Sarasvathi, the goddess of learning and knowledge is depicted as the wife of Brahma, the creator of the world. She is represented as an extremely beautiful woman with milk-white complexion, sitting or standing on a water lily and playing a veena.
She presides over and protects every form of art and is credited with the invention of writing. Whenever, a student is initiated into any new art, worship of this goddess is performed. She is also called Vagvadini, the deity of eloquence. She is also the goddess of speech, the power through which knowledge expresses itself in action.
Literally Sarasvathi means, “the flowing one”. In the Vedas she represents a river and the deity presiding over it. Hence she is connected with fertility and purification. The “ flowing one” can represent speech also, allegorically. Perfect speech presupposes power and intelligence from which organized creation proceeds.
Here are some of the names used to describe her: – S(h)arada, giver of essence, Vagis(h)vari, the mistress of speech, Brahmi , the wife of Brahma, Mahavidya, knowledge of Supreme. Knowledge is the antithesis of the darkness of ignorance. Hence she is depicted as pure white in colour. Since she is the representation of all sciences, arts, crafts and skills, she has to be extraordinarily beautiful and graceful. Clad in a spotless white apparel and seated on a lotus seat, she holds in her hands, a veena, akshamala (rosary) and book.
Being the consort of Brahma, the creator, she represents his power and intelligence, without which organized creation is impossible. That she is seen in white shows that this intelligent power is stupendous.
Being the goddess of learning, it is but proper that she is shown holding a book in her left hand. This represents all areas of secular sciences. The veena , she holds, shows the need for cultivation of fine arts to show that higher feelings, sentiments and emotions are necessary besides intellectual learning. The akshamala in the right hand symbolizes all spiritual sciences.
Two mounts, the swan and the peacock are attributed to her. The peacock with its beautiful plumage stands for this world in all its glory. This symbolizes Avidya or secular knowledge. The swan, which is supposed to possess the peculiar power of separating milk from water stands for Vidya or spiritual illumination. This shows that we transcend hunger and thirst through the secular sciences and then alone can obtain immortality through the spiritual sciences. It is to teach this great truth to us that Mother Sarasvati
has chosen the two mounts, the swan and the peacock.
Let us close with this verse on Mahasarasvathi from Devi Mahatmiyam:
Vidhyah samasthah thava daevi baedhah
Sthriyah samasthah sakalaa jagathsu
All the arts and sciences are your aspects; so are all the different women in the world your form.