Friday, January 19, 2007
India is a land of festivals and celebrations. These festivals give an opportunity for the people to come together and share in each other's joys. All the festivals are celebrated with gaiety, merriment and pomp. Indeed, it is rightly said of India that here one just needs an excuse to celebrate. In this land of numerous deities, not only are festivals celebrated in remembrance of these gods and goddesses, but also on the advent of even commencement of a season. One such festival is Basant Pnachami, which heralds the coming of Basant ritu of spring. On a more religious note, the festival is celebrated in honour of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge. The festival is celebrated on the 5th day of the lunar month of Magh, which falls somewhere between January and March.
Celebrated on the onset of spring, it marks the beginning of new life with yellow mustard flowers starting to bloom and nature displaying her majestic best. Thus the colour of the festival is yellow and women can be seen dotted in saffron dresses. The puja on this day is devoted to Saraswati and people pray for wisdom and understanding. There are several ways in which puja is conducted on this day. In Bengal, the place where the statue of Saraswati is kept is decorated with a rangoli. The design of a fish is considered auspicious. Family members bathe early in the morning and dress in whit or yellow coloured clothes. Then they gather around the idol, where the priest commences the puja. Aarti is taken of the idol and the flame is passed arounfd the devotees to warm there hands and touch there foreheads. Children place their books at the goddesses feet. No books our touched that day, signifying that the books are being blessed by the goddess. In Rajsthan also the puja is conducted in a very colourful manner. The youngest girl of the house present sets the stage for the puja by putting a teeka on everyone's forehead. This is followed by the devotees sprinkling water, aipun and roli on the diety. The puja ends with the lady of the house giving a few bers, some sangaris and a laddoo and a paan to everyone present. Not only is the celebration of Basant, a Hindu festival, some sections of the Muslims also celebrate the advent of this colourful season.
Vasant Panchami is a Hindu festival celebrating Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, and art. It is celebrated every year on the fifth day of the Indian month Magh (January-February), the first day of spring. During this festival children are taught their first words; brahmins are fed; ancestor worship (Pitri-Tarpan) is performed; the god of love, Kamadeva, is worshipped; and most educational institutions organise special prayer for Saraswati. The color yellow also plays an important role in this festival, in that people usually wear yellow garments, Saraswati is worshipped dressed in yellow, and yellow sweetmeats are consumed within the families.
As 'Diwali' – the festival of light – is to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, and 'Navaratri' is to Durga, goddess of strength, might and power, Vasant Panchami is to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and learning. She represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She is the mother of the Vedas, and chants to her, called the 'Saraswati Vandana' often begin and end Vedic lessons.
The festival is celebrated every year on the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha (see calendar) — the day called 'Vasant Panchami'. Hindus celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm, and temples and households are full of activities on this day. This 'Panchami' is also known as Saraswati Day, because it is believed that on this day the goddess was born.
Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, art and music is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning. She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus — the symbol of true knowledge — in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena. She is dressed in white — the symbol of purity — and rides on a white swan that symbolises Sattwa Guna or purity and discrimination. Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography — the consort of Manjushri.
The colour yellow is given special importance on Vasant Panchami. On this day, Saraswati is dressed in yellow garments and worshipped. People prefer to wear yellow clothes on this holy day. Sweetmeats of yellowish hues are distributed among relations and friends. Some people feed Brahmins, some perform Pitri-Tarpan (ancestor worship) and many worship Kamadeva, the god of love on this day.
However, the most significant aspect of this day is that children are taught their first words on this day, for it is considered an auspicious day to begin how to read and write. Educational institutions organise special prayer for Saraswati. The great Indian guru Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya laid the foundations of the world class academic institution of Kashi Hindu Vishwa Vidyalaya on Vasant Panchami.
Saintly people and individuals inclined towards spiritual progress attach great importance to the worship of goddess Saraswati. As a practice, only educated people and men of principle worship goddess Saraswati for spiritual enlightenment. In their opinion, there can be no comparison between the king and the learned or the spiritually advanced. The king is honored within his kingdom, whereas the learned is respected or worshipped throughout the world.
Hinduism has taken into account special significance of seasons and interwoven them with religious festivals. During Vasant Panchami, seasons undergo change and the coming of springtime is heralded. Trees display new shoots and new life is evident in the woods and fields. Nature decorates the mango trees with new blossoms, wheat and crops enliven with evidence of new life.
Vasant Panchami is a festival full of religious, seasonal and social significance and is celebrated by Hindus all over the world with verve and new sense of optimism. The first faint signals of the forthcoming festival of Holi — the festival of colours — also manifest at Vasant Panchami.
There is an interesting story associated with it. The celebration of the Basant or spring season can be traced back to the Chisthi Sufis, as early as the twelfth century. The legend goes that 12th Century Chishti Saint Nizamuddin Aulia of Delhi was once so grieved because of the passing away of his young nephew Taqiuddin Nooh, that he withdrew himself completely from the world for a couple of months either locked inside his room or sitting near his nephew s grave. His close friend, the famous court poet Amir Khusro could no longer bear to see his mater being saddened like this and so started to think of ways to brighten him up. One day Khusro met a few women on the road who were dressed up beautifully, singing and carrying colorful flowers.Upon Khusro's inquiry as to why they appeared to be cheerful and brightly dressed, the women told him that they were celebrating Basant Panchami, and were taking the offering of Basant to their god. Khusro found this very fascinating, and smiling he said, "well, my god needs an offering of Basant too". Immediately, he dressed himself up like those women, took some mustard flowers and singing the same songs, started walking towards the graveyard where his pir would be sitting alone.
Nizamuddin Aulia noticed some women coming towards him - he could not recognize Khusro. On close inspection he realized what was going on, and smiled.It was the moment for which all of them had been waiting for two months. They all went ecstatic. Other Sufis and disciples too started singing Persian couplets in praise of spring, and symbolically the mustard flowers were offered to the grave of Nooh.
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