Vasant Panchami, also called Saraswati Puja in honor of the goddess Saraswati, is a festival that marks the preparation for the arrival of spring. The festival is celebrated by people in the Indian subcontinent in various ways depending on the region. Basant Panchami also marks the start of preparation for Holika and Holi, which take place forty days later. The Vasant Utsava (festival) on Panchami is celebrated forty days before spring, because any season’s transition period is 40 days, and after that, the season comes into full bloom.
Saraswati Puja is one of the greatest festivals of Hindus. It is mainly the festival of students. Saraswati is the goddess of learning and music.
Saraswati Puja generally occurs in the month of Magh every year in schools, colleges, libraries, clubs and other places. On the day before puja the image is brought and placed on a platform. The place of worship is beautifully decorated and illuminated.
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. She is generally shown to have four arms, holding a book, a rosary, a water pot and a musical instrument called Veena. Each of these items have symbolic meaning in Hinduism.
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 the letters of the alphabet 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.
Vasant Panchami is a festival of hindus and sikhs that marks the beginning of preparations for spring season. It is celebrated by people in various ways depending on the region. Vasant Panchami also marks the start of preparation for Holika and Holi, which occur forty days later. For many, Vasant Panchami is the festival dedicated to goddess Saraswati who is their goddess of knowledge, language, music and all arts. She symbolizes creative energy and power in all its form, including longing and love. The season and festival also celebrate the agricultural fields’ ripening with yellow flowers of mustard crop, which Hindus associate with Saraswati’s favorite color. People dress in yellow saris or shirts or accessories, share yellow-colored snacks and sweets. Some add saffron to their rice and then eat yellow cooked rice as a part of an elaborate feast.
Basant Panchami also marks the beginnings of preparation for Holi, which falls forty days after the festival. The festival is dedicated to Maa Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and art. On this day goddess Saraswati is worshipped in temples as well as by students in schools and colleges. Vasant Panchami is also known as Shri Panchami and Saraswati Panchami.
Many families mark this day by sitting with babies and young children, encouraging their children to write their first words with their fingers, and some study or create music together. The day before Vasant Panchami, Saraswati’s temples are filled with food so that she can join the celebrants in the traditional feasting the following morning. In temples and educational institutions, statues of Saraswati are dressed in yellow and worshiped. Many educational institutions arrange special prayers or pujas in the morning to seek the blessing of the goddess. Poetic and musical gatherings are held in some communities in reverence for Saraswati.
The colour yellow has a lot of significance on the day. People celebrate the day by wearing yellow outfits, worshipping goddess Saraswati and eating traditional dishes. The colour yellow symbolises knowledge and also denotes mustard fields that are associated with the arrival of spring season.
The legends says that Kalidasa saddened by the abandonment from his wife planned to commit suicide by drowning himself in a river. He was about to do that when goddess Saraswati came out of the water and asked Kalidasa to take a bath in it. His life changed thereafter as he got blessed with wisdom and became a great poet.
Another legend is based on the Hindu god of love Kama. According to mythology, Kamadeva once disrupted Lord Shiva’s meditation. Shiva was immersed in deep meditation after his wife Sati’s demise. To awaken him from the meditation, seers approached Kama so that Shiva could reconnect with the world and notice Maa Parvati’s efforts for him. Kama agreed and shot arrows, made of flowers and bees, at Shiva from his bow of sugarcane. An enraged Lord Shiva opened his third eye and burnt Kama to ashes. After Rati’s (his wife) 40-day penance Shiva agreed to bring him back to life on the day of Basant Panchami. It is said he was later born as Pradumna, son of Lord Krishna.
Basant Panchami is celebrated across the country with slightly different traditions. Delicious traditional dishes are cooked and enjoyed on this day. While in North India, especially in Punjab and Haryana, people fly kites, in eastern part of the country like West Bengal, it is celebrated as Saraswati Puja. In the southern states, it is known as Sri Panchami. In Gujarat, bouquet and garlands of flowers set with mango leaves are exchanged as gifts. In the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh people worship Shiva and Parvati on this day.