Goddess of Abundance. For the next three days we pray to Laxmi that she may fill our open hearts and lives with wealth, both material and spiritual.  For it is only when we have tasted abundance and experienced the expansive nature of the Universe that we become ready to receive knowledge and learning, the greatest wealth of all.

So the last three days of Navratri are devoted to Sarswati, the Goddess of Learning and Arts. She is also the goddess who holds the secret to the highest knowledge of all, the knowledge of the Self. We pray that she may grant us that knowledge. The nine nights are then a journey of the Self towards itself. And, even if we take but just a step, we have at least begun the journey.

Happy Navratri to you !!

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Saraswati-The Goddess of Knowledge and Learning

She is the sublime Goddess of Knowledge. From her flows all learning. She is ‘Vac Devi’, the goddess of speech who ‘dances on our tongues’ to create the magic of words. It is she who incarnates as Art in all its forms.

While Brahma is the Lord of Creation, Saraswati his daughter is Creativity itself.

You will find her by the river or seated on a lotus flower, dressed in white and gold, radiant like the moon. In her hands she holds the veena, the vedas  and a mala of beads . Lost in contemplation she sits alone with only peacocks and swans for company .

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Her Origin

Saraswati means ‘to flow’, as is the nature of knowledge and creativity. It cannot be contained and must flow freely. Saraswati is also the Goddess of Purity, for the true purpose of knowledge is to purify the mind and lead it to wisdom.

It is also the nature of a river to flow, to purify and to nourish. And, ultimately to merge with the ocean.

No surprise then that the Goddess Saraswati as we know her today started off as the holy river, Saraswati, which once flowed from the East to the West in northern India.

Today only a small part of it remains as the Ghaggar river in Rajasthan; the rest of it long lost under the vast Marusthali desert.

However satellite images and geological mapping show that the Vedic Saraswati was indeed an enormous river, about 1500 kms long and eight kms wide in her prime.  Archeologists believe she played a major role in sustaining the Indus Valley civilization.

Which explains why Saraswati is praised so lavishly in all the Vedas with several hymns dedicated to her. One hymn describes her as the ‘best of the mothers, best of the rivers, best of the goddesses’.

The river was an important part of all Vedic worship and rituals and continues to be an integral part of Hinduism even today.

Around 4000 BC when the Saraswati dried up, the people who had settled on her banks moved eastwards. Thousands of years later, by the time the Upanishads and Puranas were written, the River Ganges had become the most important river and the Saraswati had faded into a memory preserved in myths and stories.

In the Mahabharat she is mentioned as the river which upon entering the desert ‘dived under it’ and disappeared into the sea.

One story in the Puranas tell us how the Saraswati disappeared.

Once upon a time the Gods wanted someone to carry Agni, the scared fire, to the sea. But, no mortal or god would dare to touch the fiery Agni lest they be burnt to ashes except the mighty Saraswati. At the request of the devas Saraswati gathered up all her waters and taking the form of a woman held Agni within her and rushed off to the sea. Agni’s fire was gone and so was Saraswati, lost forever to the sea.

Another tale from the Bhagwat Puranas speaks of Saraswati being born from Brahma’s mouth. Wise and pure, she gave the gift of learning and knowledge to man.

These stories tell of a major change in beliefs and rituals in post Vedic times.

With Saraswati returning Agni to the sea the sacrificial fire appears to have lost its power. The material and animal sacrifices that were once offered to Agni came to be replaced by a sacrifice of self or the (ego), through the pursuit of creativity and knowledge.

This transformation in attitudes is clearly seen in the Upanishads wherein Saraswati now becomes the Goddess of knowledge who leads man to the ocean of Truth.

This idea of Saraswati was later incorporated into Jainism and Buddhism. Through Buddhism it spread beyond India to the far east.

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In Jainism, she became Saraswati, the dispeller of darkness and ignorance. Tibetan Buddhists know her as Yang Chenmo who bestows wisdom and learning.
In Mongolian she is Keleyin ukin Tegri, in Chinese she is called Tapien-ts’ai t’iennu or Miao-yin mu, and in Japan she is Dai-Ben-Zai-Ten, meaning ‘the great divinity of the reasoning faculty’.

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Festivals

Saraswati puja is celebrated on Vasant Panchami, the fifth day of the month of Magh which falls anytime from mid-January to mid-February. On this day all children place their books and musical instruments at Saraswati’s feet and seek her blessings while very young children will write their first letter in her presence with the help of an adult.

She is also worshipped in a big way during the festival of Navratri, the nine nights of the goddess.

This lovely prayer composed by Sage Agastya is chanted regularly by Hindus in their homes, schools and any place of learning.

या कुन्देन्दुतुषारहारधवला या शुभ्रवस्त्रावृता

 या वीणावरदण्डमण्डितकरा या श्वेतपद्मासना ।

या ब्रह्माच्युतशंकरप्रभृतिभिर्देवः सदा पूजिता

सा मां पातु सरस्वति भगवती निःशेषजाड्यापहा ॥१॥

Yaa kundendu tushaar haar dhavalaa

Yaa shubra vastra avrita

yaa vina var danda mandita kara

yaa shweta padmasana

yaa Brahmachyutashankarprabritibhir devai sadaa pujita

Saa maam paatu Saraswati Bhagawati nisheshjaadyapahaa

 

Translation:

Salutations to the one who is pure white like jasmine, with the coolness of the moon and brightness of the snow and shines like a garland of pearls

One who is dressed in white

Whose hands are adorned by the veena( stringed musical instrument)

And the boon-giving staff,

And who is seated on a pure white lotus

One who is adored by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and worshipped by all devas.

Goddess Saraswati , I pray, dispel my ignorance completely.

( Can you see how these words could easily be describing the River Saraswati ? !)

You can hear it  sung here  just as I learnt it in school.

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