The Speaking Tree : Celebrating Wisdom & Creativity
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Today is Vasant Panchami.
The constant interplay between our inner seeking and the innate state of knowledge within which we are unaware – the dialectic between Becoming and Being which is the cornerstone of the Upanishads – takes on a mystical and devotional hue in tradition in the personification of Goddess Saraswati as the muse of learning and knowledge. Whether in her riverine form or svarupa as she is exalted in the Rig Veda – nourishing an entire civilisation on her banks – or in her shubhra vasana or in white attire, the feminine form inspiring all creative energies, Saraswati represents the ever-flowing stream of consciousness within. As Consciousness, Saraswati is a metaphor for the creative faculty, the trigger for all literature, music and dance, aesthetics and philosophy. She represents the ever-engaged mind, the dhaara pravah or one that makes thoughts flow like a river. But she also flows towards the Absolute, as the name Saraswati suggests, so she is also a metaphor for the journey one makes from the known, empirical world of duality to the still point beyond thought, taking the individual soul to the other shore, the crossing over, as it were, to a state of contented Being. Why is Saraswati depicted wearing white? The colour white is a symbol of the purity of true knowledge which she bestows on the seeker. Similarly, her association with the swan and the peacock too stress the wisdom aspect. The swan is said to have the ability to separate milk from water and drink milk only, which is a metaphor of the way a seeker has to continually discriminate between what is real and permanent and what is transient. The peacock’s vanity at its own beautiful plumage is a reminder of how a true seeker of knowledge has to learn to detach himself from the body by understanding the transitory nature of physical appearance.
Saraswati is also vak or speech, the essence of sound by which the world of name and form is realised. Through vak, the seeker is led to a state beyond cognition. Her four arms, sometimes seen as representing the four Vedas, also represent the four facets of the human cognitive psyche – manas or mind, buddhi or intellect, chitta or consciousness and ahamkara or ego, all of which are interwoven in the fabric of Creation. She is the Muse of all creative endeavour, and creativity implies seeking, delving deep into the Self. Saraswati is also sara or essence of the swa, the Self. It is initiation into learning, the beginning of a long journey into the mind and beyond, which is sought to be started on Vasant Panchami, a day on which Saraswati is specially remembered. Traditionally, children are initiated into the Akshara Abhyasam ceremony, ritually invoking the goddess at the Saraswati temple at Basar before they begin their formal school education. The artist and the ascetic both rededicate themselves to the path of self-knowledge, one seeking to arouse his creative potential and the other seeking the bindu which is at the source of Creation. Vedanta says that the path of knowledge has the power to dispel ignorance of what is permanent and what is passing. Celebrating Saraswati is in fact a call to the higher mind, the beginning of a deep desire to understand the purpose and meaning of life.