Monday, July 26, 2010

Sarasvathi in Classical Sanskrit poetry

It is not surprising that Sarasvathi, the Goddess of learning and poesy should be amply referred to in ancient Indian poetry in general and Sanskrit poetic literature in particular. Our ancestors broadly classified all branches of knowledge under two streams, Shastra referring to scientific literature and Kavya referring to poetic literature. Both these have been described as two separate manifestations of the Goddess .


²å uÉiqÉïlÉÏ ÌaÉUÉÇ SåurÉÉÈ zÉÉx§ÉgcÉ MüÌuÉMüqÉï cÉ |

mÉë¥ÉÉåmÉ¥ÉÇ iÉrÉÉåUÉ±Ç mÉëÌiÉpÉÉå°uÉqÉÎliÉqÉqÉç ||


Elsewhere it has been said that music and poetry are the two breasts of Goddess Sarasvathi, the former begetting joy the very moment it is heard and the latter producing greater and greater pleasure the more and more it is contemplated upon.


सङ्गीतमथ xÉÉÌWûirÉÇ xÉUxuÉirÉÉÈ xiÉlɲrÉqÉç |

LMüqÉÉmÉÉiÉqÉkÉÑUqÉlrÉSÉsÉÉåcÉlÉÉqÉ×iÉqÉç ||


Thus Goddess Sarasvathi is conceived as being inseparably connected with poetry. Indian poets consider her as their patron Goddess, SåuÉiÉÉ uÉÈ MüuÉÏlÉÉqÉç. as beautifully phrased by Vedanta Deshika in his Hamsa-sandesha. Sanskrit poets never fail to remember her at appropriate places in their works as the examples that follow illustrate.

References to the Goddess in connection with poets and poetry


MüuÉÏlSìuÉSlÉÉqpÉÉåeÉqÉÍhÉmÉgeÉUzÉÉËUMüÉqÉç |

cÉæiÉlrÉeÉsÉÍkÉerÉÉåixlÉÉÇ uÉlSå SåuÉÏÇ xÉUxuÉiÉÏqÉç ||


The above verse by Gangadevi describes Sarasvathi as the nightingale residing in the gem-studded cages of poets. mouth. She is also praised here as the moonlight that stirs up the dormant ocean of pure knowledge.


MüuÉÏlSìqÉÉlÉxÉÉqpÉÉåeÉÌlÉuÉÉxÉpÉëqÉUÏÇ lÉÑqÉÈ |

SåuÉÏÇ xÉWØûSrÉÉlÉlSzÉoSqÉÔÌiÉïÇ xÉUxuÉiÉÏqÉç ||


Somadeva in his Kathasaritsagara likens Goddess Sarasvathi to a bee hovering within the heart-lotuses of poets. Further, he also calls her the very embodiment of aesthetic delight experienced by connoisseurs.


uÉæSakrÉÍxÉ먂 ÌuÉSkÉÉiÉÑ SåuÉÏ MüuÉÏlSìÎeÉÀûÉgcÉsÉlÉiÉïMüÐ uÉÈ |

rÉÉÇ lÉÔmÉÑUxuÉÉlÉWØûiÉåuÉ ÌlÉirÉqÉÉxÉåuÉiÉåuÉÉWûqÉUÉsÉmÉÉsÉÏ ||


Mankha, in his Shrikanthacharitam, compares her with a dancer dancing on the tips of poets. tongues. He also fancies that swans wait upon her as vehicles because they are attracted to her feet that are adorned with jingling anklets.


MüUoÉSUxÉSØzÉqÉÎZÉsÉÇ pÉÑuÉlÉiÉsÉÇ rÉimÉëxÉÉSiÉÈ MüuÉrÉÈ |

mÉzrÉÎliÉ xÉÔ¤qÉqÉiÉrÉÈ xÉÉ eÉrÉÌiÉ xÉUxuÉiÉÏ SåuÉÏ ||


As described by Subandhu at the commencement his prose-romance, Vasavadatta, it is through the grace of Goddess Sarasvathi that poets are able to visualize the entire universe as if it were a mere myrobalan fruit held in the hollow of their palms. The same idea is echoed in the following verse by Parimalapadmagupta in his Navasahasankacharitam


cɤÉÑxiÉSÒlqÉåÌwÉ xÉSÉ qÉÑZÉå uÉÈ xÉÉUxuÉiÉÇ zÉɵÉiÉqÉÉÌuÉUxiÉÑ |

mÉzrÉÎliÉ rÉålÉÉuÉÌWûiÉÉÈMüuÉÏlSìÉÎx§ÉÌuɹmÉÉprÉliÉUuÉÌiÉï uÉxiÉÑ ||


Soddhala in his Udayasundarikatha likens her to the pupil in the mind.s eye of poets


