Vasant Panchami or Saraswati puja : Significance, history and celebration in India
Vasant Panchami or Basant Panchami is also celebrated as Saraswati Puja in some eastern parts of India and in the southern part of India it is celebrated as Sri Panchami, it is a festival that marks the groundwork for the arrival of spring. The festival is celebrated in different ways depending upon the region in the Indian subcontinent. Vasant Panchami also marks the start of preparation for Holika and Holi, which takes place forty days later. The Vasant Panchami is celebrated forty days before Spring, because any season’s transition period is 40 days, and after that, the season comes into full blossom.
When is Vasant Panchami celebrated?
Vasant Panchami is celebrated every year on the fifth day of the bright half of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Magha, which typically falls in late January or February. Spring is known as the “King of all Seasons”, so the festival commences forty days in advance. It is generally winter-like in northern India, and more spring-like in central and western parts of India on Vasant Panchami, which gives credence to the fact that Spring is actually in full bloom 40 days after the Vasant Panchami day.
How is Vasant Panchami celebrated?
Many families mark this day by sitting with babies and young children, encouraging their children to write their first words with their fingers, and some study or create music together. The day before Vasant Panchami, Saraswati’s temples are filled with food so that she can join the celebrants in the traditional feasting the following morning. In temples and educational institutions, statues of Saraswati are dressed in yellow and worshiped. Many educational institutions arrange special prayers or pujas in the morning to seek the blessing of the goddess. Poetic and musical gatherings are held in some communities in reverence for Saraswati.
In the Punjab region, Basant is celebrated as a seasonal festival by all faiths and is known as the Basant Festival of Kites. Children buy Dor (Thread) and Guddi or “Patang” (Kites) for the sport. The people of Punjab wear yellow clothes and eat yellow rice to emulate the yellow mustard (sarson) flower fields, or play by flying kites. The tradition of flying kites on various festivals is also found in northern and western Indian states: Hindus in Rajasthan and especially in Gujarat associate kite flying with the period prior to Uttarayan; in Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), kites are flown on Dussehra; in Bengal, kite flying takes place on Viskwakarma Puja in September. The sport is also found in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and parts of south India.
In Nepal, Bihar, and eastern states of India such as West Bengal including north-eastern states like Tripura and Assam, people visit Saraswati temples and worship the goddess Saraswati (Saraswati Puja). Most of the schools arrange special Saraswati puja for their students on their premises. In Bangladesh, all major educational institutes and universities observe it with a holiday and a special puja.
History of Basant Panchami in Punjab-
Namdhari Sikhs have historically celebrated Basant Panchami to mark the beginning of spring.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh Empire, encouraged the celebration of Basant Panchami as a social event in the Gurdwaras. In 1825 CE he gave 2,000 rupees to the Harmandir Sahib Gurdwara in Amritsar to distribute food. He held an annual Basant fair and sponsored kite flying as a regular feature of the fairs. Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his queen Moran would dress in yellow and fly kites on Basant Panchami. Nihangs go to Patiala on Basant Panchami and dress in Pink and Yellow on the month of Vaisakh (not only Basant Panchami day).
How it is celebrated in Bangladesh and Bengal-
The first day of Spring (Boshonto) of Bengali month Falgun, of the Bengali calendar, celebrated in Bangladesh and West Bengal with processions, fairs, and family time. In Bengali, Pahela stands for ‘first’ and ‘Falgun’ is the eleventh month of the Bengali calendar. This day is marked with colorful celebration and traditionally, women wear yellow saris to celebrate this day. This celebration is also as Boshonto Utshob.
Vasant Panchami celebration in Pakistan-
Vasant Panchami is not only celebrated in India but also in Lahore, Pakistan Kite flying in Lahore goes back centuries. After the creation of Pakistan, it evolved into a highly competitive sport that is not limited to “Basant” only. There are regional teams, competitions, and trophies. Kite And string making is an industry all over central Punjab providing livelihood to thousands.
Basant Panchmi, the prominent festival of Hindus, was adopted by Indian Muslim Sufis in the 12th century to mark the grave of the Muslim Sufi saint dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi and ever since, has been observed by the Chishti order.
Feature image credit – kashmirlife & News18