This week, Indians celebrated Basant Panchami – which signifies the coming of spring. Due to the Bengali influence in my family, we celebrate this day as Saraswati Puja. Saraswati is the goddess of learning and knowledge, and on this day, students, teachers, artists, writers, musicians and absolutely anyone connected to the world of knowledge, art and teaching, worship her. This day is considered auspicious for a child to start learning.
Each God or Goddess in India has a story associated. The story of Saraswati is not so very well-known, and so here it goes :-
God Brahma (the creator of the universe) was done with his task of creating the physical universe and earth. In order to bring forth life on earth, he created a female from his thigh. She was so beautiful, that Brahma wanted to espouse her. Since she was born from him, she was her daughter; and this idea of him espousing her did not go down very well with her. He was so taken in by her beauty that he would only look at her. In order to see her from any direction, he grew 3 other heads. (Now you know why Brahma has 4 heads.) In order to escape his amorous glaces, she sprang into the heaven. So, Brahma grew a fifth head which had a neck long enough to go to the heaven. (How he lost the fifth head, is a separate story. I’ll write that in another post.) There he convinced her to marry him and promised her that through them, the living beings of the world would be born. She agreed. She was Saraswati.
Now, many years later, Brahma was to conduct a “yagya”. All the Gods were present. A wife always accompanies the husband during a yagya. So, when the auspicious time neared, Brahma send a few brahmins to call Saraswati. She declines to come as “she was not ready, and was held back by household affairs” (this one proves that even Goddess went through all that a married woman goes through today!!). According to her, the wives of other Gods, ie Laxmi, Parvati, etc had not yet arrived and she couldnt enter a hall full of men alone. Thus, she sent back the brahmins. This infuriated Brahma, and so he sent forth Indra to find him another bride – the first spinster he crosses. He found a maiden cow-shepherdess, Gayatri. He brought her to Brahma and they were duly married. Just was the marriage was taking place, Saraswati with the other Goddesses entered. She was furious to see what was happening. Like Shakespeare said years and years later “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, Saraswati’s anger knew no bounds. Immediately she cursed everyone present –
Brahma, for setting a miserable example for the mankind (ie, the example being – getting a new bride when the first wife was very much alive) – no man would worship him except for one day every year.
Vishnu, for giving away the bride in marriage – he would be separated from his wife.
Shiv, for giving away the bride in marriage – he would lose his manhood.
Indra, for going forth to find the bride – he would be captured, detained and ill-treated by his enemies.
The Brahmins who conducted the marriage – they would never be rich and would have to beg to survive.
Saying this, she left the hall. The Goddesses accompanied her for a distance and after a while expressed desire to join their husbands. This infuriated her further and she cursed each one of them as :
Laxmi – she would never be stagnant at any place, she would keep moving around and be coveted by greedy men.
Indra’s wife -when Indra’s kingdom is usurped, the conqueror will want her to wait on him and treat him as Indra, else he would kill all Gods.
Other Brahmin wives – they would remain barren.
One version of the story has it that when the wives returned back to the hall, Gayatri modified every one’s curses. The other version has it that after a while Saraswati returns to the hall and apologizes to everyone and modifies their curses. Curses once spelt out, cannot be revoked. However, we do notice a few effects of these curses till date :-
Brahma – there is no temple in his name till date (I am not very sure of this one, correct me if I am wrong).
Vishnu – was separated from his wife in all his births, though eternally, Laxmi and Vishnu are together.
Shiv – though he lost his manhood, he is still worshipped and does have 2 sons.
Indra – was conquered and detained by enemies. But his son did rescue him.
Brahmins – though normally poor, find enough donors to support and provide enough for their daily living.