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Saraswati (Sanskrit: सरस्वती, Sarasvatī) is the Hindu
goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom and learning worshipped
Nepal and India. She is a part of the trinity (Tridevi)
Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the
trinity of Brahma,
Shiva to create, maintain and
regenerate-recycle the Universe respectively.
The earliest known mention of
Saraswati as a goddess is in the
Rigveda. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic
period through modern times of
Hindu traditions. Some Hindus
celebrate the festival of
Vasant Panchami (the fifth day of spring,
and also known as
Saraswati Puja and
Saraswati Jayanti in so many
parts of India) in her honour, and mark the day by helping young
children learn how to write alphabets on that day. The Goddess is
also revered by believers of the
Jain religion of west and central
India, as well as some Buddhist sects.
Saraswati is also worshipped outside the Indian subcontinent, in
nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Saraswati idol carved of black stone from
Chalukya dynasty (12 century
CE). Idol on display in Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.
3 Symbolism and iconography
4 Regional manifestations of Saraswati
4.1 Maha Saraswati
Mahavidya Nila Saraswati
Saraswati Puja in South India
6 Outside the Indian subcontinent
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Saraswati, sometimes spelled Sarasvati, is a
Sanskrit fusion word of
sāra (सार) which means "essence", and sva (स्व)
which means "one self", the fused word meaning "essence of one self"
Saraswati meaning "one who leads to essence of
self-knowledge". It is also a
Sanskrit composite word of
surasa-vati (सुरस-वति) which means "one with plenty of
Saraswati appears both as a reference to a river and as a
significant deity in the Rigveda. In initial passages, the word refers
Sarasvati River and is mentioned as one among several
northwestern Indian rivers such as the Drishadvati. Saraswati, then,
connotes a river deity. In Book 2, the
the best of mothers, of rivers, of goddesses.
अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे
Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Sarasvatī, We are, as
’twere, of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown.
Saraswati is celebrated as a feminine deity with healing and purifying
powers of abundant, flowing waters in Book 10 of the Rigveda, as
अपो अस्मान मातरः
शुन्धयन्तु घर्तेन नो
विश्वं हि रिप्रं परवहन्ति
May the waters, the mothers, cleanse us,
may they who purify with butter, purify us with butter,
for these goddesses bear away defilement,
I come up out of them pure and cleansed.
–Translated by John Muir
In Vedic literature,
Saraswati acquires the same significance for
early Indians (states John Muir) as that accredited to the river
Ganges by their modern descendants. In hymns of Book 10 of Rigveda,
she is already declared to be the "possessor of knowledge". Her
importance grows in
Vedas composed after
Rigveda and in Brahmanas, and
the word evolves in its meaning from "waters that purify", to "that
which purifies", to "vach (speech) that purifies", to "knowledge that
purifies", and ultimately into a spiritual concept of a goddess that
embodies knowledge, arts, music, melody, muse, language, rhetoric,
eloquence, creative work and anything whose flow purifies the essence
and self of a person. In
Saraswati is invoked to remind the reader to meditate on virtue,
virtuous emoluments, the meaning and the very essence of one's
activity, one's action. Some may wonder as to what would be the
Saraswati and Lord Vishnu. She is a very close relative of
Saraswati is known by many names in ancient
Hindu literature. Some
examples of synonyms for
Brahmani (power of Brahma),
Brahmi (goddess of sciences), Bharadi (goddess of history), Vani
and Vachi (both referring to the flow of music/song, melodious speech,
eloquent speaking respectively), Varnesvari (goddess of letters),
Kavijihvagravasini (one who dwells on the tongue of
Saraswati is also known as Vidyadatri (Goddess
who provides knowledge), Veenavadini (Goddess who plays veena, the
musical instrument held by Goddess Saraswati), Pustakdharini (Goddess
carrying book with herself), Veenapani (Goddess carrying veena in her
hands), Hansavahini (Goddess who sits on swan) and Vagdevi (Goddess of
In the Nepali language, her name is written Nepali:
सरस्वती. In the Telugu, Sarasvati is also known as
Chaduvula Thalli (చదువుల తల్లి) and Shārada
(శారద). In Konkani, she is referred to as Shārada, Veenapani,
Pustakadhārini, Vidyadāyini. In Kannada, variants of her name
include Sharade, Sharadamba, Vāni, Veenapani in the famous Sringeri
temple. In Tamil, she is also known as Kalaimagal
(கலைமகள்), Kalaivāni (கலைவாணி), Vāni
(வாணி) and Bharathi. She is also addressed as Sāradā (the
one who offers sāra or the essence), Shāradā (the one who loves the
autumn season), Veenā-pustaka-dhārini (the one holding books and a
Veena), Vāgdevi, Vāgishvari, (both meaning "goddess of speech"),
Vāni (speech), Varadhanāyaki (the one bestowing boons), Sāvitri
(consort of Brahma), Gāyatri (mother of Vedas).
