Goodbye winter, welcome spring!
The nation goes in a festive mood on the fifth day of Hindu month of Magha ( between January and February as per Gregorian calendar). The famous Hindu festival of Vasant Panchami, which is dedicated to goddess Saraswati, marks the end of the winter season and ushers in springtime. This festival is symbolised with yellow colour that holds a special meaning and signifies the brilliance of nature and vibrancy of life.
Most parts of India bid adieu to winter and welcome spring in a very traditional way. Traditional food is prepared and people feast on a special treat called kesar halwa. The colour from the saffron of this halwa symbolises prosperity, light, energy, and optimism. This is the reason people wear yellow clothes and make traditional delicacies in yellow hues.
From this day onwards, a gentle breeze replaces the chill. From the freely flowing bright yellow fields to the humble pottery and plants and women clad in shades of yellow everything seems to be bidding goodbye to the winter blues and welcoming the bountiful spring.
The day of Vasant Panchami establishes the onset of spring. The word Vasant means spring - which describes the pleasant weather, free from scorching heat, biting cold, and dodgy rains. And Panchami denotes the fifth day which marks the festival.
Symbolism plays a major role for Hindus in bringing spirituality to life. The Hindu feminine Trinity expresses the divine qualities. During autumn, at harvest time, we celebrate Navaratri (nine nights) honouring Durga (for power and valour), on Diwali (festival of light) Lakshmi (for wealth and prosperity) is worshipped, and at the beginning of spring, Vasant Panchami honours Saraswati (for knowledge and arts).
Saraswati means one who embodies the knowledge of one’s own Self and Universe. She is the personification of all knowledge -- arts, sciences, crafts, and other skills. The four hands represent divinity in all directions. She is clad in a white sari representing purity and brilliance. The sacred scriptures (Vedas) in one hand represent knowledge and the other hand blesses. With the other two hands, she plays the veena - representing the music of life. There is a swan (which can separate water from milk), indicating that we should develop ourselves to eliminate that which is bad in our life, leaving only the good.
Goddess Saraswati is the symbol of learning. She represents the union of power and intelligence from which organised creation arises. Saraswati possesses all the learning of the Vedas, scriptures, dancing, music, and poetry. She revealed language and writing to man. Her origin is the lost Vedic river Saraswati. This is the source of her profound connection to fluidity in any aspect (water, speech, thought, etc.). She represents wisdom, fortune, intelligence, nourishment, brilliance, contentment, splendour, and devotion. This day is dedicated to this Beautiful Goddess of Intellect.
This is an auspicious festival for children and students as it is meant to mark beginnings in their life. Traditionally children were taught to write their first word on this day. It is considered a blessed beginning of learning with the Goddess of Knowledge worshipped as the presiding deity on this day.
In educational institutes of any kind, students and teacher together worship the goddess by keeping pens, notebooks, and pencils near the goddess’ feet to be blessed before they are used by students.
Celebration of this day is different in different parts of India. In Bengal, the land of sweets, Goddess Saraswati is offered boondi ke ladoo and sweet rice. In Bihar, She is offered different varieties of sweets like Kheer, Malpua, and Boondi. In Uttar Pradesh, devotees offer kesari bhaat. Similarly, in Punjab, it is celebrated with Meethe Chawal, Makke ki Roti and Sarso Ka Saag. Kite flying, the popular activity of India, is also associated with the festival of Basant Panchami. Especially in Punjab, the kite flying tradition has been given great importance.
Vasant Panchami is the first and minor of two spring-themed festivals in Hindu culture. The festival initiates the spring festive cycle and heralds its summation that occurs with Holi. According to Hindu mythology, between Vasant Panchami and Holi, the 40-day period corresponds with the 40 days of Rati’s penance after her husband, Kamadeva was reduced to ashes for shooting the eye of Shiva with his love arrows.
Not only in India, but also in South East Asia, goddess Saraswati is worshipped with great devotion. In terms of its cultural significance, the festival has been compared to Chinese New Year and the Christian Candlemas, with the subsequent 40-day stretch between Vasant Panchami and Holi compared to the Christian Lenten season.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)