Spring might not be in the air yet but it sure is in the heart! For it is in existences indeed wherein nature finds utmost expression in all exquisite beauty of it and the essence of the seasons lie as well in this exploration of life so lovingly cradled by mother earth in her lap of luxury. And specifically in a land like ours where the vagaries of nature are always somehow romanticised in some form of eloquence or the other, celebrating the seasons indeed is a way of life and in such manners of it that derive from our very being. Throughout the length and breadth of our vast country, beautiful beyond measure, incredible in all her many identities still continuing in unity, celebrations and festivals always take centerstage in as diverse manifestations as possible. Weaved by threaded trails across a canvas of charming colors are the many festivals that we have forever celebrated in all verve and vivacity, in not just their significance but also in the sheer enjoyment of them.
Starting out with the symphonies in which spring is steeped is a certain observance that commands much fanfare all over the Indian existence, but streams through even more alluring a realm of resplendence in certain corners of the country. Celebrating the arrival of the sprightly spirit that spring entails is this pan Indian festive rejoicing in the Vasant Panchami vibes. Dedicated to the Goddess of wisdom and learning and therefore known also as Saraswati Puja, this pre spring revelry of all things bright and vivacious and creative is indeed one harbouring of religious devotion but along the revered lines of it run also a distinction so charmingly evocative of its beauty in observance. There indeed is no denying of the profound significance stemming of the worship of Goddess Saraswati in all her amassment of the wealth of learning and love but equally fancied is the cultural extravaganza that this particular almost spring time fiesta entails, in its very spirit of being a festival of those in the spring of their life and therefore so exuberant in their hopes and desires and aspirations and indeed furthering the very zesty essence of life.
As primarily a celebration by the young people, both in its spirit of the springtime assertion as well as in its charting of the journey of education and knowledge, Saraswati Puja sees tremendous fanfare attached to its observance. Particularly in some of the states of eastern India, the Saraswati Puja celebrations are a spectacle to witness, replete with fanfare and revelry alike, even as the scent of the spiritual indeed permeates the air creating a fusion of sorts that is delightful and emotional and auspicious and stirring all at once. Assam for instance partakes of the Vasant Panchami spirit in such enthusiasm that unfolds as a sight to savor by the senses, the true feeling of which can never be apprehended unless one gets to experience first hand the sights and sounds associated with this grand enough spectacle. And why just the detail derived from the decked up indeed desire of the D- Day- preparations for the one day festivities are as marked by the infectiousness of its spirit. As mainly the student organisers indulge in all forms of arrangements with gusto, taking care of puja essentials from the idol to the pandal to the bhog and the anjali as well as paying equal attention to aspects of decor and revelry, the spirit of spring grips indeed the entire state during this particular time of the year already buoyant in its mood of festivity. For weeks ahead of the puja, detailed plans are drawn, itinerary finalised, a budget devised as everyone goes their heart out in prepping for a festival so dear to them. But even as discussions of the puja schedule and pandal hopping continue in full throttle, much to the excited anticipation of all concerned, there unfolds also parallelly another strata of activity buzzing in the vibe of a very youthful indeed attribute, encompassing therefore the essence of this festival as heralding of the beauties of life and nature to the fullest.
For at least a couple of months before Saraswati Puja is due, the hustle bustle in ushering in the Goddess of learning is more than evident. But with the festival itself still some good weeks away, it isn’t an adherence to the rituals and the customs to evoke the blessings of the Goddess that creates all that palpitation so evident an exercise in devotion. As a day allowing of pursuing all fancies of youth, it indeed is inevitable that the puja prep involves also extensive exploration of the allure of beauty in as physical terms as possible. And while young girls indeed are more than eager to don their best attires on this once in a yeartime deviation from the uniform decorum pertaining to student life, their male contemporaries too aren’t the ones to be left behind. What ensues therefore is a heady mix of emotions, as all and sundry aspire to look their best on this day when all spotlight is on the young ones. Girls for once are jubilant in getting to drape the traditional dress, usually a mekhela sador or a saree or something likewise ethnic, over their regular ensemble of all modern flair. And while for boys, the shift in ‘image’ might be somewhat muted in that they do not necessarily go the extra ethnic mile so as to turn up in a dhoti or stuff, the bustle still is riveting enough. In wearing perhaps a kurta or sticking still to the regular shirt or tee of the fashion world, boys too take pains to make themselves seen on this day. Not just students though, teachers and educationists alike as well as all staff and members of schools and colleges and universities and indeed even of tuition classes and coaching centres turn up dressed in all finery and flaunting their style while bearing the utmost devotion to their beloved Goddess.
The day of the puja naturally commands all attention as an almost show in fashion gets underway, with local channels and ventures going as far as to ‘seek’ indeed the most beautiful of them all. And while that is an aspect of Saraswati Puja riddled with criticism galore in adhering a bit too much importance to the physical show of beauty, the ‘custom’ still continues largely as not everyone tends to read too much into such issues of contention for a singular day of the year. Whatever that might be though, this setting of the stage for the ‘show’ drives also brisk business all over. From clothing shops to those dealing with accessories, the vibe of Saraswati Puja pervades such commercial spaces long before the Goddess finally descends upon earth to bless one and all with her light of tremendous wisdom. And the energy in the markets and the malls is no less infectious than what characterise the pandals and educational institution on D Day. As girls flock to tailoring shops to get their dresses done and their blouses stitched to fit, of course in all pouring of their desires and ideas of fashion as relevant in the current times, the whirl is one worth taking in indeed in all its steeping in the immense exuberance of youth. With last minute buys and final alters and further customisation following close to the puja day itself, continuing in fact as late as the puja eve, even as parlour visits and salon schedules take up major chunks of the day, the grand allure of the day dawns upon anyone in the midst of such exuberance. As even the most nonchalant minds are stirred and the shyest of them all finally gives in to the yearning of going all out this one day of the year, what ensues is a realisation quite peculiar in its unraveling across a premise essentially religious. But in fostering this certain urge in expression, what Saraswati Puja ends up imparting a lesson in, in line with its essence as an occasion celebrating wisdom and creativity across all aspects of it is a certain knowledge in self discovery as well. In providing the stage for young minds to embrace themselves in all willingness, Saraswati Puja only further instils in them a belief which is ultimately what it takes to chart out indeed the path of knowledge as per aptitude and therefore in effectiveness over the mere taking to education as a form of social obeisance.
But while all festivals are necessary reflecting of such profound awareness across certain leanings of it, at the same time they tend also to be as much about enjoyment. Whether it be enjoying a day out with friends or even with beloved- a ‘pursuit’ increasingly explored leading therefore Saraswati Puja to be the ‘real’ Valentine’s Day following or preceding close on the heels of the actual February 14th celebration, or hopping across pandals awed every time by the grace of the Goddess and the artistic decoration unfurling under her creative overlooking or indeed even to indulge heartily in the divine bhog platter of many a staples of the khichdi and the labra, the bilahi tok and the xoru aloo vaja, the papad and the payesh, and of course the as important essence of invoking the blessings of Maa Saraswati by offering prayers and taking the anjali for yet another year of enlightenment, this pre springtime ritual of indulgence in all things lively and youthful and enriching is nature’s bountiful exuberance redefined indeed!