In India, she is locally spelled as
Bengali: সরস্বতী, Saraswati ?,
Malayalam: സരസ്വതി, Saraswati ?, and
Tamil: சரஸ்வதி, Sarasvatī ?.
Nepal and India, she is known in Burmese as Thurathadi
(သူရဿတီ, pronounced [θùja̰ðədì] or
pronounced [tḭpḭtəka̰ mɛ̀dɔ̀]), in Chinese as
Biàncáitiān (辯才天), in Japanese as Benzaiten
(弁才天/弁財天) and in Thai as Suratsawadi
(สุรัสวดี) or Saratsawadi (สรัสวดี).
Saraswati goddess is found in temples of Southeast Asia, islands of
Indonesia and Japan. In Japan, she is known as
She is depicted with a musical instrument in Japan, and is a deity of
knowledge, music, and everything that flows.
Saraswati is found in almost every major ancient and medieval Indian
literature between 1000 BC to 1500 AD. In
Hindu tradition, she has
retained her significance as a goddess from the Vedic age up to the
present day. In
Shanti Parva of the
Hindu epic Mahabharata,
Saraswati is called the mother of the Vedas, and later as the
celestial creative symphony who appeared when
Brahma created the
universe. In Book 2 of Taittiriya Brahmana, she is called the
mother of eloquent speech and melodious music.
Saraswati is the active
energy and power of Brahma. She is also mentioned in many minor
Sanskrit publications such as
Sarada Tilaka of 8th century AD as
May the goddess of speech enable us to attain all possible eloquence,
she who wears on her locks a young moon,
who shines with exquisite lustre,
who sits reclined on a white lotus,
and from the crimson cusp of whose hands pours,
radiance on the implements of writing, and books produced by her
– On Saraswati, Sarada Tilaka
Saraswati became a prominent deity in Buddhist iconography – the
Manjushri in 1st millennium AD. In some instances such as
in the Sadhanamala of Buddhist pantheon, she has been symbolically
represented similar to regional
Hindu iconography, but unlike the more
well known depictions of Saraswati.
Symbolism and iconography
Saraswati images are depicted with symbolism.
Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed
in pure white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes light,
knowledge and truth. She not only embodies knowledge but also the
experience of the highest reality. Her iconography is typically in
white themes from dress to flowers to swan – the colour symbolizing
Sattwa Guna or purity, discrimination for true knowledge, insight and
Her dhyana mantra describes her to be as white as the moon, clad in a
white dress, bedecked in white ornaments, radiating with beauty,
holding a book & a pen in her hands. The book & the pen
represent knowledge
She is generally shown to have four arms, but sometimes just two. When
shown with four hands, those hands symbolically mirror her husband
Brahma's four heads, representing manas (mind, sense), buddhi
(intellect, reasoning), citta (imagination, creativity) and ahamkāra
(self consciousness, ego).
Brahma represents the abstract, she
action and reality.
