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Title: Saraswati  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Brahma, Hindu mythology, Adi Parashakti, Shaktism, Vasant Panchami
Collection: Arts Goddesses, Hindu Goddesses, Knowledge Goddesses, Sea and River Goddesses, Shaktism, Wisdom Goddesses
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Goddess of art and knowledge
Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma
Devanagari सरस्वती
Sanskrit Transliteration Saraswatī
Affiliation Devi , Tridevi
Abode Brahmapura
Mantra Sri Sarasvatyai nāmahā
Consort Brahma
Mount Peacock
Hansa (Swan)

Saraswati (Sanskrit: सरस्वती, Sarasvatī) is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning.[1] She is a part of the trinity of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to create, maintain and regenerate-recycle the Universe respectively.[2]

The earliest known mention of Saraswati as a goddess is in Rigveda. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic period through modern times of Hindu traditions.[3] Some Hindus celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami (the fifth day of spring) in her honour,[4] and mark the day by helping young children learn how to write alphabets on that day.[5] The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India,[6] as well as some Buddhist sects.[7]

Saraswati is revered as a goddess of knowledge, music and arts is also found outside India, such as in Japan, Vietnam, Bali (Indonesia) and Myanmar.[8]

Saraswati idol carved of black stone from Chalukya dynasty (12 century CE). Idol on display in Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.


  • Etymology 1
    • Nomenclature 1.1
  • History 2
  • Symbolism and iconography 3
  • Regional manifestations of Saraswati 4
    • Maha Saraswati 4.1
    • Mahavidya Nila Saraswati 4.2
  • Worship 5
    • Temples 5.1
    • Festivals 5.2
      • Saraswati Puja in South India 5.2.1
  • Saraswati outside India 6
    • Saraswati in Myanmar 6.1
    • Saraswati in Japan 6.2
    • Saraswati in Cambodia 6.3
    • Saraswati in Thailand 6.4
    • Saraswati in Indonesia 6.5
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


Saraswati, sometimes spelled Sarasvati, is a Sanskrit fusion word of Sara (सार)[9] which means essence, and Sva (स्व)[10] which means one self, the fused word meaning "essence of one self", and Saraswati meaning "one who leads to essence of self knowledge".[11][12] It is also a Sanskrit composite word of surasa-vati (सुरस-वति) which means "one with plenty of water".[13][14]

The word Saraswati appears both as a reference to a river and as a significant deity in the Rigveda. In initial passages, the word refers to Sarasvati River and mentioned with other northwestern Indian rivers such as Drishadvati. Saraswati then connotes a river deity. In Book 2, Rigveda calls Saraswati as the best of mothers, of rivers, of goddesses.[14]

अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति |
– Rigveda 2.41.16[15] Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Sarasvatī, We are, as ’twere, of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown.

Saraswati is celebrated as a feminine deity with healing, purifying powers of abundant, flowing waters in Book 10 of Rigveda, as follows:

अपो अस्मान मातरः शुन्धयन्तु घर्तेन नो घर्तप्वः पुनन्तु |
विश्वं हि रिप्रं परवहन्ति देविरुदिदाभ्यः शुचिरापूत एमि ||
– Rigveda 10.17[16] May the waters, the mothers, cleanse us,
may they who purify with butter, purify us with butter,
for these goddesses bear away defilement,
I come up out of them pure and cleansed.
–Translated by John Muir

In Vedic literature, Saraswati gains the same significance to early Indians, states John Muir, as Ganges river became to their descendants. In hymns of Book 10 of Rigveda, she is already declared to be the "possessor of knowledge".[17] Her importance grows in Vedas composed after Rigveda and in Brahmanas, and the word evolves in its meaning from "waters that purify", to "that which purifies", to "vach (speech) that purifies", to "knowledge that purifies", and ultimately into a spiritual concept of a goddess that embodies knowledge, arts, music, melody, muse, language, rhetoric, eloquence, creative work and anything whose flow purifies the essence and self of a person.[14][18] In Upanishads and Dharma Sastras, Saraswati is invoked to remind the reader to meditate on virtue, virtuous emoluments, the meaning and the very essence of one's activity, one's action.[18]

Saraswati is known by many names in ancient Hindu literature. Some examples of synonyms for Saraswati include Brahmani (goddess of sciences), Brahmi (from being wife of Brahma),[19] Bharadi (goddess of history), Vani and Vachi (both referring to the flow of music/song, melodious speech, eloquent speaking respectively), Varnesvari (goddess of letters), Kavijihvagravasini (one who dwells on the tongue of poets).[1][20]