SåuÉxrÉ mÉ.¡ûeÉpÉÑuÉÉå uÉSlÉÉimÉëxÉÔiÉÉ uÉÉcÉÉÇ mÉÌiÉpÉïaÉuÉiÉÏ eÉaÉiÉÏÇ mÉÑlÉÉiÉÑ |

rÉÉ uÉ.rÉÇ xÉmÉÌS ÌuɵÉqÉÑSϤÉrÉliÉÏ iÉÉUåuÉÌiɸÌiÉ qÉlÉÉålÉrÉlÉå MüuÉÏlÉÉqÉç ||


Nilakanthadikshita, in his Shivaleelarnava, compares day-to-day speech that is unembellished with Sarasvathi.s childhood and the Vedic lore with her old-age. It is poetry alone that qualifies as her enchanting youth


oÉÉsrÉÇ ÌuÉSÒÈ mÉëÉM×üiÉpÉÉÌwÉiÉÉÌlÉ ´ÉÑÌiÉxqÉ×iÉÏ uÉ×®SzÉÉÇ uÉSÎliÉ |

xÉÉÌWûirÉqÉåMüliÉÑ ÌaÉUÉÇxÉÌuɧrÉÉxiÉÉÂhrÉqÉѪÉRûqÉÑzÉlirÉÍpÉ¥ÉÉÈ ||


It is by obtaining the elixir of her grace that poets live forever with fame for their physical frame. The following verse by Purushottamadeva, quoted in Saduktikarnamruta, mirrors this idea apart from praising her as the wish-yielding cow of plenty for her devotees


rÉxrÉÉÈ mÉëxÉÉSmÉUqÉÉhÉÑUxÉÉrÉlÉålÉ MüsmÉÉliÉUå xÉÑMüÌuÉMüÐÌiÉïzÉUÏUqÉÎxiÉ |

rÉÉ MüÉqÉkÉålÉÑËUuÉ MüÉqÉzÉiÉÉÌlÉ SåuÉÏ SÒakuÉÉmÉërÉcNûÌiÉ lÉqÉÉÍqÉ xÉUxuÉiÉÏÇ iÉÉqÉç ||


Sarasvathi as a remover of ignorance and bestower of knowledge

In the words of Mankha, when the swans that form Sarasvathi.s vehicle flap their wings forcefully, the dust of ignorance in the minds of her devotees is swept away.


rÉÉ uÉåaÉlÉ×irÉSìjÉWÇûxÉmɤÉmÉÑOæûËUuÉÉ¥ÉÉÌlÉUeÉÈ mÉëqÉÉ̹ï |

xÉÉ ÍcɨÉMÔüsÉ.¡ûwÉSÉåwÉzÉÉåwÉÇ mÉÑwhÉÉiÉÑ uÉÉcÉÉqÉÍkÉSåuÉiÉÉ uÉÈ ||


The following verse quoted in Subhashitaratnabhandagara calls Sarasvathi the touchstone of intelligence since she reveals the ignorant as different from the intelligent by their speech alone


mÉÉiÉÑ uÉÉå ÌlÉMüwÉaÉëÉuÉÉ qÉÌiÉWåûqlÉÈ xÉUxuÉiÉÏ |

mÉë¥ÉåiÉUmÉËUcNåûSÇ uÉcÉxÉæuÉ MüUÉåÌiÉ rÉÉ ||


She is that divine light by whose touch melts away the darkness of delusion


iÉ̬urÉqÉurÉrÉÇ kÉÉqÉ xÉÉUxuÉiÉqÉÑmÉÉxqÉWåû |

rÉimÉëxÉÉSÉimÉësÉÏrÉliÉå qÉÉåWûÉlkÉiÉqÉxÉzNûOûÉÈ ||


Sarasvathi as the patron Goddess of arts

The following verse compares Sarasvathi to the holy cow. Milked by the family of artists, she bestows on it the sweet milk of good sayings. She is adorned with a resounding bell in the form of the divine syllable .OM.


