Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Sarasvati at Wikipedia or the Urday website.

SARASWATI. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] 'Watery, elegant.' In the Vedas, Saraswati is primarily a river, but is celebrated in the hymns both as a river and a deity. The Saraswati river was one boundary of Brahmavartta, the home of the early Aryans, and was to them, in all likelihood, a sacred river, as the Ganges has long been to their descendants.

As a river goddess, Saraswati is lauded for the fertilizing and purifying powers of her waters, and as the bestower of fertility, fatness, and wealth.

Her position as Vach, the goddess of speech, finds no mention in the Rigveda, but is recognized by the Brahmanas and the Mahabharata. Dr. Muir endeavours to account for her acquisition of this character. He says, "When once the river had acquired a divine character, it was quite natual that she should be regarded as the patroness of the ceremonies which were celebrated on the margin of her holy waters, and that her direction and blessing should be invoked as essential to their proper performance and success. The connection into which she was thus brought with sacred rites may have led to the further step of imagining her to have any influence on the composition of the hymns which formed so important a part of the proceedings, and of identifying her with Vach, the goddess of speech."

In later times Saraswati is the wife of Brahma, the goddess of speech and learning, inventress of the Sanskrit language and Devanagari letters, and patroness of the arts and sciences.

"She is represented as of a white colour, without any superfluity of limbs, and not unfrequently of a graceful figure, wearing a slender crescent on her brow and sitting on a lotus." - Wilson.

The same authority states that the Vaishnavas of Bengal have a popular legend that she was the wife of Vishnu, as were also Lakshmi and Ganga. The ladies disagreed; Saraswati, like the other prototype of learned ladies, Minerva, being something of a termagant, and Vishnu finding that one wife was as much as he could manage, transferred Saraswati to Brahma and Ganga to Siva, and contented himself with Lakshmi alone.

Other names of Saraswati are Bharati, Brahmi, Putkari, Sarada, Vagiswari. The river is now called Sarsuti. It falls from the Himalayas and is lost in the sands of the desert. In ancient times it flowed on to the sea.

A passage in the Rigveda says of it, "She who goes on pure from the mountains as far as the sea." - Max Muller, Veda, 45.

According to the Mahabharata it was dried up by the curse of the sage Utathya.


Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM