Saraswati – Goddess of Knowledge and Music
Saraswati is young, beautiful, graceful, and alongside Uma and Lakshmi, very much the Maha Devi, or Great Goddess. She fearlessly challenges the great male gods when they try to manipulate her and the only female goddess to keep her name, rank and power intact throughout the millennia. It was Saraswati who organized and transcribed The Vedas, again out of the formless Brahman. She is also responsible for all non-Vedic knowledge (note 1), music, yoga, ritual, speech, Sanskrit and the units of measurement and time (note 2). She personifies civilized behaviour, refined taste and the arts.
She is always dressed in spotless white, the colour of light, knowledge and truth, and seated either on a white lotus or swan. She may have four arms or less often just two. If four, she may hold the same attributes as Brahma or a stringed instrument (veena), representing the arts and sciences, and all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music (anuraga). Finally, Saraswati is often depicted near water, a reference to her ancient Rig Veda history as a river goddess (note 3).
In the Vac Sutra, Saraswati boasts:
“I move among the Gods, I hold them, sustain them… whosoever breathes, sees, hears or eats does so because of me… I create powerful creators and embed them with wisdom and sight… my powers overflow the universe.”
Note 1 – On the fifth day of spring, the festival Vasant Panchami honours Saraswati by teaching young children the alphabet. It is also an Indian tradition that if you step on a book (a symbol of knowledge and therefore Saraswati), you must perform a mudra of apology with the right hand.
Note 2 – Time (Kala) is another term for Yama, the god of Death. At the time of one’s death the soul (Atman, or essence) may depart one of two ways; the Way of the Gods, which brings it through days, bright fortnights, the half-year of the northern course of the sun, to the full year and eventually to Brahman; or the Way of the Ancestors, through nights, dark fortnights, the half-year of the southern course of the sun, and, failing to reach the full year, eventually back to earth clinging to raindrops. If the soul happens to fall upon a plant and that plant is subsequently eaten by a man, the man may impregnate a woman, and thus the soul may be reborn.
Note 3 – Saraswati is also the name of a river which once flowed in the Thar Desert but lost due to a shift in monsoon patterns. It is believed to be on the banks of the Saraswati that The Vedas were composed.