Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge
Goddess Saraswati is a much-revered Hindu goddess who represents knowledge and wisdom. It is said that without Saraswati, life would not exist in an orderly and organized manner. The story goes that after creating the universe, Brahma was inspecting his creation only to realize that it was not formed properly, and lacked a concept. Hence, Brahma decided to create the embodiment of knowledge to help him with the huge task of creating form. Thus, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, emerged from his mouth and began to tell him how to bring about order in the cosmos. It was after this that the sun, moon, and stars all came into existence. Later, Brahma took her as his wife.
Iconography of Goddess Saraswati
Saraswati is usually depicted in Hindu iconography as sitting on a white lotus, wearing a white sari. This indicates that she has pure knowledge and is grounded in absolute truth. She has four arms, which represent the mind, intellect, intelligence, and ego. They also represent the Hindus’ sacred books, the 4 Vedas. She holds in her hands, a book, a pot of water, crystal malas, and a veena that represents her mastery of all arts and sciences. The book she holds is a book of the Vedas that represents the divine, eternal, universal, and true knowledge as well as all learning. The crystal mala represents the power of meditation, spirituality, and inner reflection. The pot of water symbolizes the purifying power to distinguish between right and wrong, the clean and the unclean, and essence from that which is inessential. In some texts, the pot also represents soma – the drink that liberates one and leads one to knowledge. The veena represents all creative arts and sciences. When she holds it, it symbolizes the expression of knowledge that creates harmony. Saraswati is also associated with the love for music.
Saraswati is one of the most powerful goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. Her blessing is mandatory when rituals related to education or arts are performed. She is one of the forms of the Supreme Goddess who is worshipped during the 10-day Navaratri festival. On the ninth day of the festival, people perform Saraswati Pooja, and little children are initiated into learning and the arts.
Saraswati, the river goddess
Saraswati is also depicted as a river goddess in some texts. The Saraswati river symbolizes purity. There is a story that explains how Saraswati became a river. Once, there was a terrible war between the Bhargavas and Hehayas. During the battle, an all-consuming fire called Vadavagni was born, which had the power to destroy the whole world. The worried devas went to Shiva, who suggested that they should ask Saraswati for help so that she could become a river and immerse the Vadavagni in the sea. So they went to Saraswati and begged her to protect the universe. She replied that she would do it only if her husband, Brahma, allowed her. Hence, they went to Brahma. On hearing of the problem, Brahma told Saraswati to turn into a river. Saraswati then left Brahmaloka and went to Sage Uttanka’s ashram, where she met Shiva. He handed over the Vadavagni in a pot to Saraswati and told her to emerge as a river from a Plaksha tree. Accordingly, Saraswati merged with the tree and became a river. She flowed towards Pushkar from there. When Saraswati reached the end of her journey to the ocean, she immersed the fire in the sea.
A swan or hamsa is sometimes seen near her feet. In Hindu mythology, the swan is a sacred bird that symbolizes spiritual perfection, transcendence, and moksha. When it is offered a mixture of milk and water, it drinks the milk alone. Hence, it represents the ability to discriminate between good and evil, essence from the outward appearance, and the eternal from the evanescent. Saraswati is also called Hamsavāhini, which means “she who has a hamsa as her vehicle”.