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Who is Sarasvati?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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Sarasvati, also sometimes referred to as Saraswati, is one of the major goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. She is the goddess of the river, as well as of the arts, knowledge, and music. She has many similarities with the Greek figure of Apollo, although she is female. She is known as the consort of Brahma, the creator god of the trimurti, and along with Parvati and Lakshmi, the consorts of Vishnu and Shiva, she comprises the tridevi.

Sarasvati is said physically to be a beautiful goddess, with skin as white and shining as the moon. She is sometimes depicted as having eight arms, with each of her hands holds a symbol of her power, with one hand holding a trident, one a conch, one a pestle, one a bow, one an arrow, one a discus, one a bell, and one a plough. Her mount is usually either the peacock or the white swan. She may also be shown sometimes seated on a white lotus. Sarasvati is often said to be the mother of the Vedas, the holy written texts of Hinduism.

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Sarasvati has long been associated with a historical river in India, the Saraswati River, usually thought to be either the modern Ghaggar-Hakra River or the Helmand River. Originally Sarasvati was seen as a simple manifestation of that river, but eventually she grew into her own full character in the pantheon of Hinduism. The Saraswati River played a crucial role in the development of the Harappan Civilization, the culture that gave rise to the oldest known examples of writing in India. Many people think that it is this fact that led to the later personified goddess Sarasvati being the goddess of all knowledge, as it was her river that fostered the early written word.

In some myth cycles, Sarasvati is presented as a very active goddess, especially in matters pertaining to water. Some versions of the Vritra myth, in which the god Indra slays a mighty dragon who has hoarded the world’s water, feature Sarasvati as an important aid in his mighty battle. She is also sometimes said to have been the goddess responsible for taming Brahma, bringing order to the world. One myth says that he was infatuated with the goddess Shatarupa, who represented the material world he created. Sarasvati showed him how to focus his energy and become more settled, and he turned to chanting the Vedas instead of lusting after Shatarupa. She is sometimes referred to as the co-creator of the universe, assisting her mate Brahma with his task of creation.

As time passed, Sarasvati became less and less associated with the river, and her domain became much more clearly the world of the written word. It is said that she taught man to write so that he could write the songs of wisdom she sang, which in turn became the Vedas that were her children and the holy texts of man. She is the goddess of libraries and schools as well as of the written word, and many schools in India have statues in her honor.

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