Saraswati Puja is a memorable, enjoyable and desirable festival for the students in India. The day, on which the religious-cum-educational festival is celebrated is also known as Basant Panchami as it marks the onset of the spring season (Basant Ritu). While Basant denotes spring, Panchami means the fifth day. Therefore, the fifth day of the month of Magh is celebrated as Basant Panchami according to the Hindu calendar. The arrival of Saraswati Puja brings out the creativity and fashion sense of almost every student in the eastern part of the country. From schools to universities, Saraswati Puja is celebrated in a grand way and its organization is done by students along with little help from teachers. The day is dedicated to worshipping the Goddess of Knowledge or the Mother of the Vedas and later feasting on the bhog or holy food offering. Besides worshipping and feasting, Saraswati Puja is also a day when students would don traditional outfits in a stylish way along with makeup and jewellery. As educational institutions are the providers or spreaders of knowledge, Saraswati Puja is held there with a motive to praise and seek blessings of the Goddess of Knowledge who is also known as is also known as Vidyadatri (Goddess who provides awareness), Veenavadini (Goddess who plays Veena), Pustakdharini (Goddess who carries a book), Veenapani (Goddess who carries a Veena in her hands), Hansavahini (Goddess who sits on swan) and Vagdevi (Goddess of speech). On this day, students also place their books and stationery on the feet of the Goddess Saraswati idol to seek Her blessings.
The reasons due to which Saraswati Puja is a fun-filled affair of the student community includes-
Getting a chance to bedeck in colourful outfits and take a break from wearing uniforms for a day
One of the main reasons of Saraswati Puja being a much loved festival for students is due to the fact that they can get a golden chance of showing off their fashion choices and style up according to their own desires. Unlike the days when wearing uniform is mandatory or the necessity of getting dressed in simple clothes becomes a rule, Saraswati Puja is the only occasion when a student gets to dress loudly and nobody would mock them for sporting a complex hairdo or putting on too much of bling. From clothes, accessories, hairstyles and makeup, every little detail is done by students with great care during Saraswati Puja so that they can become a spectacle of attention or get appreciation for their looks. Therefore, Saraswati Puja is not only a religious festival but also a kind of mass fancy dress competition among the students. It would be apt to say competition because many media houses and even the educational institutions felicitate the students in terms of their looks. From ‘Best Outfit,’ ‘Best Hairstyle,’ ‘Best Personality,’ the list of titles bagged by students during Saraswati Puja are almost numerous nowadays.
Roaming around in groups and taking selfies
Another good thing about Saraswati Puja is that the culture of hopping around from one educational institution to the other is quite common just as pandal hopping is synonymous with Durga Puja. While students would happily participate in the religious rituals associated with Saraswati Puja in their own educational institutions, the eagerness of going out together in groups to soak in the revelry of the celebrations in unknown or not too familiar spaces becomes too strong. Therefore, a number of students would be often found roaming around till the late evening hours to see the glitz of Saraswati Puja festivities around the town / city/ village, judge about their unknown counterparts among their friend circles secretly with expressions of amusement and joyfully feasting on various delicacies together. Meanwhile, the trend of taking numerous selfies or groupfies together in different poses is seriously followed during Saraswati Puja by not only the students but all the people associated with the educational organizations like the teaching staff and the management committees. The random visitors who throng Saraswati Puja pandals would not leave from there without taking a picture with a front camera of a cellphone. For this reason, social media feeds are full of pictures of people donning traditional and colourful finery on the day of Saraswati Puja and some days thereafter too.
Excitement of the preparation stages
The days leading up to Saraswati Puja is full of excitement for students. Besides talking about the way of dressing up for the most important festival, the planning and execution of decorations for the pandal and the surroundings of the school/college / university is one of the most important stages of preparation that requires a lot of creativity and hard work. The other important aspects like arranging to bring the statue of Goddess Saraswati and the necessary puja items within the stipulated time frame and planning the list of prasad / bhog items and buying it so that it can be cooked with proper taste seems like overwhelming duties for the students. However, the activities that are carried out by students within a requisite budget as a part of Saraswati Puja celebrations teaches them about the joy and the fruits of doing team labour.
Tasting different dishes of the prasad / bhog joyfully together
While a number of fruits and sweets along with raw chickpeas and grams are often distributed or shared as Saraswati Puja prasad, the most important constituent is the jujube. As most people hold on to the belief that eating jujubes before Saraswati Puja brings bad luck, so it is widely relished in large numbers as a part of prasad during the day of the festival. Jujube is one of the most widely cultivated fruit of the spring season and Goddess Saraswati and several other deities like Lord Shiva are said to be very fond of the fruit. Therefore, many people start gorging on these sweet and tangy fruits only after it is offered to the Goddess. During Saraswati Puja, lunch is mostly eaten at venues where the festival is being celebrated. The lunch fare comprises of bhog items like Khichdi, Labra (mixed vegetables), Begun Bhaja (eggplant fritters), Bhilahi Tok (tomato chutney) and payesh. As the tradition of traditional religious festivals, students and teachers enjoy the food items of Saraswati Puja like a community feast with conversations and laughter.