Goddess Saraswati is the muse of learning and wisdom. Whether the learning is related to music or to formal education, blessings of Goddess Saraswati are necessary. She is worshipped on the day of Basant Panchami, one of the most auspicious days of the Hindu almanac.
Bengali community celebrates with gusto. The education of a child begins on this day. Therefore, Bengali families in the state capital are celebrating with great delight. Many children are waiting to start their education. No bells are, however, rung during the worship of the goddess. All musical instruments, books, pens, and pencils are kept at her feet.
Bengalis in the city are ready to welcome her. On the eve of Basant Panchami some of them told Free Press how they would worship Goddess in their childhood and how they are doing it now.
Dr Ruma Bhattacharya, psychiatrist
On Basant Panchami, Bengali children who are past their first birthday are taken to a temple of the Goddess Saraswati, a pencil or chalk is handed over to them and they are made to write an alphabet. It is compulsory for the students to take part in Saraswati Puja and keep their books and copies before the goddess. I used to keep the books of the subject which I found most tough before the Devi. Once, when I was in MBBS third year, I did not visit the temple on the day as I had to appear in an exam. And that year, my performance was not good. Since then, I haven't missed a single Puja. Now, I go to the temple wearing a yellow sari with a red border and keep my pen before the goddess.
Alok Chatterjee, director, MPSD
Bengalis, Tamils, and Maharashtrians are very traditional people. In Bengalis, Saraswati Puja is a community function. Parents take their little children to the pandal, armed with a new slate and a new packet of chalk. There, the pandit recites some shlokas, places a chalk in the hand of the child and makes him writes an alphabet. This ritual is called Hathekhodi. On this day, we wear yellow clothes, eat yellow-coloured food items and offer yellow flowers to the goddess. The prasad is Banarasi Ber, which the Bengalis start eating from this day. Saraswati Puja is a big event at Shantiniketan even today.
Shibani Ghosh, director, Parvarish, the museum school
Basant Panchami is a Bengali version of Valentine's Day. It celebrates love. With it begins the season of romance. We start eating ‘ber’ from that day. It is also a festival of learning. When I was a child, I used to await the festival as on that day I wasn't supposed to study. The books were reserved for the goddess. It is the day of yellow colour. On that day we do not eat non-vegetarian food. The bhog is khichdi and mixed vegetable, which is called labda. ‘Mutter’ and ‘Ber” are offered to Saraswati. Every year, I perform puja at my place and then go to Kali Badi.
Swastika Chakraborty, artiste
Basant Panchami celebrations are a day-long affair for us. Besides puja, drawing, sports and recitation contests are also organised. Tagore and Sukumar Ray have written many poems for children. The migrant Bengalis make sure that their children recite these poems. The idea is to introduce Bengali children living out of Bengal to their language and culture. It is also 'Prem Divas' for the Bengalis. It is customary to propose on to one' love on that day. This tradition was started by Tagore at Shantiniketan. On the day 'Gotta', comprising six pieces of six types of vegetables are prepared in Dal. It is eaten the next day. It is supposed to be eaten only by mothers. Bhog offered to the goddess includes khichdi, chatni and kheer, which is prepared with Khajur gur. As children, we enjoyed Basant Panchami as we were not asked to study on that day.