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Sarasvati, from a poster by an unknown Indian artist, late 20th century

Sarasvati (also known as Saraswati) is the Hindu devi of music and of the language arts; she is the gentle wife of the creator god Brahma. Her name has been variously translated as "essence of [her]self" and "flow of knowledge." As the source of all knowledge, she is considered the mother of the Hindu vedas or sacred scriptures. Sarasvati represents all art, culture, and knowledge so she is is especially helpful to individuals who work within those fields. Although she is usually portrayed as beautiful and gentle, Sarasvati is well known for her temper and also, as a somewhat endearing flaw, for not always being on time. In one tale, her marriage to Brahma broke up because she was late to an important celebration which the creator god of Hinduism had arranged for all the deities. Brahma is then said to have married Gayatri, a more compliant wife, while Sarasvati went her own way, happy to be rid of the yoke of marriage.

Sarasvati is mentioned in the oldest Hindu text, the Rig Veda, as a river goddess, and indeed there is a river named the Sarasvati. With this origin, she became the devi from whom all knowledge and consciousness flows. Her devotees petition her not only for aid in matters of school, the arts, and all matter of creative endeavors, but also for divine wisdom and liberation (moksha). Hindu traditions about the relationships among the devas and devis are complex and contradictory, however, and Sarasvati appears in many guises. In some teachings, Sarasvati is said to be the daughter of Durga, in others, the sister of Kali, and in others, the sister of Shiva. A more common belief is that Sarasvati is the sister of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and that by venerating these sister-goddesses side-by-side -- with Sarasvati in white on a white lotus and Lakshmi in pink on a pink lotus -- devotees in the arts may successfully petition for knowledge, skill, career success, and wealth. The sisters may also be shown in a triplicity with Ganesha seated between them. As the lord of literature and opener of the way, Ganesha removes obstacles and reverses bad luck to bring in the financial success of Lakshmithe and career success in music, song, poetry, literature, and the arts over which Sarasvati presides.

Sarasvati's iconography includes her four arms holding a book, crystal mala prayer beads, and a jar of water. Her garments are white and she sits upon a white water lily or lotus, playing the vina, a lute-like musical instrument. Saravati is associated with birds, primarily the hamsa or white goose, the white swan, and the peacock, any of which may be presented as her vehicle Within the Hindu religious tradition, the festival of Saraswati Puja is held in her honour, and people place books, musical instruments, and other symbols of art and culture at her statue so that they may be blessed. Young children may be given their first lessons during Sarasvati puja, to acquaint them with the love of knowledge. Among her altar offerings, she has a special fondness for honey. Many of the Hindu deities are recognized and worshipped by Buddhists as well as Hindus, and Sarasvati plays a special role in certain lineages of Buddhism as a guardian and protective figure who keeps the path of liberation open and wide for those who wish to travel it. Hoodoo psychic readers, spirit workers, and root doctors who petition the Hindu gods and goddesses on behalf of clients may work with Sarasvati in matters associated with gaining wisdom, studying and passing tests, or obtaining accomplishment in music and the arts.


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