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Goddess in the Spotlight
by Ruth Temple
Beltane 2003, Vol 2-3
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MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
Girl Practicing the Veena
Courtesy of Kamat's Potpourri.
"greatest of mothers, greatest of rivers and greatest of goddesses" (Hindu Vedas)

Sarasvati, or Saraswati, is a Hindu goddess of music and learning and an active giver of creativity. She is also a river, long dried up and nearly forgotten, that once flowed from the Himalayas through one of the world¹s largest deserts in northwest India. Today, this ancient river is being explored and may some day be restored.(1)

The mythology around the drying and disappearance of the river in the 4th century BCE is that Sarasvati was chosen by the gods to take fire (agni) to the ocean. Creating an encapsulated body of her waters, she took the fire to the ocean to be extinguished, and in so doing was herself consumed. Her purity made her sacrifice possible (people would bathe and nourish themselves in her mountain-fed waters and potable water under her dry riverbed was discovered in exploratory wells dug in 1998). Additionally, the story can be seen as illustrating both the shift in the developing Upanishads of the 4th century BCE from spiritual practices of fire sacrifices to those of mental development and also the shift from movement to sound in Sarasvati as goddess of learning, knowledge, and music.

Sarasvati is powerful in both body and mind and thus a source of creative inspiration. Her worship includes the blessing of books, and as She is invoked on her sacred day, little children are asked to try out or show their first letters.The day after her puja (celebration), students take up their books and read out loud from them.

She is pictured as a light-skinned woman with four arms and a gentle expression, seated and holding a vina [VEE-na] (a four-octave stringed instrument), with a conch shell symbolizing purity, and a book, representing learning, knowledge and wisdom.

Sarasvati appears outside of Hinduism in Jainism and Mahayana Buddhism, and thus has made her way from India to Tibet and Japan. She is also favored by multicultural Pagan scholars in America.

+ Rama Lakshmi, "Attempt to Find Ancient Indian Waterway Proves Controversial," bc-india as reported in The Charlotte Observer.

+ For further information about the River Saraswati pay a visit to Sarasvati Sindhu
+ Read the Washington Post article, A Hindu Quest for Some Holy Water.
On the change of ritual from outer sacrifice to inner knowledge-seeking, see Saraswati: River Goddess.
For more information on Saraswati¹s iconography, see Saraswati: Iconographic Symbolism.

Graphic Credits
+ Girl Practicing the Veena, courtesy of Kamat's Potpourri. Copyright © 1996-2002. All Rights Reserved

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