Human Flower Project
The Holiest of Spring Breaks
On the festival of Basant Panchami, marking spring’s arrival in Northern India, students put their books aside and ask for spiritual wisdom.
“The chilling cold breeze has become a matter of past. People have packed their woollens,” says the newspaper in Bhopal, India. “It’s time to say bye to shivering cold. Flowers are at full bloom and trees are shedding their leaves to have some new clothing. Sunrays are becoming hotter…Leaving the idleness behind, the festival of Basant Panchami has arrived.”
By the fifth day of the lunar month of Magh (between January and March), the fields of Punjab and Haryana have blossomed: golden lakes of mustard flowers. And the people follow suit, dressing in bright yellow, cooking sweet rice colored with saffron or curry. On Basant Panchami, India’s Festival of Spring, you’ll even see yellow kites flying, tracked with searchlights across the night sky.
The goddess Saraswati
As with celebrations most places in the world, seasonal change and secular festivities coincide with religious rites. Basant Panchami is also the holy day of Saraswati, Hinduism’s goddess of wisdom.
She is usually shown seated by a river or on a lotus blossom, strumming a veena (lute or sitar) with books at her feet. Like Athena in ancient Greek religion, Saraswati doesn’t pay men much mind. She embodies reason and presides over culture: music, poetry, knowledge, and especially speech. “Till today, whenever a new baby arrives, grandmothers make a five pointed star-called Saraswati-sign on the newborns tongue with honey.”
Across Northern India schools arrange for debates, plays and scholastic competitions this time of year, but on the day itself (Basant Panchami 2005 falls on February 13th), “Children place their books at the goddess’ feet, to be blessed by her.” Striving for knowledge is one thing, asking for it is another.
Distinct from so many Hindu deities, Saraswati doesn’t care for adoration, protection or riches. She’s pleased with lucidity instead. Isn’t that as difficult as building a temple?
In the spirit of combining sacred and secular, here’s a prayer from a Delhi-tourism website:
Oh Mother Sarasvati, remove the darkness of my mind and bless me with the eternal knowledge.