Throughout history, and in all cultures of the world, people have been intrigued to know what more exists. What more exists within a drop of dew? What more exists in the veins of a leaf, or in a grain of sand?
They want to go deeper into these mysteries of life so as to ascertain what’s in it; what’s behind it; what’s beyond it; what is it that makes everything pulse? They want to know, and then they want to transcend.
Whenever archeologists have dug into and searched the earth, invariably they have found articles, relics, of worship. Time and again, their findings have evidenced that even in the most ancient of civilizations, people longed and sought to know the secret of this universe. Their longing and seeking led them to discover many kinds of deities. These deities had unusual powers and the ability to grant blessings.
In India, the sages and seers wrote in the scriptures about these deities, whom they called the devis and devatas, the gods and goddesses. They explained that the deities give form to the formless—making manifest, in so many myriad and beautiful ways, that which is ethereal, ineffable, beyond description. The sages and seers expressed their visions in the form of murtis, statues, which were then installed in edifices that were called temples. They performed prana-pratishtha, imbuing the murtis with prana, with the life force that is infused with the power of mantras. When people experienced the shakti, the spiritual power, of these murtis, they in turn created images of these deities to adorn their own homes.
Each deity represents particular qualities of God as experienced by the sages and seers through their meditation and tapasya. Knowing what a deity represents gives a worshipper a clear and specific direction for their prayers, and a destination for their gratitude. The deities make God that much more immediate and familiar for people; they give worshippers the assurance that yes, they do have the power to invoke divinity within themselves. And as the deities grant their darshan to worshippers, this concretizes the worshippers’ faith in God, and in the fact that God can be known.
One of the deities who is extolled time and again in the Indian scriptures is the goddess Sarasvati. Mahasarasvati represents the creative power of this universe. She is the goddess of speech, words, and the wisdom inherent in words. She is the goddess of sound and music, and she is the deity of the arts.
The name Sarasvati has two parts: “saras” and “vati.” The literal meaning of the word saras is “sa-rasa”—or “with rasa, with essence.” Vati is one who embodies this rasa. Sarasvati is therefore the one who embodies all the essences of life.
The word sarasvati has also been used to signify the flowing waters that sustain life on this planet. This is because the word rasa in sarasvati has two definitions. It refers to “the essence” —of words and language, for example, or of sound and music—and it also means “sap,” “liquid,” or “life-giving water.” The imagery of water is often drawn upon in reference to Sarasvati and her power. Consider, for example, how people often describe their experiences of sustained creative inspiration as—flow.
Depending on where one goes in India, Mahasarasvati is depicted differently; there are variations in her appearance, her posture, her ornamentation. On the Siddha Yoga path, Mahasarasvati is worshipped in the form in which she has appeared to those who have received her darshan through their awakened inner eye. She is seated gracefully on a pristine white lotus, typically on the banks of a turquoise-colored river. In each of her four hands she holds an object representative of her blessings. In two of her hands she holds a veena, a melodious string instrument, to symbolize the power of creativity. She also holds a japa mala, which represents the power of mantra repetition. And she holds a book, which signifies the knowledge and wisdom that she imparts. Her vāhana, her vehicle, is hamsa—the swan.
Mahasarasvati’s shakti, and her blessings, are integral to how we create our lives day-to-day and how we contribute to the betterment of this planet and its inhabitants. It is Mahasarasvati’s blessings that we invoke when we direct our thoughts along beneficial and auspicious pathways. It is her grace that we call upon when we speak in a manner that is truthful, helpful, kind, and uplifting. It is her inspiration that flows through us when we listen to or play music that stirs the soul. It is her benevolence that we benefit from when we connect with art, or create art, that expresses a certain something—a virtue, a sentiment—that is universal to us all.
In the Indian tradition, there are many holidays dedicated to each deity. One of the holidays on which Mahasarasvati is worshipped is Vasant Panchami. This is a harvest festival that is celebrated on the fifth day (panchami) of the Hindu lunar month of Magha; it heralds the start of the spring season in India, when the mustard fields are in full bloom and their yellow flowers cover the earth, extending out as far as the eye can see. This year, 2021, Vasant Panchami takes place on Tuesday, February 16.
Mahāsarasvatyai Namo Namah—Salutations to Mahasarasvati!
The depcition of Mahasarasvati is by the Indiana Artist Raja Ravi Varma, and was made in 1896.