The four hands hold items with symbolic meaning — a pustaka (book or
script), a mālā (rosary, garland), a water pot and a musical
instrument (vīnā). The book she holds symbolizes the Vedas
representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as
well as all forms of learning. A mālā of crystals, representing the
power of meditation, inner reflection and spirituality. A pot of water
represents the purifying power to separate right from wrong, the clean
from the unclean, and essence from the inessential. In some texts, the
pot of water is symbolism for soma - the drink that liberates and
leads to knowledge. The most famous feature on
Saraswati is a
musical instrument called a veena, represents all creative arts and
sciences, and her holding it symbolizes expressing knowledge that
Saraswati is also associated with anurāga,
the love for and rhythm of music, which represents all emotions and
feelings expressed in speech or music.
A hamsa or swan is often located next to her feet. In
the hamsa is a sacred bird, which if offered a mixture of milk and
water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes
the ability to discriminate between good and evil, essence from
outward show and the eternal from the evanescent. Due to her
association with the swan,
Saraswati is also referred to as
Hamsavāhini, which means "she who has a hamsa as her vehicle". The
swan is also a symbolism for spiritual perfection, transcendence and
Sometimes a citramekhala (also called mayura, peacock) is shown beside
the goddess. The peacock symbolizes colorful splendor, celebration of
dance, and - as the devourer of snakes - the alchemical ability to
transmute the serpent poison of self into the radiant plumage of
She is usually depicted near a flowing river or other body of water,
which depiction may constitute a reference to her early history as a
Regional manifestations of Saraswati
Saraswati Statue in Dhaka University
In some regions of India, such as Vindhya, Odisha,
West Bengal and
Assam, as well as east Nepal,
Saraswati is part of the
mythology, in the trinity (Tridevi) of Mahakali,
Mahasaraswati. This is one of many different
that attempt to explain how
Hindu trinity of gods (Brahma,
Shiva) and goddesses (Saraswati,
Lakshmi and Parvati) came into being.
Purana texts offer alternate legends for Maha Saraswati.
Saraswati is depicted as eight-armed and is often portrayed
Veena whilst sitting on a white lotus flower.
Her dhyāna shloka given at the beginning of the fifth chapter of Devi
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. That Mahasaraswati I worship
here who destroyed Sumbha and other asuras.
Mahasaraswati is also part of another legend, the Navshaktis(not to be
confused with Navdurgas), or nine forms of Shakti, namely Brahmi,
Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Varahi, Narsimhi, Aindri, Shivdooti
and Chamunda, revered as powerful and dangerous goddesses in eastern
India. They have special significance on
Navaratri in these regions.
All of these are seen ultimately as aspects of a single great Hindu
goddess, with Maha
Saraswati as one of those nine.
Mahavidya Nila Saraswati
Tibet and parts of India, Nilasaraswati is a form of Mahavidya
Saraswati is a different deity from traditional Saraswati,
yet subsumes her knowledge and creative energy in tantric literature.
Nila Sarasvati is the ugra (angry, violent, destructive) manifestation
in one school of Hinduism, while the more common
Saraswati is the
saumya (calm, compassionate, productive) manifestation found in most
others. In tantric literature of the former, Nilasaraswati has a 100
names. There are separate dhyana shlokas and mantras for her worship
Sarasvati temple at
Pilani in North Indian style (above), and South
Indian style (below). Her temples, like her iconography, often
resonate in white themes.
There are many temples dedicated to
Saraswati around the world. Some
notable temples include the Gnana
Saraswati Temple in Basar on the
banks of the River Godavari, the Warangal
Saraswati and Shri Saraswati
Kshetramu temples in Medak, Telangana. In Karnataka, one of many
Saraswati/Sharada pilgrimage spots is Shringeri Sharadamba Temple. In
Ernakulam district of Kerala, there is a famous
Saraswati temple in
North Paravur, namely
Dakshina Mookambika Temple North Paravur. In
Koothanur hosts a
Saraswati temple about 25 kilometres
from Tiruvarur. In her identity as Brahmani, additional Sarasvati
temples can be found throughout Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan,
and Uttar Pradesh.