In the Telugu language, Sarasvati is also known as Chaduvula Thalli (చదువుల తల్లి), Sharada (శారద). In Konkani, she is referred to as Sharada, Veenapani, Pustaka dharini, Vidyadayini. In Kannada, variants of her name include Sharade, Sharadamba, Vani, Veenapani in the famous Sringeri temple. In Tamil, she is also known as Kalaimagal (கலைமகள்), Kalaivaani (கலைவாணி), Vaani (வாணி), Bharathi. She is also addressed as Sharada (the one who loves the autumn season), Veena pustaka dharani (the one holding books and a Veena), Vaakdevi, Vagdevi, Vani (all meaning "speech"), Varadhanayagi (the one bestowing boons).

Within India, she is locally spelled as Bengaliসরস্বতী, Saraswati , Malayalamസരസ്വതി, Saraswathy , and Tamilசரஸ்வதி, Sarasvatī .

Outside India, she is known in Burmese as Thurathadi (သူရဿတီ, pronounced:  or ) or Tipitaka Medaw (တိပိဋကမယ်တော်, pronounced: ), in Chinese as Biàncáitiān (辯才天), in Japanese as Benzaiten (弁才天/弁財天) and in Thai as Suratsawadi (สุรัสวดี) or Saratsawadi (สรัสวดี).[8]


Vajra Sarada, Pala Period ca. 8th Century, Nalanda Archaeological Museum, Bihar.
Saraswati goddess is found in temples of Southeast Asia, islands of Indonesia and Japan. In Japan, she is known as Benzaiten (shown).[21] She is depicted with a musical instrument in Japan, and is a deity of knowledge, music, and everything that flows.

Saraswati is found in almost every major ancient and medieval Indian literature between 1000 BC to 1500 AD. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic age through modern times of Hindu traditions.[3] In Shanti Parva of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Saraswati is called the mother of the Vedas, and later as the celestial creative symphony who appeared when Brahma created the universe.[14] In Book 2 of Taittiriya Brahmana, she is called the mother of eloquent speech and melodious music. Saraswati is the active energy and power of Brahma.[20] She is also mentioned in many minor Sanskrit publications such as Sarada Tilaka of 8th century AD as follows,[22]

May the goddess of speech enable us to attain all possible eloquence,
she who wears on her locks a young moon,
who shines with exquisite lustre,
who sits reclined on a white lotus,
and from the crimson cusp of whose hands pours,
radiance on the implements of writing, and books produced by her favour.
– On Saraswati, Sarada Tilaka[22]

Saraswati became a prominent deity in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri in 1st millennium AD. In some instances such as in the Sadhanamala of Buddhist pantheon, she has been symbolically represented similar to regional Hindu iconography, but unlike the more well known depictions of Saraswati.[7]

Symbolism and iconography

The goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes light, knowledge and truth.[23] She not only embodies knowledge but also the experience of the highest reality. Her iconography is typically in white themes from dress to flowers to swan – the colour symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity, discrimination for true knowledge, insight and wisdom.[1][24]

She is generally shown to have four arms, but sometimes just two. When shown with four hands, those hands symbolically mirror her husband Brahma's four heads, representing manas (mind, sense), buddhi (intellect, reasoning), citta (imagination, creativity) and ahamkara (self consciousness, ego).[11][25] Brahma represents the abstract, she action and reality.

The four hands hold items with symbolic meaning — a pustaka (book or script), a mala (rosary, garland), a water pot and a musical instrument (lute or vina).[1] The book she holds symbolizes the Vedas representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as all forms of learning. A mālā of crystals, representing the power of meditation, inner reflection and spirituality. A pot of water represents powers to purify the right from wrong, the clean from unclean, and the essence from the misleading. In some texts, the pot of water is symbolism for soma - the drink that liberates and leads to knowledge.[1] The musical instrument, typically a veena, represents all creative arts and sciences,[11] and her holding it symbolizes expressing knowledge that creates harmony.[1][26] Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music, which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music.

