Vasanta Panchami or Basant Panchami festival heralds the arrival of spring in India, Vasanta Ritu.
After winter solstice, the sun starts its northward journey from the tropic of Capricorn, Uttarayana. With this, winter slowly ebbs and warmer days begin to arrive.
Vasanta Ritu – A change in Season
Vasanta Ritu is welcomed in the northern parts of India which reel from severe cold in winter. We see a pleasant change in seasons with the arrival of spring.
In the celebrations of Vasanta Ritu, the pinnacle is the festival of Vasanta Panchami.
While Vasanta Panchami is celebrated as spring festival, it also was the festival of River Sarasvati. In many parts of India, Sarasvati Brahmotsav, a festival spanning 5 days, starts from Vasanta Panchami.
Vasanta Panchami – A Festival for Sarasvati
One may wonder what is the connection between Vasanta Panchami and the festival for Sarasvati?
With the arrival of spring, the glaciers in the Himalayas, which used to feed the River Sarasvati would melt causing an increase in the flow of River Sarasvati in days gone by.
Mother Sarasvati – The very life line
River Sarasvati, the mother of all rivers, nourished the Sindhu Sarasvati civilization which flourished more than 5000 years ago. She was literally the life line of this civilization.
Greek records of 300 BCE, i.e., a little over 2000 years ago speak of over 1500 prosperous cities along the banks between the Sindhu and Sarasvati. This finds mention in Elphinstone’s book, ‘History of India’.
1500 cities along Sarasvati River
For all these people of this civilization, the gush of fresh Himalayan waters augured prosperity. With Sarasvati waters, also came the Himalayan riverine soil which made the lands on either banks very fertile and that led to good harvest in the seasons to come.
Yellow flowers – A sight to behold
During this season, the mustard plants, Sarson, cultivated along the banks of this river, go into full bloom. In days of yore, when this mighty Sarasvati was in full flow, it must have indeed been a breath taking sight to see miles and miles of land along its banks swathed in yellow colour from the mustard flowers.
Yellow Mustard Flowers
This sight is what gave River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati who was embodied by this river, a yellow drape during this time, and since time immemorial people have therefore associated Goddess Sarasvati with the colour yellow during this season.
Goddess Sarasvati draped in yellow
As a tradition, people continue to wear yellow clothes on Vasanta Panchami.
Birthplace of Veda
Along with the fertile lands on the banks of the river, education also gained prominence during the times when Sarasvati was in flow, because, the Rishis of India lived along these banks and composed the Veda, the universal knowledge base, on the banks of this river.
Hence, the River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati embodied by this river came to be associated with education and knowledge.
Vasanta Panchami –The day to Revere knowledge
So, for people across India, Vasanta Panchami is also the day to revere knowledge and education. Children are initiated into education system on this day with the belief that their knowledge will grow in leaps and bounds just as the gushing flow of the mighty River Sarasvati.
Today, instead of the flowing river, we have only dry rivers beds of River Sarasvati here and there along its original path.
This river went dry more than 2000 years ago. But, the mustard flowers continue to bloom in this belt, bathing it yellow even today.
People may have forgotten the River Sarasvati with the flow of time, but, the traditions from those times have continued from generation to generation, and Vasanta Panchami is a living festival even to this day.