In the beginning, there was only chaos. Lord Brahma stared at his creation, all formless and fluid, in bewilderment, not knowing how to give shape to this disorderly mess. He needed the guidance of wisdom and knowledge. Thus emerged the white Goddess Saraswati from Brahma’s mouth riding a swan with sacred books in one hand and veena in the other, heralded by a peacock.
Saraswati was the first being in Brahma’s world. Under her guidance, he gained the ability to sense, think, comprehend and communicate. She lent him wisdom to see the potential that lay amidst the chaos and create this beautiful world. The Goddess of wisdom embodies knowledge that drives away darkness. Without her, there is only confusion and disorder.
While in school I would stare at the beautiful idol of Saraswati in wonder and pray to her wholeheartedly to score better in exams. Books and pens would be laid at her feet so that we could memorize faster with Devi’s grace. For knowledge in our society is somehow equated with scoring well in exams to land a cushy job later in life. It took me many years to realize the depth and the potential of this graceful Goddess. She embodies the serenity and wisdom that true knowledge signifies.
Devi Saraswati is worshipped in most Bengali households on the day of Basant Panchami. Though the unpretentious Goddess wears no jewelry and dresses in white, we would usually wear yellow on that day. Yellow signifies knowledge, it is also the colour of spring, thus associated with Saraswati. It was a simple homely affair then that we would look forward to eagerly.
I happened to be at home in Agartala this year on Saraswati puja. Though there was no puja at home I was somehow looking forward to the occasion. I kept looking out of the window to catch a glimpse of excited children guided by adults walking home with Devi’s idol. Instead, I was deafened by the sound of loud music and people dancing behind a truck carrying her image. Saraswati Puja has become a loud affair I learned. The sound of conch that we would hear as children is drowned by Hindi music playing on loudspeakers.
On the evening before Saraswati puja, I went to the market with my sister to reminisce my girlhood days. We couldn’t find the Devi idols where they used to be placed earlier, it’s too crowded for that now. We had to walk further ahead pushing our way through the trucks and youth dancing behind them. My beautiful memories of the days when we would walk to the market to choose an idol were affronted by the din. Twenty years have passed since I was home on Saraswati Puja, and change, though it saddened me, was inevitable.
The clay images of the Goddess that were placed under a bridge did bring some cheer. For a while, I felt like a little girl eagerly waiting to take an idol home. The puja at my sister’s place was a simple affair. My brother-in-law worshipped the white Goddess while my sister cooked khichuri and other items for Devi’s bhog. I wore a sari like I used as a girl for Saraswati puja, trying to hold on to bits and pieces of my childhood memories, or was that a vain attempt?