A hansa / hans or swan is often located next to her feet. In Hindu mythology, hans is a sacred bird, which if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes discrimination between the good from the bad, the essence from the superficial, the eternal from the evanescent.[11] Due to her association with the swan, Saraswati is also referred to as Hansvahini, which means "she who has a hansa / hans as her vehicle". The swan is also a symbolism for spiritual perfection, transcendence and moksha.[24][27]

Sometimes a citramekhala (also called mayura, peacock) is shown beside the goddess. The peacock symbolizes colorful splendor, celebration of dance, and peacock's ability to eat poison (snakes) yet transmute from it a beautiful plumage.[28]

She is usually depicted near a flowing river or near a water body, which may be related to her early history as a river goddess.

Regional manifestations of Saraswati

Maha Saraswati

In some regions of India, such as Vindhya, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam, as well as east Nepal, Saraswati is part of the Devi Mahatmya mythology, in the trinity of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati.[29][30] This is one of many different Hindu legends that attempt to explain how Hindu trinity of gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and goddesses (Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati) came into being. Various Purana texts offer alternate legends for Maha Saraswati.[31]

Maha Saraswati is depicted as eight-armed and is often portrayed holding a Veena whilst sitting on a white lotus flower.

Her dhyāna shloka given at the beginning of the fifth chapter of Devi Mahatmya is:

Wielding in her lotus-hands the bell, trident, ploughshare, conch, pestle, discus, bow, and arrow, her lustre is like that of a moon shining in the autumn sky. She is born from the body of Gowri and is the sustaining base of the three worlds. That Mahasaraswati I worship here who destroyed Sumbha and other asuras.[32]

Mahasaraswati is also part of another legend, the Navdurgas, or nine forms of Durga, revered as powerful and dangerous goddesses in eastern India. They have special significance on Navaratri in these regions. All of these are seen ultimately as aspects of a single great Hindu goddess, with Maha Saraswati as one of those nine.[33]

Mahavidya Nila Saraswati

In Tibet and parts of India, Nilasaraswati is a form of Mahavidya Tara. Nila Saraswati is a different deity than traditional Saraswati, yet subsumes her knowledge and creative energy in tantric literature. Nila Sarasvati is the ugra (angry, violent, destructive) manifestation in a one school of Hinduism, while the more common Saraswati is the saumya (calm, compassionate, productive) manifestation found in most schools of Hinduism. In tantric literature of the former, Nilasaraswati has a 100 names. There are separate dhyana shlokas and mantras for her worship in Tantrasara.[34]



There are many temples, dedicated to Saraswati around the world. Some notable temples include the Gnana Saraswati Temple in Basar, on the banks of the River Godavari, the Wargal Saraswati and Shri Saraswati Kshetramu temples in Medak, Telangana. In Karnataka, one of many Saraswati/Sharada pilgrimage spots is Shringeri Sharadamba Temple. In Ernakulam district of Kerala, there is a famous Saraswati temple in North Paravur, namely Dakshina Mookambika Temple North Paravur. In Tamil Nadu, Koothanur hosts a Saraswati temples about 25 kilometres from Tiruvarur.


Saraswati's is remembered on – Vasant Panchami – is a Hindu festival celebrated every year on the 5th day in the Hindu calendar month of Magha (about February). Hindus celebrate this festival in temples, homes and educational institutes alike.[35][36]

In Goa,[37] Maharashtra and Karnataka, Saraswati Puja starts with Saraswati Avahan on Maha Saptami and ends on Vijayadashami with Saraswati Udasan or Visarjan.

Saraswati Puja calendar:

  • Saraswati Puja Avahan – Maha Saptami – Triratna vratam starts in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Saraswati Puja (main puja) – Durga Ashtami
  • Saraswati Uttara Puja – Mahanavami
  • Saraswati Visarjan or Udasan – Vijaya Dashami
  • Saraswati Kartik Purnima on (Sristhal) siddhpur of Gujaratis ancient festival since Solanki ruling of Patan state.

Saraswati Puja in South India

In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the last three days of the Navaratri festival, i.e., Ashtami, Navami, and Dashami, are celebrated as Sarasvati Puja.[38] The celebrations start with the Puja Vypu (Placing for Worship). It consists of placing the books for puja on the Ashtami day. It may be in one's own house, in the local nursery school run by traditional teachers, or in the local temple. The books will be taken out for reading, after worship, only on the morning of the third day (Vijaya Dashami). It is called Puja Eduppu (Taking [from] Puja). Children are happy, since they are not expected to study on these days. On the Vijaya Dashami day, Kerala celebrates the Ezhuthiniruthu or Initiation of Writing for the little children before they are admitted to nursery schools. This is also called Vidyarambham. The child is made to write for the first time on the rice spread in a plate with the index finger, guided by an elder of the family or by a teacher.[39]

Saraswati outside India

Balinese Hindu deity Saraswati (top), a Saraswati temple in Bali (middle), and one of many Benzaiten temples in Japan (bottom).

