Saraswati is strongly associated with flowing water in her role as a
goddess of knowledge. She is depicted as a beautiful woman to embody the
concept of knowledge as supremely alluring. She possesses four arms, and is
usually shown wearing a spotless white saree
and seated on a white lotus
or riding a white swan.

Gods became lords of the celestial spheres; humans walked on earth. The sun
rose and set, the moon waxed and waned, the tide flowed and ebbed. Seasons
changed, seeds germinated, plants bloomed and withered, animals migrated
and reproduced as randomness gave way to the rhythm of life.

“Knowledge helps man find possibilities where once he saw problems,” said
the goddess. Under her tutelage Brahma acquired the ability to sense,
think, comprehend and communicate. He began looking upon chaos with eyes of
wisdom and thus saw the beautiful potential that lay therein.

Saraswati was the first being to come into Brahma’s world. Brahma began to
look upon her with eyes of desire. She turned away saying, “All I offer
must be used to elevate the spirit, not to indulge the senses.”

Brahma could not control his amorous thoughts and his infatuation for the
lovely goddess grew. He continued to stare at Saraswati. He gave himself
four heads facing every direction so that he could always be able to feast
his eyes on Saraswati’s beauty.

Saraswati moved away from Brahma, first taking the form of a cow. Brahma
followed her as a bull. Saraswati then changed into a mare; Brahma gave
chase as a horse. Every time Saraswati turned into a bird or a beast he
followed her as the corresponding male equivalent, thus giving life to all
the creatures on earth.

The goddess with multiple forms came to be known as Shatarupa. She
personified material reality, alluring yet fleeting.

*Saraswati Curses Brahma*

Angered by his display of unbridled passion Saraswati cursed Brahma, “You
have filled the world with longing that is the seed of unhappiness. You
have fettered the soul in the flesh. You are not worthy of reverence. May
there be hardly any temple or festival in your name.”

So it came to pass that there are only three temples of Brahma in India;
one at Pushkar, Rajasthan, the other in Kumbhakonam, Tamil Nadu and at
Brmhakarmali in Goa.

Undaunted by the curse, Brahma continued to cast his lustful looks upon
Saraswati. He gave himself a fifth head to enhance his gaze.
Bhairava, Shiva, Confronts Brahma

Brahma’s action motivated by desire confined consciousness and excited the
ego. It disturbed the serenity of the cosmos and roused Shiva, the supreme
ascetic from his meditation.

Shiva opened his eyes, sensed Saraswati’s discomfort and in a fit of rage
turned into Bhairava, lord of terror. His eyes were red, his growl
menacing. He lunged towards Brahma and with his sharp claws, wretched off
Brahma’s fifth head. The violence subdued Brahma’s passion.

Brahma’s cut head seared through Bhairava’s flesh and clung to his hand
sapping him of all his strength and driving him mad. The lord of terror
ranted and raved losing control of his senses.

Saraswati, pleased with Bhairava’s timely action, rushed to his rescue.
With her gentle touch she nursed him like a child, restoring his sanity.

Brahma, sobered by his encounter with the Lord of terror sought an escape
from the maze of his own desire. Saraswati revealed to him the doctrine for
his own liberation.

Brahma sought to conduct a yagna, fire sacrifice, to cleanse himself and
start anew. In order to conduct a yagna ritual the assistance of a wife is
needed. Brahma chose Saraswati to be his wife and thus they were reconciled.
Saraswati, her Veena and the song of the Gandharva

The Gandharvas were demigods who sprang from the fragrance of flowers. Once
they stole the Soma plant whose inebriating and invigorating sap was much
sought after by the devas. The theft of the Soma infuriated all the gods.

Saraswati promised to recover the soma plant. She went to the garden of the
gandharvas and with her veena created enchanting tunes: the ragas and the

“Give us this music,” begged the gandharvas.

“Only if you give back the Soma plant to the devas,” said the goddess.

The gandharvas returned the Soma plant and learned how to play music from
Saraswati. In time they became celestial musicians whose melodies had more
power to rouse the mind than any intoxicant.

In the end the Trinity of Gods, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu , and Lord Brahma
settles the dispute by explaining the importance of knowledge, wealth, and
strength combined, and how dangerous it is if each power goes separately.

The four hands also depict this thus—prose is represented by the book in
one hand, poetry by the garland of crystal, and music by the veena. The pot
of sacred water represents purity in all of these three, or their power to
purify human thought.

“May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and
whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops, who is adorned in
radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose
throne is a white lotus, who is surrounded and respected by the Gods,
protect me. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.”

A hansa / hans or swan is often located
next to her feet. The sacred bird, if offered a mixture of milk and water,
is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes
discrimination between the good and the bad or the eternal and the
evanescent. Due to her association with the bird, Saraswati is also
referred to as Hansvahini, which means “she who has a hansa / hans as her

She is usually depicted near a flowing river, which may be related to her
early history as a river goddess.

Sometimes a peacock is shown beside
the goddess. The peacock represents arrogance and pride
over its beauty, and by having a peacock as her mount,
the goddess teaches not to be concerned with external appearance and to be
wise regarding the eternal truth.
Respect for written material

In India, it is customary that, out of respect,
when a person’s foot accidentally touches a book or any written material
(which are considered a manifestation of Saraswati) or another person’s
leg, it will be followed by an apology in the form of a single hand gesture
(Pranāma ) with the right hand,
where the offending person first touches the object with the fingertips and
then the eyes, forehead and/or chest. This also counts for money, which is
considered a manifestation of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi


Yaa Kundendu tushaara haara-dhavalaa, Yaa shubhra-vastra’avritaa

Yaa veena-vara-danda-manditakara, Yaa shweta padma’asana

Yaa brahma’achyuta shankara prabhritibhir Devai-sadaa Vanditaa

Saa Maam Paatu Saraswati Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadya’apahaa.

Shuklaam Brahmavichaara Saara paramaam Aadhyaam Jagadvyapinim,

Veena Pustaka Dhaarineem Abhayadaam Jaadya’andhakaara’apahaam

Haste Sphaatika Maalikam Vidadhateem Padmasane Sansthitaam

Vande taam Parmeshwareem Bhagavateem Buddhipradaam Shardam.

English Translation

She, who is as fair as the Kunda flower, white as the moon, and a garland
of Tushar flowers;and who is covered in white clothes

She, whose hands are adorned by the excellent veena, and whose seat is the
pure white lotus;

She, who is praised by Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh;

O Mother Goddess, remove my mental inertia!