mÉëhÉÉæÍqÉ YuÉhÉSÉå.¡ûÉUqÉÍhÉbÉhOûÉÌuÉpÉÔÌwÉhÉÏqÉç |

MüsÉÉsÉÉåMüMÑüOÒûqoÉxrÉ xÉÔÌ£ükÉålÉÑÇ xÉUxuÉiÉÏqÉç ||


Physical aspects of Sarasvathi

The pearl-white complexion of Sarasvathi is an oft-mentioned characteristic. She is also described as residing in the mouths of Brahma. The sportive parrot she holds in her hand, the lute she plays and the rosary she carries are also alluded to by poets. She is usually described as riding a swan and rarely a peacock. Dhanapala, in his Tilkamanjari, fancifully describes that Sarasvathi is white in complexion because she is constantly bathed in the luster of Brahma.s teeth.


AurÉÉ.aÉÎliÉ mÉÑÂwÉÉå¨ÉqÉlÉÉÍpÉxÉÔiÉåSåïuÉxrÉ uÉY§ÉMüqÉsÉÉåSUqÉÉÌuÉzÉlirÉÉÈ |

kÉÉæiÉåuÉ SliÉÌMüUhÉmÉëMüUåhÉ qÉÔÌiÉïSåïurÉÉÌaÉUÉqÉÍkÉmÉiÉåÈ zÉUÌSlSÒaÉÉæUÏ ||


Dandi.s Kavyadarsha begins with a prayer addressed to Sarasvathi in which she is described as all-white in complexion and compared to a swan sporting in the lotus pond of Brahma.s faces.


cÉiÉÑqÉÑïZÉqÉÑZÉÉqpÉÉåeÉuÉlÉWÇûxÉuÉkÉÔqÉïqÉ |

qÉÉlÉxÉå UqÉiÉÉÇ ÌlÉirÉÇ xÉuÉïzÉÑYsÉÉ xÉUxuÉiÉÏ ||


In yet another verse taken from Subhashitaratnabhandagara, she is spoken of as sporting in the throat of Brahma, the crossway where his four heads meet.


kÉÉiÉѶÉiÉÑqÉÑïZÉÏMühPûzÉ×.¡ûÉOûMüÌuÉWûÉËUhÉÏqÉç |

ÌlÉirÉÇ mÉëaÉspÉuÉÉcÉÉsÉÉqÉÑmÉÌiɸå xÉUxuÉiÉÏqÉç ||


Kaviraja, the author of Raghavapandaviyam, beautifully describes the parrot in Sarasvathi.s hands as being held captive in the cage formed by the rays emanating from her fingernails.


mÉÑlÉÉiÉÑ uÉÈ xÉUxuÉirÉÉ ÌuÉsÉÉxÉÍzÉzÉÑMüÈ zÉÑMüÈ |

MüUÉÇzÉÑqÉrÉqÉÉÍhÉYrÉmÉgeÉUÉliÉUaÉÉåcÉUÈ ||


Bilhana, in his Vikramankadevacharitam, fancies the pearl rosary in Sarasvathi.s hand as the cluster of heavenly bodies that has, out of jealousy directed towards Brihaspati, the lord of speech, taken refuge in her in order to gain proficiency in speech.


uÉcÉÉÇÍxÉ uÉÉcÉxmÉÌiÉqÉixÉUåhÉ xÉÉUÉÍhÉ sÉokÉÑÇ aÉëWûqÉhQûsÉÏuÉ |

qÉÑ£üɤÉxÉÔ§ÉiuÉqÉÑmÉæÌiÉ rÉxrÉÉÈ xÉÉ xÉmÉëxÉÉSxiÉÑxÉUxuÉiÉÏ uÉÈ ||


The following verse by Kankana, taken from Saduktikarnamruta, describes how Sarasvathi.s sprout-like fingers play upon the lute and how the bangles of her hand dance to its tune


uÉÏhÉÉYuÉÉhÉsÉrÉÉåssÉÉÍxÉsÉÉåsÉS.¡ÓûÍsÉmÉssÉuÉÈ |

pÉÉUirÉÉÈ mÉÉiÉÑ pÉÔiÉÉÌlÉ mÉÉÍhÉsÉïÍxÉiÉMü.¡ûhÉÈ ||


The praise of speech in general as a manifestation of Sarasvathi

The following verse from Subhashitaratnabhandagara praises divine speech as that secret principle which though not perceived by the eyes manifests the world by removing darkness, which is that stream of nectar whose taste is beyond the tongue’s reach and which makes the skin horripilate without coming in contact with it.


