Saraswati’s grace on Hinduism

For Hindus who prefer to remember Devi Saraswati only once a year, Basant Panchami, her birthday, is the best day for her remembrance. On her last birthday, we learned that the Devi holds a book and uses a swan as her vehicle. This year, we can go on to understand what these symbolize.

What is the title of the book that Saraswati holds? Graciously, the book does not have a title, for it represents the totality of all knowledge. It can be understood as the masterpiece from which the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras, and the poems of the Bhakti Saints have been created and the Hindu books of the future will be created [1]. Because Saraswati holds a dynamic scripture with countless pages, she, out of her compassion on beings, has granted multiple philosophical viewpoints to Hinduism, along with the inclusiveness for more. Whenever a human realizes Brahman, more original information is acquired from the scripture that Saraswati holds and is added to the library of Hinduism [2]. It is due to her grace that Hinduism always has additional white space for seekers to write on.

Saraswati’s vehicle, the swan, teaches us how to access the knowledge that seekers from different eras have gifted us. Whenever we read a book, whether Hindu or not, or listen to a lecture, we are expected to absorb only the information that appears righteous and applicable, depending upon our location and era. In Hinduism, the ability of followers to separate out the useful information from the redundant [3] has minimized the harm from unintentional and deliberate misinterpretation of scriptures. This blessing of the swan discourages compulsive following of a philosophy and leads to adaptability — a unique stronghold of Hinduism.

[1] According to a viewpoint, the Vedas symbolize the totality of all knowledge. In this context, we can say that the Goddess holds the Vedas, generally attributed to Gayatri, a form of Saraswati.
[2] Note that Brahman does not change with time; only our approach to Brahman changes by her guidance.
[3] It is commonly said that if a swan is presented with a blend of milk and water, it drinks the milk and leaves the water behind.

The three primary incarnations of Shakti

According to a tale in the Shiva Purana, preparations for the incarnation of the three major forms of Shakti, Parvati, Sita, and Radha, started a long time before they actually appeared on Earth. Interestingly, the preparations for these three incarnations had begun at around the same time.

The narration tells us that three self-realized sisters with divine ancestory, Mena, Dhanya, and Kalavati, were once attending a spiritual conference at an abode of Vishnu. Unfortunately, they acquired a curse from Sanat Kumara for their slight impoliteness towards the sage and his three brothers [1]. The curse involved the birth of the sisters as human beings on Earth. But as soon as the sisters apologized, the sage, saturated with mercy, modified his own curse into boons that were extensive by any standard.

Sanat Kumara said, “Mena, the eldest sister, will become the spouse of the god of the Himalayas. She’ll eventually reach Shivaloka to reside with her daughter, a form of Para Shakti. Dhanya, following her birth on Earth, will get married to King Janaka. She will later reach Vaikuntha to live with her divine daughter, the spouse of Rama. And Kalavati, the youngest sister, will become the spouse of Vrishbhanu; she will eventually reach Goloka to reside with her daughter, the shakti of Krishna.”

Though Para Shakti may incarnate on Earth in different ages, it appears that the perfect scheduling and design of leelas in the universe does not take her any time.

Happy Navaratri!

[1] Sanat Kumara and his brothers, Sanaka, Sananda, and Sanatana, are the earliest sages to appear in the universe; they had originated from Lord Brahma’s mind.

Navaratri: Remembering Mother Durga

What do Hindus pray for during the Navaratri? The table below lists some of the blessings that they request. Note that the superior blessings (middle column) from the Mother Goddess can not be misused by humans, for goodness (sattva guna) inherently accompanies them. And her highest blessings can help us transcend even goodness.

(Blessings have been categorized in the table for understanding only; every major form of the Devi can bestow all such blessings on her devotees.)

Happy Navaratri!

Vasant Panchami: Remembering Saraswati

Devi Saraswati, who personifies universal intelligence, is believed to be born on Basant Panchami, the fifth day (waxing fortnight) of the lunar month Magha. The occasion is considered most appropriate for remembering this form of the Mother Goddess, who wears a white dress and celestial ornaments, holds a veena and a book, and uses a swan as her vehicle. Dairy products, white-colored sweets, fruits and other sattvic eatables, white flowers, and sandal paste are offered to the Goddess in temples and homes while reciting her mantras and stutis with devotion. Some students of the arts and Vedic branches of learning show their reverence by beginning their coursework on this auspicious day.

In a world that is trapped by ignorance but has learned to laugh at the intellectually weak, the blessings of Saraswati are said to remove the cause of suffering. As the Srimad Devi Bhagavata tells us, even saints have regularly requested Devi Saraswati for knowledge, memory, teaching aptitude, talent, and analytical power. And her blessings have been responsible for the creativity and brilliance in Brihaspati, Shukracharya, Valmiki, Ved Vyas, and the other rishis. Thankfully, her mercy has never been limited to the big names but is known to turn commoners into famous scholars or enlightened saints. Beings continue to gain her grace and protection through her remembrance.

Happy Birthday to Goddess Saraswati!

tamso ma jyotirgamaya

Sita: Goddess beyond Nature

Everyone who has heard the story of the Ramayana remembers Devi Sita’s agni pariksha (the test of fire) and her return to Prithvi (goddess Earth) in the final pages of the great epic. On both occasions, Sita proved her chastity and devotion for Rama before mortals, her own creation. But these tests also had something else in common: Not only purity, but transcendence of material nature was also needed to succeed in them.

The irony of distrustful intellect is that many people who doubt Sita-Rama’s divinity still choose to believe that the two events historically took place so that they can go on to blame Rama, the Supreme Soul, for his “unfair behavior”. They probably forget that a few fundamental laws of science had to be broken to succeed in the abovementioned tests. They forget that even the purest beings on Earth can not replicate Sita’s actions because the elements of material nature — fire, water, earth, air, and space — do not take orders or process immediate requests from mortals. In fact, Sita’s participation in such divine plays inherently demonstrates that she transcends fire, earth, and the other elements.

The agni pariksha was not the only time when Agni, the god of fire, had followed Sita’s orders. She had also requested the god of fire to not hurt Hanuman when his tail had been ignited in Lanka (Sundar Kand). Similarly, Prithvi had also followed her request when she first appeared from the ground in King Janaka’s kingdom as Prithvi’s daughter.

Happy Navaratri!

Mother Durga: The Ocean of Grace

Is anyone in the universe more forgiving and benevolent than Mother Goddess Durga? Actually, this is a trick question. If you worship a different form of God or belong to a different faith, you may argue that your favorite form or concept of the Divine has more compassion. But once you try to understand who Para Shakti is, your assumption of calling anyone else more merciful may not be reasonable, though your favorite form of God can be equally compassionate. Let me try to explain why.

When the worshippers of Shakti remember her for being compassionate, they use prayers like, “We bow to the Mother who is present as forgiveness in all beings.1 We bow to the Mother who is kindness in all beings.2 We bow to the Mother who is Power in all beings.3” Accordingly, through such mantras, devotees of Shakti do not worship a superhuman being who is extremely compassionate, but they offer their reverence to the sum total of all mercy, power, knowledge, and consciousness in the universe and the source of all divine qualities — personified as their Mother.

Happy Navaratri!

[1]Ya devi sarvabhuteshu kshanti rupen samsthitah. Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah.
[2]Ya devi sarvabhuteshu daya rupen samsthitah. Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah.
[3]Ya devi sarvabhuteshu shakti rupen samsthitah. Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah.