In Indian Culture
Why do we celebrate Sarasvati Puja?
When you worship Isvara (Lord), it is the power of Isvara, that is worshipped, not Brahman. It is the sarvajïa, the all-knowing Lord that is invoked and not the satyam jïänam anantam brahma. In order to know the satyam jïänam anatam brahma, you are invoking the sarvajïa, the all-knowing Lord. Similarly, the Lord is invoked in various aspects. On Ganesha chathurthi day, the Lord (Ganesha) is invoked as one who removes obstacles. On Sarasvati-püjä day, the Lord is invoked as all jïäna, knowledge.
Worshipping of books and tools
Goddess Sarasvati is worshipped on the ninth day of the Dasara or Navarätri festival by creating an altar of books. It is amazing that you can create an altar of books and worship it. You will find not only books, but also musical instruments such as the vinä or the flute.
The tenth day is Vijayadasami, when all the work tools are worshipped. It is called äyudha-püjä. No one likes to visit a blacksmith. However, you should visit him on the Vijayadasami day. The place will be absolutely clean. You will find sandal paste, flowers and garlands everywhere. Even the bellows will be cleaned-up and there will be no ashes. On that day, all the buses are adorned with lots of kumkuma or vermilion, sandal paste and flowers. In all cities, the drivers do the püjä in the morning before they start work. Even in government undertakings, any sädhana or tool such as a typewriter or computer is worshipped. There is jïäna involved in every tool, even in a simple spanner. On the Sarasvati-püjä day, we worship knowledge; books and musical instruments are worshipped. Vijayadasami day is the day of technology or applied knowledge.
Everything is sacred
It takes a certain heart, a certain way of looking at things, to worship books and tools. The concept of Isvara (Lord) makes it unique. Nothing is separate from Isvara. All the saktis powers are worshipped.
All that we require is some symbol of knowledge. Any book contains certain knowledge, even if there are mistakes. Mistakes also imply jïäna, because to understand a mistake, you must have knowledge. Otherwise, you cannot know. To understand a mistake as being a mistake is jïäna. If you know the truth as it is, then it is true. If you mistake an untruth for the truth, it is a mistake. If what is untrue is understood to be untrue, then that is knowledge. What is the knowledge of mithyä? It is jïäna. For the unreal, ‘asat’, there is never any being, näsato vidyate bhävaù [Bhagavadgétä 2-16]. To understand what is not true, ‘asat’, is true, sat; this is jïäna.
It does not matter what the book is. When you see your own books as an altar, your attitude towards them is different. It is based on the sästra or scriptures. What we call Hindu religion is this Vedic vision. All prayers are connected to this vision and based on this view. These things are not possible unless you get your concept of Isvara straight. You cannot worship a dumb tool! That is what we think about tools, but there is nothing dumb about them. There is jïäna or order involved. If the spanner is too small or too big versus the hole, then it won’t work! There is law and order involved and all of this is bhagavän (Lord). All of life is thus, a process of sanctifying. From childhood, you learn to appreciate and look upon things as sacred. There is nothing profane in this world. This is how you are taught from childhood. This is so for all Hindus. They may not know Vedänta, but they certainly do know that everything is sacred. Everyone will say “sab bhagavän hai”, or everything is bhagavän (Lord). They may not know how and they may not have all the answers, but their attitude reflects this.
Navarätri festival in Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, many homes organize a golu (dolls) during the Navarätri festival. They assemble nine steps and on those steps, they display various forms made of clay, china, etc. You will find the whole world there. You will even find a doll of an Englishman on those steps. They make it out of clay and paint it. All forms are represented.
The top step is for devatas like Brahmä, Visnu and Siva. On the next step, you will see Ganessa etc. Then you will have the yakñas, kinnaras, angels, etc. that are described in the books. Then you will find all types of human beings; people from different countries and cultures. You will find all kinds of costumes. You will then find different kinds of animals, trees, and fruits. The whole jaga t(universe) is there. It is the jagat-rüpini-sakti. In some houses, they will bring in modern technology with a train track and trains running, water fountains, etc. All the ingenuity of man is employed!
Women call each other to visit their home. “Please visit my home and make it sacred”. Both unmarried girls and married women come, dressed in their silk saris and beautiful ornaments. Girls are asked to sing. They sing in praise of the Lord. As boys, we would go behind the girls and women and wait for prasäda distribution, then go on to the next house for their prasäda, and then the next house, and so on. We would then compare to see which house distributed the best prasäda, and visit them again to collect prasäda, a second time! This is the popular festival of nine nights, Navarätri.
Festivals and other cultural expressions help maintain values and attitudes
There are many festivals. I consider some of these to be very relevant to our life, to our outlook, to our attitudes and to our values. How do you bring this relevance out? You create a situation like this and through it, you demonstrate your attitudes. It is like sending flowers or a card for a birthday. In every culture, there are a few expressions like this. If these expressions and customs are removed, life will be empty. Life will be robotic. These things demonstrate and re-establish certain values and attitudes. Such actions bring out the sanctity of these festivals.
“It takes a certain heart, a certain way of looking at things, to worship books and tools. The concept of Isvara makes it unique. Nothing is separate from Isvara.”
Source: Published in Arsha Vidya Gurukulam and edited by Shri Krishnakumar (K.K.)
S Davey and Jayshree Ramakrishnan.