One of the most famous festivals associated with Goddess
Hindu festival of Vasant Panchami. Celebrated on the 5th day in
Hindu calendar month of Magha (month), it is also known as
Saraswati Puja and
Saraswati Jayanti in India.
West Bengal and Tripura, Goddess
Saraswati is worshipped on Vasant
Hindu festival celebrated every year on the 5th day in the
Hindu calendar month of Magha (about February). Hindus celebrate this
festival in temples, homes and educational institutes alike.
Bihar and Jharkhand,
Vasant Panchami is commonly known as Saraswati
Puja. On this day, Goddess
Saraswati is worshipped in schools,
colleges, educational institutes as well as in institutes associated
with music and dance. Cultural programmes are also organised in
schools and institutes on this day. People especially students worship
Saraswati also in pandals (a tent made up of colourful cloths,
decorated with lights and other decorative items). In these states, on
the occasion of
Saraswati Puja, Goddess
Saraswati is worshipped in the
form of idol, made up of soil. On
Saraswati Puja, the idol is
worshipped by people and prasad is distributed among the devotees
Prasad mainly consists of boondi (motichoor), pieces of
carrot, peas and indian plum (ber). On the next day or any day
depending on religious condition, the idol is immersed in a pond
Murti Visarjan or Pratima Visarjan) after performing a
Havana (immolation), with full joy and fun, playing with abir and
gulal. After Pratima Visarjan, members involved in the organisation of
puja ceremony eat khichdi together.
Maharashtra and Karnataka,
Saraswati Puja starts with
Saraswati Avahan on Maha Saptami and ends on
Saraswati Udasan or Visarjan.
In 2018, the
Haryana government launched and sponsored National
Saraswati Mahotsav in its state named after Saraswati.
Saraswati Puja in South India
Kerala and Tamil Nadu,
Devi idol at home.
the last three days of the
Navaratri festival, i.e., Ashtami, Navami,
and Dashami, are celebrated as Sarasvati Puja. The celebrations
start with the Puja Vypu (Placing for Worship). It consists of placing
the books for puja on the Ashtami day. It may be in one's own house,
in the local nursery school run by traditional teachers, or in the
local temple. The books will be taken out for reading, after worship,
only on the morning of the third day (Vijaya Dashami). It is called
Puja Eduppu (Taking [from] Puja). Children are happy, since they are
not expected to study on these days. On the Vijaya Dashami day, Kerala
celebrates the Ezhuthiniruthu or Initiation of Writing for the little
children before they are admitted to nursery schools. This is also
called Vidyarambham. The child is made to write for the first time on
the rice spread in a plate with the index finger, guided by an elder
of the family or by a teacher.
Outside the Indian subcontinent
Saraswati (top), a
Saraswati temple in Bali
(middle), and one of many
Benzaiten temples in
Statue of Thurathadi at Kyauktawgyi Buddha Temple (Yangon)
In Burma, the Shwezigon Mon Inscription dated to be of 1084 AD, near
Bagan, recites the name
Saraswati as follows,
"The wisdom of eloquence called
Saraswati shall dwell in mouth of King
Sri Tribhuwanadityadhammaraja at all times". – Translated by Than
In Buddhist arts of Myanmar, she is called Thurathadi (or
Thayéthadi).:215 Students in
Myanmar pray for her blessings
before their exams.:327 She is also believed to be, in Mahayana
pantheon of Myanmar, the protector of Buddhist scriptures.
