Saraswati (pronounced as [sə.rəs.ʋə.t̪iː]; Sanskrit: सरस्वती, ; Malay: Saraswati; Thai: สุรัสวดี) is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music and the arts. Saraswati has been identified with the Vedic Saraswati River. She is considered as consort of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. Thus, with the goddesses Lakshmi and Parvati or Durga, she forms the Tridevi ("three goddesses"), who are consorts of the male trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively. Saraswati's children are the Vedas, which are the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism.
Along the course of the Saraswati, the Harappan Civilization developed. The earliest known examples of writing in India have been found in the ruined cities that line the now dry riverbed of the ancient waterway. Some have postulated that the goddess Saraswati gained her role as personified communication and the giver of knowledge due to the role of the Saraswati River in the development of written language in ancient India.
Between 2000 B.C. and 1700 B.C., seismic activity caused the waters of the river's two main sources to change course. The Sutlej moved course westward and became a tributary of the Indus River. The Yamuna moved course eastward and became a tributary of the Ganges. The tremendous loss of water which resulted from these movements caused the once mighty river to become sluggish and dry up in the Thar Desert without ever reaching the sea. Without any water for irrigation or transportation, the dense population of the river basin soon shifted east with the waters of the Yamuna to the Ganges River valley. Late Vedic texts record the river as disappearing at Vinasana (literally, "the disappearing"), and as joining both the Yamuna and Ganges as an invisible river. Some claim that the sanctity of the modern Ganges is directly related to its assumption of the holy, life-giving waters of the ancient Saraswati.
Recently, archaeologists using satellite images have been able to trace the course of the river. A small channel of water flows near Kurukshetra. A nearby signboard denoting the former path of the once great Saraswati River can be seen along the main highway (GT road).
Maha Saraswati is the presiding Goddess of the Final episode of Devi Mahatmya. Here she is a part of the trinity of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati. She is depicted as eight-armed. Her dhyana shloka is:
The original (spiritual) forms of devas including Saraswati are present in the spiritual world:
Rupa Gosvami elaborates:
As a river/water goddess, Saraswati symbolizes fertility and prosperity. She is associated with purity and creativity, especially in the context of communication, such as in literary and verbal skills. In the post-Vedic age, She began to lose her status as a river goddess and became increasingly associated with literature, arts, music, etc. Her name literally means "the one who flows", which apparently was applied to thoughts, words, or the flow of a river (in Sanskrit: "dhaara-pravaah").
Saraswati is known as Benzaiten in Japan.
The Goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful, white-skinned woman dressed in pure white often seated on a white Nelumbo nucifera lotus (although Her actual vahana is believed to be a swan), which symbolizes that she is founded in the experience of the Absolute Truth. Thus, she not only has the knowledge but also the experience of the Highest Reality. She is mainly associated with the color white, which signifies the purity of true knowledge. Occasionally, however, she is also associated with the colour yellow, the colour of the flowers of the mustard plant that bloom at the time of her festival in the spring. She is not adorned heavily with jewels and gold, unlike the goddess Lakshmi, but is dressed modestly — perhaps representing her preference of knowledge over worldly material things.
She is generally shown to have four arms, which represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. Alternatively, these four arms also represent the 4 vedas, the primary sacred books for Hindus. The vedas, in turn, represent the 3 forms of literature:
The four hands also depict this thusly — prose is represented by the book in one hand, poetry by the garland of crystal, music by the veena. The pot of sacred water represents purity in all of these three, or their power to purify human thought.
She is shown to hold the following in her hands:
A white swan is often located next to her feet. The sacred swan, if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. The swan thus symbolizes discrimination between the good and the bad or the eternal and the evanescent. Due to her association with the swan, Goddess Saraswati is also referred to as Hamsa-vahini, which means "she who has a swan as her vehicle".
She is usually depicted near a flowing river, which may be related to her early history as a river goddess. The swan and her association with the lotus flower also point to her ancient origin.
Sometimes a peacock is shown beside the goddess. The peacock represents arrogance and pride over its beauty, and by having a peacock as her mount, the Goddess teaches Hindus not to be concerned with external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth.
Saraswati Puja is performed on the 5th day of Magha month of Hindu Calendar(Also known as Basant Panchami).
In several parts of India, generally states to the south, Saraswati Poojas are conducted during Navaratri - a 9 day long festival celebrating the power of feminity. Navratri is celebrated in all goddess-temples of India- esp with great pomp and splendor in south and east India. The last three days of Navaratri starting from Mahalaya Amavasya (the New Moon day) are dedicated to the goddess. On the ninth day of Navaratri (Mahanavami), books and all musical instruments are ceremoniously kept near the gods early at dawn and worshipped with special prayers. No studies or any performance of arts is carried out, as it is considered that the Goddess herself is blessing the books and the instruments. The festival is concluded on the tenth day of Navaratri (Vijaya Dashami) and the goddess is worshipped again before the books and the musical instruments are removed. It is customary to study on this day, which is called Vidyarambham (literally, Commencement of Knowledge). All students are traditionally required to study a part of all that they have learn till that day, and also to start the study of something new on the same day. Gurus (Preceptors) are worshipped on this day as embodiments of Saraswati.In major part of India this Navratri is associated with Goddess Durga, but down South is celebrated as Saraswati Puja.
Though temples for saraswati are rare, major temples for the goddess are in Basara Town (Andhra Pradesh, www.BasaraTemple.org) Shringeri (Karnataka), Pushkar (Rajastan), Panachikkad (Kerala), South Paravoor (Kerala), Dasera Tekri Navsari (Gujarat), Kumbakonam,Koothanur (Tamilnadu), Bharathi temple (known as Kollam Bharathi locally) near Atmakur, Kurnool Dist in Andhra, shradapeth (ruins) (kashmir) Deupatan, Kamalakshi, Thimi, Bhadrakali ,Gairidhara in the Kathmandu region have her temples.
The goddess's abode is mentioned as being in the state of Kashmir, among the Himalayas. Her favorite fruit is supposed to be the apple.
In Hindu mythology, great significance is attached to offering honey to this goddess, as honey is representative of perfect knowledge.
A Prayer to Goddess Saraswati – Saraswati Vandana Mantra