erÉÉåÌiÉxiÉqÉÉåWûUqÉsÉÉåcÉlÉaÉÉåcÉUÇ iÉÎ.ÀûÉSÒUÉxÉSUxÉÇ qÉkÉÑlÉÈ mÉëuÉÉWûqÉç |

SÕUå iuÉcÉÈ mÉÑsÉMüoÉÎlkÉ mÉUÇ mÉëmɱåxÉÉUxuÉiÉÇ ÌMüqÉÌmÉ MüÉqÉSÒbÉÇ UWûxrÉqÉç ||


Saduktikarnamrutam has a verse penned by Baladeva who calls speech the divine effulgence arising from the body of Sarasvati. It is brighter than the sun, more nectarous than the rays of moon, an ornament of the three worlds far surpassing any gem, a remover of darkness more effective than fire, more potent than the eye in visualizing the universe and a source of bliss greater than the Supreme Spirit itself.


AÉÌSirÉÉSÌmÉ ÌlÉirÉSÏmiÉqÉqÉ×iÉmÉëxrÉÎlS cÉlSìÉSÌmÉ §ÉæsÉÉåYrÉÉpÉUhÉÇ qÉhÉåUÌmÉ iÉqÉÈMüÉwÉÇ WÒûiÉÉzÉÉSÌmÉ |

ÌuɵÉÉsÉÉåÌMü ÌuÉsÉÉåcÉlÉÉSÌmÉ mÉUoÉë¼xuÉÃmÉÉSÌmÉ xuÉÉliÉÉlÉlSlÉqÉxiÉÑ kÉÉqÉ eÉaÉiÉxiÉÉåwÉÉrÉ xÉÉUxuÉiÉqÉç ||


Sarasvathi as one of the characters in a poetic work

Banabhatta, the unrivalled champion of Sanskrit prose, begins his Harshacharitam in a dramatic manner. The setting is Satyaloka, Brahma.s abode. Brahma, seated on his lotus throne is conducting an assembly of sages well-versed in the Vedic lore when Durvasas, known for his anger, picks up a quarrel with the sage Mandapala, and in the process makes a glaring mistake while chanting a Saman. Sarasvathi, the Goddess of knowledge, unable to ignore the mistake, laughs at it. Banabhatta, at this juncture, describes Sarasvati in an exquisite manner. She had just recently left behind her childhood and set her foot on the threshold of youth. She was fanning her husband with a chowrie and in the process her creeper-like arm was waving. Her feet were naturally reddish in hue but it seemed they had turned red by stamping on the ground in the process of censuring the sage. Her anklets appeared like two garrulous students who had taken recourse to her feet for obtaining enlightenment. She had placed her sprout-like left hand over her girdle that sounded like a line of swans. The white sacred thread that hung from her shoulder seemed to be merit incarnate of wise men in whose heart she stays eternally. The pearl necklace over her neck looked like the very path leading to liberation. Her ruddy lips appeared to be painted with the red lac in the feet of all vidyas (knowledge systems likened to women) when the latter entered her mouth. On her bright cheek was reflected the deerskin that Brahma was wearing and it looked as if the moon.s deer had descended there to hear to the sweet samaveda hymns being sung. As she laughed excessively, tears flowed from the corners of her long eyes and it seemed she was washing her ears that had sinned by listening to the flawed saman. The bees that were buzzing close to the flowers she had worn as ear ornaments appeared like Omkaras incarnate that had gathered around her to pay obeisance. She was clothed in a pure white robe that appeared like a subtle flash of intellect. Her white laughter spread in all directions as if it were eloquence itself in that form.


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ÌmÉiÉÉqÉWûqÉÑmÉuÉÏeÉrÉliÉÏ, ÌlÉpÉïixÉïlÉiÉÉQûlÉ-eÉÉiÉUÉaÉÉprÉÉÍqÉuÉ xuÉpÉÉuÉÉÂhÉÉprÉÉÇ mÉÉSmÉssÉuÉÉprÉÉÇ xÉqÉÑ°ÉxÉqÉÉlÉÉ,

ÍzÉwrɲrÉålÉåuÉ mÉS¢üqÉqÉÑZÉUåhÉ lÉÔmÉÑUrÉÑaÉsÉålÉ uÉÉcÉÉÍsÉiÉcÉUhÉÉ, qÉSlÉlÉaÉUiÉÉåUhÉÌuÉpÉëqÉÇ ÌoÉpÉëÉhÉÉ eÉ.¡ûÉ̲iÉrÉqÉç,

xÉsÉÏsÉqÉÑiMüMüsÉWÇûxÉMÑüsÉMüsÉÉsÉÉmÉmÉësÉÉÌmÉÌlÉ qÉåZÉsÉÉSÉÎqlÉ ÌuÉlrÉxiÉuÉÉqÉWûxiÉÌMüxÉsÉrÉÉ,