Main article: Benzaiten
The concept of
Saraswati migrated from India, through China to Japan,
where she appears as
Benzaiten (弁財天). Worship of Benzaiten
Japan during the 6th through 8th centuries. She is often
depicted holding a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute musical
instrument. She is enshrined on numerous locations throughout Japan
such as the Kamakura's Zeniarai
Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine or Nagoya's
Kawahara Shrine; the three biggest shrines in
Japan in her honour
are at the
Enoshima Island in Sagami Bay, the
Chikubu Island in Lake
Biwa, and the
Itsukushima Island in Seto Inland Sea.
Saraswati was honoured with invocations among Hindus of Angkorian
Cambodia, suggests a tenth-century and another eleventh-century
inscription. She and
Brahma are referred to in Cambodian epigraphy
from the 7th century onwards, and she is praised by Khmer poets for
being goddess of eloquence, writing and music. More offerings were
made to her than to her husband Brahma. She is also referred to as
Vagisvari and Bharati in Yasovarman era Khmer literature.
Devi of Arts, Emblem of Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn
In ancient Thai literature,
Saraswati (Thai: สุรัสวดี;
RTGS: Suratsawadi) is the goddess of speech and learning, and
consort of Brahma. Over time,
Hindu and Buddhist concepts on
deities merged in Thailand. Icons of
Saraswati with other deities of
India are found in old Thai wats. Amulets with
Saraswati and a
peacock are also found in Thailand.
Saraswati is an important goddess in Balinese Hinduism. She shares the
same attributes and iconography as
Hindu literature of
India - in both places, she is the goddess of knowledge, creative
arts, wisdom, language, learning and purity. In Bali, she is
Saraswati day, one of the main festivals for Hindus in
Indonesia. The day marks the close of 210-day year in the
Saraswati day, people make offerings in the form of flowers in
temples and to sacred texts. The day after
Saraswati day, is Banyu
Pinaruh, a day of cleansing. On this day, Hindus of
Bali go to the
sea, sacred waterfalls or river spots, offer prayers to Saraswati, and
then rinse themselves in that water in the morning. Then they prepare
a feast, such as the traditional bebek betutu and nasi kuning, that
Saraswati Day festival has a long history in Bali. It has
become more widespread in
Hindu community of Indonesia in recent
decades, and it is celebrated with theatre and dance performance.
In Tibet, she is known as Yang chen ma (Singing/Music Goddess), or
Yang chen drolma (Singing/Music Tara) considered the consort of
Mañjuśri, Buddha of Wisdom, she is one of the 21 Taras.
Saraswati is the Divine Embodiment & bestower of Enlightened
Eloquence & Inspiration, patroness of the arts, sciences, music,
language, literature, history, poetry & philosophy, all those
engaged in creative endeavours in Tibetan Buddhism. She is considered
the peaceful manifestation of Palden Lhamo(Glorious Goddess). In the
Palden Lhamo is known as Magzor Gyalmo(the Queen
who Repels Armies) and is a wrathful emanation of
being a protector.
Saraswati was the yidam (principal personal
meditational deity) of 14th Century Tibetan monk Je Tsongkhapa. He
composed a devotional poem, Prayer to Sarasvati, to her.She is
believed in the Tibetan tradition to have accompanied him on his
travels, as well as regularly engaging in conversations with
Aban, "the Waters", representing and represented by Aredvi Sura
Anahita – the Old Persian goddess of wisdom
Arachosia name of which derives from Old Iranian *Harahvatī (Avestan
Haraxˇaitī, Old Persian Hara(h)uvati-).
Athena – the Greek goddess of wisdom and knowledge
Brahmi – Shaktidharmic version of Saraswati
Hara Berezaiti, "High Hara", the mythical mountain that is the origin
of the *Harahvatī river.
Minerva – the Roman goddess of wisdom and knowledge
Rhea – the Greek goddess consort of Cronos and mother of the gods
Sarasvati River, a manifestation of the goddess Saraswati.
Saraswati Vandana Mantra
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Stephen Knapp - Sarasvati, The Goddess of Learning
"Prayer to Sarasvati" by Je Tsongkhapa, translated by Gavin Kilty,
"The Splendor of an
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