Saraswati in Myanmar

In Burma, the Shwezigon Mon Inscription dated to be of 1084 AD, near Bagan, recites the name Saraswati as follows,

"The wisdom of eloquence called Saraswati shall dwell in mouth of King Sri Tribhuwanadityadhammaraja at all times". – Translated by Than Tun[40]
Statue of Thurathadi at Kyauktawgyi Buddha Temple (Yangon)

In Buddhist arts of Myanmar, she is called Thurathadi (or Thayéthadi).[41]:215 Students in Myanmar pray for her blessings before their exams.[41]:327 She is also believed to be, in Mahayana pantheon of Myanmar, the protector of Buddhist scriptures.[42]

Saraswati in Japan

The concept of Saraswati migrated from India, through China to Japan, where she appears as Benzaiten (弁財天).[43] Worship of Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th through 8th centuries. She is often depicted holding a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute musical instrument. She is enshrined on numerous locations throughout Japan such as the Kamakura's Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine or Nagoya's Kawahara Shrine;[44] the three biggest shrines in Japan in her honour are at the Enoshima Island in Sagami Bay, the Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa, and the Itsukushima Island in Seto Inland Sea.

Saraswati in Cambodia

Saraswati was honoured with invocations among Hindus of Angkorian Cambodia, suggests a tenth-century and another eleventh-century inscription.[45] She and Brahma are referred to in Cambodian epigraphy from the 7th century onwards, and she is praised by Khmer poets for being goddess of eloquence, writing and music. More offerings were made to her than to her husband Brahma. She is also referred to as Vagisvari and Bharati in Yasovarman era Khmer literature.[45]

Saraswati in Thailand

In ancient Thai literature, Saraswati (Thai: สุรัสวดี; rtgsSuratsawadi) is the goddess of speech and learning, and consort of Brahma.[46] Over time, Hindu and Buddhist concepts on deities merged in Thailand. Icons of Saraswati with other deities of India are found in old Thai wats.[47] Amulets with Saraswati and a peacock are also found in Thailand.

Saraswati in Indonesia

Saraswati is an important goddess in Balinese Hinduism. She shares the same attributes and iconography as Saraswati in Hindu literature of India - in both places, she is the goddess of knowledge, creative arts, wisdom, language, learning and purity. In Bali, she is celebrated on Saraswati day, one of the main festivals for Hindus in Indonesia.[48][49] The day marks the close of 210-day year in the Pawukon calendar.[50]

On Saraswati day, people make offerings in the form of flowers in temples and to sacred texts. The day after Saraswati day, is Banyu Pinaruh, a day of cleansing. On this day, Hindus of Bali go to the sea, sacred waterfalls or river spots, offer prayers to Saraswati, and then rinse themselves in that water in the morning. Then they prepare a feast, such as the traditional bebek betutu and nasi kuning, that they share.[51]

