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Basant Panchami

The auspicious day of Vasant Panchami witnesses celebration of different Hindu festivals in different states of India. While Vasant means 'spring', Panchami means 'the fifth day'. This festival follows the Hindu calendar and falls on the fifth day that is on Panchami of the bright half of the month of Magha that corresponds to sometime in the months of January or February. The day marks the onset of spring and is considered to be the birth date of Goddess Saraswati, the deity of knowledge and arts. The festivals observed on this day include Saraswati Puja (Shree Panchami), Basant Festival of Kites in Punjab, Sufi Basant and the birthday of Deo-Sun God in Bihar.

There are many legendary stories associated with Vasant Panchami celebration. According to Indian literature, Vasant Panchami is linked to Shringara Rasam, one of the nine rasas or flavours, which generally relates to love, attraction and beauty. Till present Kamadeva or Kama, the Hindu God of love and desire is honoured along with his wife Rati and Vasant, the personified representation of spring during celebration of the festival. Legend says during ancient times female dancers along with dholkis would perform in the informal durbar in the palace of the royal Bakshi singing different ragas based on the theme of love and would shower red gulal with flowers at the end of the celebration accepting money from the royal women.

This day also marks the beginning of spring and the forty days period when Kamadeva's wife Rati performed penance for her husband's misdeeds against Lord Shiva. The forty days period ends with the celebration of Holi and within these forty days people make preparations for burning the Holika by gradually forming a pyre with logs, twigs and other inflammable items to be lit on Holi.

Another legend says that Goddess Saraswati was born on this day and people worship this deity of education and learning on this auspicious day to achieve insight, awareness and wisdom through knowledge. It is said that Goddess Saraswati was granted a boon by Lord Krishna that people will worship her on this day.

According to Hindu mythology, Kalidasa tried to take his life for being forbidden by his newly wedded wife for his foolishness. At that point Goddess Saraswati came out from the waters and instructed him to take a dip following which he attained knowledge and wisdom and eventually became a renowned poet. Thus people revere this day by worshipping Goddess Saraswati to attain knowledge.

Yet another legendary story elucidates initiation and celebration of this festival from the Aryan era. It is believed that the Aryans travelled through Khyber Pass and crossed the Saraswati River to reach India. They settled in India and gradually the Saraswati River became an important resource for development of their civilization following which the celebration might have become a routine.

Goddess Saraswati & Vasant Panchami
It is believed that Vasant Panchami day is the birth date of Goddess Saraswati who the Hindus worship as the Goddess of knowledge, arts, culture and enlightenment. The usual form of worshipping Goddess Saraswati at Vasant Panchami is to take a bath in the morning and then set up a kalash (a pot). Then Goddess Saraswati is worshipped after offering prayers to Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and the Sun God following which coloured powder is sprinkled in the air.

Goddess Saraswati is worshipped in different states of India as also in Nepal with great grandeur and dedication and the festival is referred as Saraswati Puja or Sri Panchami. Vasant Panchami is dedicated to Saraswati puja in eastern regions of India and in Nepal. It is also observed in Uttar Pradesh where people celebrate the festival by singing religious verses.

Celebrations are observed in schools, colleges and other educational institutes, in temples as also in households. The idol of the goddess is draped in either white or yellow sari, people perform pujas in the morning using Marigold, Palash and Guldaudi flowers and Bael leaves and Sandal paste. The offerings to the Goddess referred as Naivedhya consists of sweets and fruits like jujube fruit (popularly known as Ber or kul), dates, apples and bananas, which are served among the devotees after the puja. The yellow colour holds significance during Vasant Panchami as it is associated with the colour of mustard flowers that bloom during this time. A yellow theme prevails during this time with people wearing yellow clothes, savouring Basanti pulao that is sweet saffron rice and also preparing and consuming yellow sweets.

This day is also believed most auspicious to initiate children to the world of learning and education, a ritual referred as Vidya-Arambham/Praasana or Akshar-Abhyasam, considered to be one of the most significant parts of the festival. In Bengal the ritual is called 'Hathe Khori' when the child is assisted in writing the first words by the priest. Students refrain from studies on that day and keep their books, notebooks, pens, pencils and other educational stuff at the feet of the Goddess to seek her blessings. Cultural functions and gatherings also take place. A tiny clay pot filled with a mix of milk and water from Holy Ganges with a small twig carved in the shape of a pen or pencil inserted in it is kept by the side of deity during the festival. On the next day students write the name of the Goddess on a leaf with the help of the small twig soaked with the liquid in the pot and offer it at the feet of Goddess Saraswati seeking blessings for education and wisdom. The idol of the deity is finally immersed in river praying her to come again next year.

In South India Saraswati Puja is observed in the Ashwin month of Hindu calendar on the ninth day during Navratri.

Celebrations & Traditions
Vasant Panchami is observed in different parts of India in different ways. In Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra people offer prayers to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati with mango flowers and ears made of wheat, a tradition that is followed for ages.

In Bihar's Aurangabad district people celebrate the birthday of Sun-Deo God, whose shrine was set up by King Aila of Allahabad on the day of Vasant Panchami.

At Amritsar's Harmandir Sahib the Sikhs initiate singing of the Basant Raga on this day that continues till the first day of Vaisakh.

Again in the district of Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, the Sikhs organise a fair at the renowned Sikh shrine of Guru-ka-Lahore to celebrate and commemorate the marriage of Guru Gobind Singh Ji that took place on this auspicious day.

It is also observed as a harvest festival in many states like Bihar and Bengal. People in Uttarakhand offer prayers to Mother Earth and the crops along with Goddess Saraswati apart from following other rituals related to agriculture and harvesting.

In Punjab, the Basant Festival of Kites is celebrated with great enthusiasm by people of all faiths marking it as a colourful occasion. Basant is also celebrated by Muslims at Delhi's Nizamuddin Dargah and in all the Dargahs of the Chishti order.