Saraswati Puja

OF CUPID AND YELLOW SARIS – A FESTIVAL TO WORSHIP THE GODDESS OF KNOWLEDGE

Goddess Saraswati is worshipped on the occasion of Basant Panchami with great fan fare in Bengal. She is the Goddess of Knowledge and is mainly worshipped by students, usually at homes. Call it a tradition or a religious diktat, one is not supposed to study on Saraswati Puja. Now, who needs a better reason to cast aside books for one day and have fun? And that too, legitimately! I used to place all the books of my most dreaded subjects beside the idol for the whole day. Next morning, I used to collect them, write “Om Saraswatya Nama” on a piece of paper and then start studying vigorously. After all, final examinations always used to be some 2 weeks away and I had to make up for one day of lost time.

Saraswati Puja can also be considered as the Valentine’s Day of Bengalis, especially for the teenaged lovers. It’s a day when they can go out of the house, spend as much time as possible with their loved ones and not be questioned by their parents. You can roam around with ten different boys throughout the year, but the one guy you will be seen on Saraswati Puja is sure to be your boyfriend! I remember on a particular year, I stopped to speak to a guy friend on the road and for the next two weeks, I had to fight wild rumours of that guy being my boyfriend just because we were spotted together on Saraswati Puja! 

I have also seen so many love stories make and break on this occasion. Cupid manages to strike Bengalis in strange ways on this particular day. While I was in school, I used to visit a friend’s place every year to offer pushpanjali (offering of flowers). After the puja, both of us used to carry prasad to neighbouring houses. My friend had been eyeing a particular guy in her neighbourhood for quite sometime and, finally managed a chance to speak to him on a particular Saraswati Puja, when we went to his house with prasad. It should be mentioned here, that his house was a bit further down the lane and not one of the houses, where we were instructed to visit. Even more noteworthy is the conversation they had:

My friend: This is Saraswati Puja prasad from our house.

The Guy: Thanks! I will return the plate right now.

One more charming thing about Saraswati Puja is that girls always wear a sari, whether her age is 5 years or 25 years! Saraswati Puja is probably the only festival where even young girls embrace sari in the most enthusiastic fashion. And the preferred colour is usually hues of yellow. It’s always a pleasing sight to see young girls, looking resplendent in yellow saris moving around in groups. One would also find an equally enthusiastic group of young boys, in ethnic attire eyeing the pretty girls to determine which one, each of them would prefer as his “girl”.

I myself have a disastrous history of wearing a sari. Being the tomboy that I was, whenever I managed to wear a sari, I used to end up with half the garment in my hand at the end of the day. But slowly the sari grew on me and during college days, I used to wear one every year on the occasion of Saraswati Puja, and that too in the Bengali style which Sanjay Leela Bhansali made so famous.

In my law school, Saraswati Puja is a wholly student-managed affair. Right from buying the idol, to shopping for the puja, to cooking the bhog, to even conducting the puja, the students do it all. I have been involved in the affairs every year, and always took active part in it. Each and every year holds special memories of the occasion for me. Being creatively inclined, I used to take the initiative of drawing a rangoli in front of the idol every year. I always had to wake up at around 5 am, gather all volunteers and finish the rangoli by 8-30 am, before the puja is started.

Another great thing about our college celebrations is that any interested student of any caste, creed or religion could be a part of the puja celebrations. I sat for puja for two consecutive years from my batch and it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. There is always one student, who knows all the rituals and guides the rest of the students through the process.

In my final year, my first cousin got married the day before Saraswati Puja and there were a number of rituals lined up for the next day. I gave all that a miss, rushed to college, sat for the puja and then rushed back post-lunch, just in time to catch my cousin’s bidaai function. Despite all the rushing to and fro that I had to make across the length of the city that day, I was glad that I did not miss my final Saraswati Puja in campus.

Lunch bhog in college always comprised of delectable khichdi, mixed vegetables, eggplant fry, chutney, kheer and sweets. Students line up on the floor and are served by the volunteers. Being a senior in law school always meant forcing the kid of the first year to serve extra helpings of sweets or kheer.

Evenings used to be spent by organising one of the most popular programmes – inter-batch antakshari competition, where, somehow, every year, the team comprising of the final year of students used to win. Sometimes, one or two enthusiastic faculty also joined in to give a hard competition to the students.

Dinner again used to be vegetarian affair, but I, despite being a hardcore non-vegetarian, for once, never complained about it.

Memories of Saraswati Puja, right from the school days to my college life are my most cherished ones among all the festivals. Since, I can no longer enjoy the celebrations of Saraswati Puja any more, every year, on the occasion, I terribly miss those care-free days. 
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An article by Debosmita who blogs at Life's many whispers

comment 4 comments:

Abha Midha on October 15, 2010 at 10:54 AM said...

Hi Debosmita... a lovely account of Saraswati Puja. I had no clue that this day is also a 'Valentine's day' of sorts :). Even here in Faridabad women do wear yellow on Basant Panchami and children pray to the goddess to receive blessings for a gr8 academic performance.

Annu Neil on October 15, 2010 at 12:19 PM said...

Debosmita- You took me on those memory lanes through this wonderful write up. We did the first Puja. When we joined the campus was yet to be build and we all lived in rented apartments (DN-61). I have cooked bhog for 5 years and yes like you couldn't miss a single puja. Will share some pictures of our batch on saraswati puja. You write so well. Keep it going.

Debosmita on October 16, 2010 at 8:22 AM said...

Abha - Firstly, thank you so much for taking time out to read my post. The 'valentine's day' phenomenon is more pronounced in Bengal than any other part of the country. I have grown up noticing it all throughout.

Annu - Being from my law school, you are sure to appreciate the sentiments associated with this celebration :-) Thank you so much and I am glad that I brought back some memories for you.

BK Chowla, on October 16, 2010 at 1:40 PM said...

Frankly, I was not aware of all this.Thanks for sharing so much info.

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