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pÉÉxuÉlqÉkrÉlÉÉrÉMüqÉlÉåMüqÉÑ£üÉlÉÑrÉÉiÉqÉmÉuÉaÉïqÉÉaÉïÍqÉuÉ WûÉUqÉÑSWûliÉÏ, uÉSlÉmÉëÌuɹxÉuÉïÌuɱÉcÉUhÉÉsÉ£üMüUxÉålÉåuÉ

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ÌlÉqÉïsÉÇ ÌS¤ÉÑ SzÉlÉerÉÉåixlÉÉsÉÉåMÇü ÌuÉÌMüUliÉÏ SåuÉÏ xÉUxuÉiÉÏ ´ÉÑiuÉÉ eÉWûÉxÉ |


The king among Sanskrit poets, Kalidasa, through one of his characters, Pallava, a student of Bharata, makes a mention of the Goddess in his play, Vikramorvashiyam. It is here mentioned that the Goddess had written a play, Lakshmisvayamvara by name, acting in which, the divine damsel Urvashi made a blunder in delivering her dialogue.


iÉÎxqÉlmÉÑlÉÈ xÉUxuÉiÉÏM×üiÉMüÉurÉoÉlkÉå sɤqÉÏxuÉrÉÇuÉUå iÉåwÉÑ iÉåwÉÑ UxÉÉliÉUåwÉÑ iÉlqÉrrÉxÉÏiÉç

Shriharsha, the author of Naishadeeyam, one among the five Mahakavyas, makes Sarasvathi Damayanti.s maid-in-waiting in his poem. It is she that introduces her to the suitors who have come to win her hand in marriage. It is she again who instructs Nala in the Chintamani mantra which bestows unparalled wisdom on one who repeats it. The following are some of the adjectives the poet uses to describe the Goddess.

cÉiÉÑSïzÉeÉaÉ.lÉiÉÉlÉqÉxrÉÉ .She that is bowed down by the denizens of all the fourteen worlds rÉxrÉÉ ÌuÉpÉÉåUÎZÉsÉuÉÉ.rÉÌuÉxiÉUÉåÅrÉqÉÉZrÉÉrÉiÉå mÉËUhÉÌiÉqÉÑïÌlÉÍpÉÈ xÉÉ . Who, all-pervading, manifests in the form of speech

ÌlÉÎZÉsÉuÉÉ.rÉSåuÉiÉÉ . She that is the presiding deity of all literary forms

eÉaÉSÍcÉïiÉmÉÉSmÉ©É . She whose lotus feet are worshipped by the world

mÉÌuȨ́ÉiÉcÉiÉÑpÉÑïeÉuÉÉqÉpÉÉaÉÉ . She who adorns the left half of Vishnu ( Lakshmi and Sarasvathi are said in Puranas to be present on the right and left sides of Vishnu) xuÉUÉqÉ×iÉlrÉMçM×üiÉqɨÉMüÉåÌMüsÉÉ . She whose speech puts cuckoos to shame

ÌSlÉÉliÉxÉlkrÉÉxÉqÉrÉxrÉ SåuÉiÉÉ “. She that is the presiding deity of the twilight hour

xÉɤÉÉiM×üiÉÉÎZÉsÉeÉaÉ.lÉiÉÉcÉËU§ÉÉ . She who is a witness of the deeds committed all beings.

The above article gives an overall view of Sarasvathi as seen by the eye of poetic genius. Vivid descriptions of the Goddess as evident in Sanskrit poetry help us in meditating

upon her physical form and grasping the essence that lies behind it. Let me end with a

verse of my own


xÉliÉÑ uÉÈ zÉqÉïhÉå uÉÉhÉÏcÉUhÉÉqpÉÉåeÉUåhÉuÉÈ |

ÌlÉUmÉÉrÉMüsÉÉsÉÉåMüÌlÉqÉÉïhÉmÉUqÉÉhÉuÉÈ ||

Let the particles of dust clinging to Sarasvathi.s lotus-feet bring you happiness. They

verily are the atoms that create the imperishable world of arts.


Author: Shankar Rajaraman