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saraswati namastubhyam

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    सरस्वति नमस्तुभ्यं वरदे कामरूपिणि ।
    विद्यारम्भं करिष्यामि सिद्धिर्भवतु मे सदा ॥

    saraswati namastubhyam varadé kāmarūpiṇi |
    vidyārambham kariṣhyāmi, siddhirbhavatu mé sadā || (IAST)
    saraswati namastubhyam varade kAmarUpiNi |
    vidyArambham kariShyAmi, siddhirbhavatu me sadA || (ITRANS)

    O Saraswatī, salutations for you, O Giver of boons, O Giver of form to desire,
    I am going to start studying, may success be mine, always.

    Small kids are taught this shloka (verse) when they start school. Maybe not anymore in English medium schools in India. But in the Sunday School (culture/heritage schools) abroad, Indian families still teach this. Maybe they miss the culture more than those in India. It is always true that most of us do not know the value of something unless we don't have it. Going out of India, parents feel the need of self-identity, and focus much more on the culture.

    But there are some questions that arise if you think a bit about this shloka -
    1. Why is the divinity of learning, knowledge called Saraswatī सरस्वती - the name of a river, whose literal meaning is 'one with flow'?
    2. Why is she called boon-giver?
    3. Why is she called giver of form to desire? Shouldn't that be Lakṣhmī लक्ष्मी - the divinity of prosperity?

    Think about it.

    1. Why is the divinity of learning, knowledge called saraswatī - the name of a river, whose literal meaning is 'one with flow'

    The words saritā (सरिता = river), sarovara (सरोवर = lake), sarī-sṛipa (सरी-सृप = reptiles), sarpa (सर्प = serpent) all have the same root - to flow.

    Water flows. That is its dharma (धर्म) - defining quality. Actually the generic term for liquid is the same as for water! That is another digression in 'what is dharma?' The defining quality, that quality which upholds the identity of the entity. For example, the dharma of student is to study. If s/he is not studying, it is just enrollment in the class, not studentship.

    Now, knowledge is free flowing, for all. For example, if you tune off your TV or radio, do the broadcasting waves not exist? They do. Just that you are tuned out of them. Similarly, to learn you need a radio, and a tuner to tune in. The laws of nature, physics, gravity have always been there, only Newton first formulated the laws in the western world. From where do great scientists make discoveries and invention? At the forefront of research, it ultimately comes from one's own brain! From inside, not outside!

    So it is all up for grabs. Patent etc. are modern ways to stop the flow of this perennial knowledge. How did they do this earlier? Using codes, secret knowledge was passed on selectively, or not telling the recipe but giving the medicine. In Hitopadéshaḥ हितोपदेशः there is a shloka that says to keep many things secret - recipe of a medicine, financial loss, net worth, past affairs, etc.

    The other reason is that in the Vedic times the river Sarasvatī (of the Sarasvatī-Sindhu Civilization, also known as Indus Valley or Harappa Civilization) had lot of activity going on along her banks. Centers of learning abounded. The later day Takṣhashilā (Taxila of modern Afghanistan) had the world’s first recorded University with boarding dorms, hundreds of teachers and thousands of students from much of the known world that mattered at that time. With time the river’s name itself became synonymous with knowledge.

    2. Why is she called boon-giver?

    People all over the world ask their form of divinity for blessings, favors etc. give me money, give me health, give me this, that. But ultimately who does anything? We, ourselves. It is the knowledge that gives us the boon we desire. Knowledge is surely power! If we know about hygiene, nutrition, exercise etc. we will remain healthy. If we know about how to make and manage money, we will become wealthy. So the boons are realized through acquiring of knowledge. Through the boon of knowledge, you can get whatever you wish. If you know how to cook, your boon of not going hungry is fulfilled! Or if you know how to dial the number to the delivery store

    3. Why is she called 'giver of form to desire'? Shouldn't that be lakshmI - लक्ष्मी the divinity of prosperity?

    The word kāmarūpiṇī can be understood in the three ways.
    First, "One who has a desirable (beautiful) form (rūpa)." She is beautiful indeed. But these adjectives are used in praising any divinity that a devotee might choose. So to Shiva devotees, Shiva is everything; to Viṣhṇu devotee, Viṣhṇu is everything. The Dévī has three forms – Sarasvatī, Lakṣhmī and Shakti. All are beautiful. Then there is tripura-sundarī, and Viṣhṇu in Mohini avatāra. So this doesn’t give her any special meaning.

    The second meaning is “One who takes any form (rūpa) that she desires (kāma)." Here the reference would be to the Dévī taking various forms in fighting dark forces of demons, as described in Dévī-Māhātmya. There again it doesn’t distinguish Sarasvatī.

    The third way to look at it would be "One who gives form (rūpa) to [one’s] desire (kāma)." This seems to give Sarasvatī, as the divinity of knowledge, a special meaning.

    We think that for a project the most important thing is resources, money, venture capital. But what if there is no technology, brain power to back that project? Will a venture capitalist put his or her money in a company that has no brainpower behind it? The world had enough resources and money even 500 years back, but we went on moon only after the knowledge of rocket science developed to a certain level.

    So, we may desire, but the desires turn into reality only through knowledge (of how to turn them into reality).

    kAma / kāma = desire, roopa /rūpa = form. So knowledge turns desires into reality.

    A simple shloka for starting students has so much deep meaning hidden in it. This is also called the Saraswatī mantra.


    Picture source:chinthamani