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Vasant Panchami: Variedly hued festival of knowledge

Vasant Panchami: Variedly hued festival of knowledge
The festival of light Diwali is celebrated across the country to worship Lakshmi, who is acknowledged as the goddess of wealth and prosperity, while the pious festival of Navratras is being celebrated to worship Durga — the goddess of power and valour.

The legend has it that by worshiping these two forms of goddesses, the wishes of devotees get fulfilled. But they (devotees) don’t get the knowledge to utilize their fulfilled wishes, so for that they have to worship the goddess of knowledge and arts -- Saraswati. The festival to get empowered through the light of education is celebrated as Vasant Panchami or Saraswati Puja mostly in eastern and northeastern parts of the country.

This festival is celebrated every year on the 5th day or ‘Panchami’ of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha, which falls during January-February. This year the festival will be celebrated on 4 February. Vasant is Indian equivalent of spring season. This festival heralds the beginning of the spring season – Vasant Shritu -- too.

It is believed that on this day goddess Saraswati was born. Devotees particularly students celebrate Vasant Panchami with great fervour in temples, homes andeven schools and colleges.

Saraswati’s favourite colour white assumes specialsignificance on this day. Statues of the goddess are dressed in white clothes and are worshiped by devotees adorning white garments. Devi Saraswati is offered sweets which are given away as ‘prasad’ to all people attending the ritual worship. There is also a custom of ancestor worship, known as ‘Pitri-Tarpan’ in many parts of the country during Vasant Panchami. The legend has it that the origins of this festival lie in Aryan period. Aryans came and settled in India through Khyber Pass, crossing the Saraswati river among many others. Being a primitive civilisation, most of their development took place along the banks of the river Saraswati. Thus, river Saraswati began to be associated with fertility and knowledge. It is then that the day began to be celebrated.

The other legend associated with this day is connected with poet Kalidasa. After he was married off to a beautiful princess through trickery, the princess kicked him out of her bed as she learned that he was foolish. Following this, Kalidasa went to commit suicide, upon which Saraswati emerged from the waters and asked him to take a dip there. After taking a dip in the holy waters, Kalidasa became knowledgeable and began writing poetry. Thus, Vasant Panchami is celebrated to venerate Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of education and learning.

The colour yellow is the other colour associated with the festival, the origins of which are supposed to be the fields of mustard which can be seen in Punjab and Haryana during this period. Kite flying is also commonly associated with this festival. Children as well as adults fly kites on this day to celebrate freedom and enjoyment.

Another tradition associated with this day is initiation of children in the field of  knowledge. Young children often begin learning on this day, which is believed to be the reason why the school sessions start in the month of March. Sweets with a yellow hue are also distributed on this day and people can also be seen donating books and other literary material to the poor. The most significant aspect of Vasant Panchami is that it is also the most  auspicious day to begin laying one’s foundations of education – of how to read and write. Pre-school children are given their first lesson in reading and writing on this day. All educational institutions conduct special prayer for Saraswati on this day.

It is also a great day to inaugurate training institutes and new schools – a trend made famous by the renowned Indian educationist Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya  (1861-1946), who founded the Banaras Hindu University on Vasant Panchami day  in 1916. During Vasant Panchami, the advent of spring is felt in the air as the season  undergoes change. New leaves and blossoms appear in the trees with the promise  of new life and hope. Vasant Panchami also announces the arrival of another big  springtime event - Holi, the festival of colours.
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