The Saraswati Day festival has a long history in Bali.[52] It has become more widespread in Hindu community of Indonesia in recent decades, and it is celebrated with theatre and dance performance.[50]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kinsley, David (1988), Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-06339-2, pages 55-64
  2. ^ Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, p. 1214; Sarup & Sons, ISBN 978-81-7625-064-1
  3. ^ a b Kinsley, David (1988), Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-06339-2
  4. ^ Vasant Panchami Saraswati Puja, Know India - Odisha Fairs and Festivals
  5. ^ The festival of Vasant Panchami: A new beginning, Alan Barker, United Kingdom
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Thomas Donaldson (2001), Iconography of the Buddhist Sculpture of Orissa, ISBN 978-8170174066, pages 274-275
  8. ^ a b Kinsley, David (1988). Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06339-2. p. 95.
  9. ^ sAra Sanskrit English Dictionary, University of Koeln, Germany
  10. ^ स्व Sanskrit English Dictionary, University of Koeln, Germany
  11. ^ a b c d Griselda Pollock and Victoria Turvey-Sauron (2008), The Sacred and the Feminine: Imagination and Sexual Difference, ISBN 978-1845115203, pages 144-147
  12. ^ Goddess Saraswati Kashmir Hindu Deities
  13. ^ सुरस Sanskrit English Dictionary, University of Koeln, Germany
  14. ^ a b c d John Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India - Their Religions and Institutions at Google Books, Volume 5, pp. 337-347 with footnotes
  15. ^ Rigveda, Book 2, Hymn 41
  16. ^ Rigveda, Book 10, Hymn 17
  17. ^ H.T. Colbrooke, Sacred writings of the Hindus, Williams & Norgate, London, page 16-17
  18. ^ a b Edward Moor, The Hindu Pantheon, p. 125, at Google Books, pages 125-127
  19. ^ Sarasvati, The Goddess of Learning Stephen Knapp
  20. ^ a b Edward Balf, The Encyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia at Google Books, page 534
  21. ^ Ian Reader and George J. Tanabe, Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan, Univ of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824820909
  22. ^ a b Asiatic Researches at Google Books, - History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences and Literature of Asia, Volume 3, London, pages 272-273
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b Jean Holm and John Bowke (1998), Picturing God, Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN 978-1855671010, pages 99-101
  25. ^ For Sanskrit to English Translation of the four words: Monier Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary University of Koeln, Germany
  26. ^ Some texts refer to her as "goddess of harmony"; for example, John Wilkes, Encyclopaedia Londinensis at Google Books, Volume 22, page 669
  27. ^ Frithjof Schuon (2007), Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, ISBN 978-1933316420, page 281
  28. ^ Hope B. Werness (2007), Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art, Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN 978-0826419132, pages 319-320
  29. ^ James Lochtefeld, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M, Vol. 1, ISBN 978-0823931804, page 408
  30. ^ Diana Eck (2013), India: A Sacred Geography, Random House, ISBN 978-0385531924, pages 265-279
  31. ^ C. Mackenzie Brown (1990), The Triumph of the Goddess, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791403648
  32. ^ Glory of the Divine Mother (Devi Mahatmyam) by S.Sankaranarayanan. Prabha Publishers, Chennai. India.(ISBN 81-87936-00-2) Page. 184
  33. ^ James Lochtefeld, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z, Vol. 2, ISBN 978-0823931804, page 467
  34. ^ David Kinsley, Tāntric Visions of the Divine Feminine, University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06339-2
  35. ^ Roy, Christian (2005). Traditional Festivals: A Multicultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. Vol.2. Pp.192-193. ISBN 9781576070895
  36. ^ Knapp, Stephen (2006). "The Dharmic Festivals" from The Power of the Dharma: An Introduction to Hinduism and Vedic Culture. iUniverse. Pg. 94. ISBN 9780595837489
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ Than Tun, Saraswati of Burma, South East Asian Studies, Vol. 14, No.3, December 1976, pages 433-441
  41. ^ a b Donald Seekins (2006), Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar), ISBN 978-0810854765
  42. ^ Josef Silverstein (1989), Independent Burma at forty years, Volume 4 of Monograph Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, ISBN 978-0877271215, page 55
  43. ^ Catherine Ludvik (2001), From Sarasvati to Benzaiten, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Toronto, National Library of Canada; PDF Download
  44. ^ T. Suzuki (1907), The seven gods of bliss, The Open Court, 1907 (7), 2
  45. ^ a b O. W. Wolters (1989), History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives, ISBN 978-9971902421, page 87-89
  46. ^ George McFarland, Thai-English Dictionary page 790
  47. ^ Patit Paban Mishra (2010), The History of Thailand, ISBN 978-0313340918
  48. ^ Saraswati, Day of Knowledge Descent The Bali Times (2013)
  49. ^ GC Pande, India's Interaction with Southeast Asia, Vol. 1, ISBN 978-8187586241, page 660-661
  50. ^ a b Mary Sabine Zurbuchen (2014), The Language of Balinese Shadow Theater, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691608129, pages 49-57
  51. ^ Vivienne Kruger, Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine & Food Culture of Bali, ISBN 978-0804844505, page 152-153
  52. ^ Jan Gonda, Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 3 Southeast Asia Religions, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004043305, page 45


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain

Further reading

  • Sailen Debnath, The Meanings of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Myths, ISBN 9788129114815, Rupa & Co., New Delhi

External links

  • Vasant Panchami, a celebration of Goddess Saraswati, Government of Odisha, India
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