Saraswati Puja is one of the most important festivals in Nepal. It is observed on Magh Shukla Panchami, the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the month Magh according to the Lunar calendar. Therefore, it is also known as “Shree Panchami” in various parts of Nepal. People worship Goddess Saraswati on this day.
Goddess Saraswati is regarded as the goddess of knowledge. She is worshiped as the source of all intelligence and creativity. Her blessings are the source of innovation and knowledge. She is the creator of art, music, science, and all education. “Saras” in Sanskrit signifies flow and “Wati” means the bearer. Saraswati is “she who has a flow”. “Sara” also means the essence and “Swati” means self, therefore, she is regarded as the “self-essence”. She is a four-handed Goddess seated on a white lotus wearing a white Sari (lightweight drapes). She holds a Veena (a lute), a Book, and a rosary on her four hands and her vehicle is a White Swan.
History of Saraswati Puja
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma, the creator of the trinity, after creating the universe went to witness his creation but came back disappointed because of the silence and loneliness that the earth had. He pondered over it and then he took out some water from his Kamandal and sprinkled it in the air. An angel with a Veena (lute) in hand surfaced from a tree, who the Brahma asked to play something for him. Brahma asked her to do so to break the silence on earth he just created. The Angel was requested to spread happiness with her voice and music, this is the reason why Goddess Sarawati is also known as Venna Vaadini.
In other words, Saraswati Puja is the day of the birth of Goddess Saraswati and also the day when mankind received their voice or ability to speak. Therefore its believed that when Saraswati is specially worshiped on this day, he will gain wisdom, discernment, and knowledge.
From that day onward Magh Shukla Panchami is celebrated as Saraswati Puja to cherish Goddess Saraswati who is the significance of knowledge.
Saraswati Puja is believed to be the day when winter ends and spring starts. The Spring season is “Basanta Ritu” in Nepal, hence Sarawati Puja is also called Basanta Panchami.
Basanta Ritu is the King-Season of seasons, so on this day the kings and emperors in earlier times would gather at Nasal Chowk in Kathmandu Durbar Square to listen to “Basant” by reciting verses based on Jaydev’s “Geet Govinda”.
Although there is no written record of when the tradition of hearing “Basanta” started, there is a belief that the tradition was initiated by Jitamitra Malla in 1745 BS. When King Siddhi Nar Singh Malla of Patan introduced Jaydev’s “Geet Govinda” to Kathmandu Valley, the hymns of Geet Govinda are still widely sung in Daafaa Bhajans in Nepal.
How is Saraswati Puja Celebrated in Nepal?
People from Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh communities, mainly in Nepal and eastern India boisterously celebrate Saraswati Puja.
As Goddess Saraswati is a goddess of Knowledge, from this day many Nepali kids of age three start writing their first alphabets. Children are taken to the Saraswati temples and guided to read and write the first letter that begins the educational life. They are enrolled in schools on this day with a belief that they will be able to achieve the heights of Knowledge. Usually, the Saraswati temples in Nepal are scribbled with letters, numbers, own names, etc all over the temple walls. People of all castes, creeds, and ages come together to worship Goddess in the hopes of Her blessings.
People make offerings of garlands, tika (vermillion powder), and sweets by chanting the Sarawati Vandana; a hymn written in the name of Goddess Sarawati. Students take their books, ink, notebooks, pen to the temples or home altar and worship those educational materials as Goddess Saraswati. Singing Saraswati Vandana has been a major part of celebrating Basanta Panchami. There is a particular Saraswati shloka (verses) that is chanted at every household to honor Goddess Saraswati.
Ya Kunden tusharahara dhabala Ya subrabastrabita! Ya Veenavara dandmanditakara Ya sweta padhamasana !!
Ya Brahmachyut-shankara-prabrithibhih-devai sadhha vandita ! Saa Maam paatu Saraswati Bhagwati Ni-shyeshya Jaadyaapaha !!
Meaning of Saraswati Vandana
Oh, Goddess Saraswati, fair as a flower of jasmine or moon or a snowflake,
Whose hands are adorned by Veena who is seated in a white lotus, in a white dress,
Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwar always prayed and worshiped whom,
Please protect us, from all the evils.
Many schools and colleges organize special events on the Saraswati Puja day. They welcome all the students, parents to offer prayers and sweets to the Saraswati shrine. Prayers are also offered to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, before starting any events because Ganesh removes all obstacles that come on our way to success. After the prayers, sweet yellow-colored rice (custard) and fruits such as bananas are distributed to the festival attendees.
Many individuals celebrate the occasion by bringing the idol of Goddess Saraswati at homes and preparing the yellow-colored sweet rice offering. Saraswati Puja is also considered an auspicious day for a couple to tie knots and start a new life together. It’s also an auspicious day to shift to new homes or inaugurate business institutions.
It is believed that if an individual gulps seven rice grains (without touching by teeth) that are offered to the Goddess Saraswati then he/she will become knowledgeable and wise by the blessing of Saraswati. Therefore, many children and students pick unchipped rice grains offered to the idol of the divine goddess to eat as prasad (food offerings).
Only after the devotees finish their puja do they eat fruits and prasad received.
Goddess Saraswati Mandir (Temples)
On this auspicious day, devotees visit Saraswati Mandir near and far to pay their homages and regards starting from early mornings to late in the evenings. There are three main temples of Goddess Saraswati across the Kathmandu valley they are Nil Saraswati Mandir (Blue Saraswati temple) in Gairidhara, Kathmandu; Saraswati Mandir in Lele village at the outskirts of Patan district; and the third one at the Swayambhunath stupa vicinity in Kathmandu.
Besides these important Saraswati temples, every small/big temple across Nepal has a Goddess Saraswati shrine housed in the vicinity for the devotees’ worship. Therefore, on the occasion of Saraswati Puja, people go to the nearby temple if they cannot visit the temples of Goddess Saraswati.
Inauguration of Kathmandu Durbar Square on Shree Panchami
In Kathmandu Durbar Square (Hanuman Dhoka Palace), the ancient royal palace from the Malla regime at Basantpur was first inaugurated on Saraswati Puja day. The rituals and rites are performed are still performed at Hanuman Dhoka Palace and hundreds of government and military officials converge to offer their prayers to the divine goddess.
Also, many communities organize idol-making and decorating competitions, and the community with the best idol wins and is awarded.
With the belief/intention of obtaining knowledge and motivations, people worship Goddess Saraswati and celebrate Saraswati Puja every year. The devotion of the people is something that is passing on the age old cultural values to new generation in Nepal.
Featured Photo: Mother helping her daughter to write her first ABC… by Priti Thapa