Though goddess Saraswati is popularly known as the patron deity of knowledge and music, she also has a more important ‘cosmic’ role to play, namely to give Lord Brahma the required Shakti to create the world. When Brahma sets out to create the world, he does not make anything new. He creates everything in the same manner as it was in the previous creations. This regular plan of creation is coded in the Vedas and it through the Vedas that Lord Brahma indulges in the necessary act of creation. How does he have a memory of the Vedas, even though he is the first-born? Goddess Saraswati makes him remember them. Thus as Lord Vishnu in his role of nourisher has Goddess Lakshmi as his wife and Shiva the destroyer has goddess Kali, Brahma as the creator has goddess Saraswati for his wife. Therefore she is also known as ‘Brahmani’.
Thus for obvious reasons, Goddess Saraswati is nearly always shown with a book in her hand. It symbolizes the Vedas, from which all knowledge springs. In addition, she is also shown holding the veena, a stringed musical instrument, in two of her four hands. Generally it is held diagonally in front of her, presenting an extremely graceful picture. The vina of course signifies that goddess Saraswati is the patron deity of music. Indeed in India, any musical concert or performance inevitably begins with an invocation to goddess Saraswati.
In her fourth hand, goddess Saraswati holds a rosary (mala), meaning that the Vedas are not mere theoretical knowledge, but rather we should inculcate in our lives the principles of devotional Bhakti that comprises the central message of the Vedas.
Mother Saraswati is invariably shown draped in a white sari, representing the purity and radiance of knowledge; a symbolism which is also revealed by the lotus which often acts as her seat. The swan accompanying Saraswati signifies that true knowledge is the one which helps us in discriminating between the good and the bad, just like the swan, which is able to separate milk from water.
The Rig-Veda seems to have a dual perception of Saraswati, one as the sacred river, and the other, as the deity pervading all three worlds. Most scholars assert that it is only as river that the Rig-Veda has alluded to Saraswati and what of it seems to pervade all three worlds is its celestial character. They discover Saraswati’s parallel in Iranian river Haraihvati, which in contemporary Iranian rituals and literature was similarly lauded for being benign, humid, heroic, and immaculate. They argue that the term Saraswati, a combination of ‘sara’ or ‘svara’, meaning ‘to go’, and ‘swati’, meaning ‘tending’ or ‘inclining’, that is, one that has the tendency of going or moving, is more characteristic of a river. They emphatically hold that like the root ‘gam’, meaning ‘to go’, from which developed the name of river Ganga, in the Rig-Veda ‘sara’ is another root from which developed several terms that denote a river or an entity that has river-like moving character. Read more...