June 14, 2013

Saraswati: Goddess of Knowledge, Wisdom & Art

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , , at 9:20 am by Babs

Her name means “The Flowing One.”  She is the personification of the Sarasvati River in north – western India.  She is the Goddess of knowledge, speech, learning and the arts, fertility and prosperity.  She is considered the originator of speech and of all the arts.  She is one of the trinity (the maiden aspect) which includes Devi and Lakshmi.  Sarasvati is pictured as a graceful woman with white skin, usually sitting on a lotus or a peacock and usually adorned with a crescent moon.

The Sanskrit word “sara” means “essence” and “swa” means “self.”  Thus Saraswati means “the essence of the self.”  Saraswati is represented in Hindu mythology as the divine concert of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the universe.  Since knowledge is necessary for creation, Saraswati symbolizes the creative power of Brahma.  Goddess Saraswati is worshipped by all persons interested in knowledge, especially students, teachers, scholars, and scientists.

In Her popular images and pictures, Goddess Saraswati is generally depicted with four arms (some pictures may show only two arms), wearing a white sari and seated on a white lotus.  She holds a book and a rosary in Her rear two hands, while the front two hands are engaged in the playing of a lute (veena).  Her right leg is shown slightly pushing gazing at Her.  This symbolism illustrates the following spiritual ideas:

  • The lotus is a symbol of the Supreme Reality, and a white lotus also denotes supreme knowledge.  By sitting on a lotus, Saraswati signifies that She is Herself rooted in the Supreme Reality, and symbolizes supreme knowledge.  The white color symbolizes purity and knowledge.  The white sari that the Goddess is wearing denotes that She is the embodiment of pure knowledge.
  • The four arms denote Her omnipresence and omnipotence.  The two front arms indicate Her activity in the physical world and the two back arms signify Her presence in the spiritual world.  The four hands represent the four elements of the inner personality.  The mind (manas) is represented by the front right hand, the intellect (buddhi) by the front left hand, the conditioned consciousness (chitta) by the rear left hand, and the ego (ahankara) by the rear right hand.
  • The left side of the body symbolizes the qualities of the heart and the right side symbolizes activities of the mind and intellect.  A book in the rear left hand signifies that knowledge acquired must be used with love and kindness to promote prosperity of mankind.
  • The rosary signifies concentration, meditation, and contemplation, leading to samadhi, or union with God.  A rosary in the rear right hand representing ego conveys that true knowledge acquired with love and devotion melts the ego and results in liberation (moksha) of the seeker from the bondage to the physical world.
  • The Goddess in shown playing a musical instrument that is held in Her front hands, which denote mind and intellect.  This symbol conveys that the seeker must tune his mind and intellect in order to live in perfect harmony with the world.  Such harmonious living enables the individual to utilize acquired knowledge for the welfare of all mankind.
  • Two swans are depicted on the left side of the Goddess.  A swan is said to have a sensitive beak that enables it to distinguish pure milk from a mixture of milk and water.  A swan, therefore, symbolizes the power of discrimination, or the ability to discriminate between right and wrong or good and bad.  Saraswati uses the swan as Her carrier.  This indicates that one must acquire and apply knowledge with discrimination for the good of mankind.  Knowledge that is dominated by ego can destroy the world.
  • A peacock is sitting next to Saraswati and is anxiously waiting to serve as Her vehicle.  A peacock depicts unpredictable behavior as its moods can be influenced by the changes in the weather.  Saraswati is using a swan as a vehicle and not the peacock.  This signifies that one should overcome fear, indecision, and fickleness in order to acquire true knowledge.

Saraswati is the sometimes forgotten third member of the Hindu triple goddesses; Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati.  Lakshmi, Goddess of Plenty, is as you can imagine, wildly popular.  Everyone wants to honor her and hope for the good fortune she can bestow.  Kali will not allow herself to be forgotten.  She is the Goddess of Destruction and of Creation (although that aspect is frequently forgotten).  She is, perhaps, too frightening to forget!  Saraswati, the Goddess of Music and Poetry and Learning, is less popular since she neither destroys people nor dispenses favors.  Ah, but Saraswati can help poets and musicians when they need inspiration!  She was the inventor of written language (Sanskrit) and for this reason is also invoked for help in schoolwork and other written endeavors.  Her color is white (Kali is black and Lakshmi is red) and her incense is white sandalwood.

Her Mantra: “Om Aim Saraswatyai Namah”

Beyond being the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, music and all the creative arts, Saraswati is called the Mother of the Vedas and the repository of Brahma’s creative intelligence.  She is also called Vak Devi, the goddess of speech.

Dressed in white, Saraswati holds a mala and a palm leaf scroll, indicating knowledge.  Saraswati usually rides a swan and sometimes a peacock, while playing music on a veena.  The Vilma Vashi temple in Dilwara is dedicated to Saraswati.  Students worship Saraswati to perform well in examinations.

This sloka (mantra) of Saraswati can be recited daily to improve memory, power and concentration in studies:

Saraswati Namasthubhyam

Varade Kamarupini

Vidhyarambam Karishyami

Siddhir Bavathume Sadha

Saraswati is worshipped as the consort of Bhrahma the creator.  Legend has it that Bhrahma the creator acquired the power to think and create only through the power of Saraswati and that it was Saraswati that enabled Bhrahma to listen to the naadabhrahmam the primordial sound which is revered as the source of all creation.

Saraswati is also referred to as Sharda the fountainhead of knowledge who leads seekers from darkness to light and from ignorance to spiritual enlightenment.

The now extinct river Saraswati, once an integral part of Vedic culture is associated with Saraswati the Goddess of Knowledge.  Legend has it that when Shiva opened his third eye, the flame that emanated threatened to destroy everything in its path.  Only Saraswati the source of wisdom was unperturbed by the power of the flame, owing to her firm understanding that the flame would only destroy what was impure.  She then took the form of a river, carried the flame deep into the sea and transformed it into a fire-breathing mare and declared that the creature of destruction would stay underground as long as wisdom was sought after and that it would surface if this search was totally abandoned.

Shrines dedicated to Saraswati are commonly seen in many Saivite temples all over south India, located to the right of Parvati’s shrine.  There is a lone temple dedicated to Saraswati near Thanjavur in Tamilnadu.  There are shrines to Bhrahma and Saraswati at Uttamar Koyil near Tiruchirappalli in Tamilnadu.

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