Saraswathi - The Goddess of Knowledge, enlightenment, wisdom, music, arts, and learning. She is the consort of Lord Brahma and also part for trinity Goddesses - Mupperum Deviyar - Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Parvathi. Saraswathi is also the name of a river that flowed in the Indian subcontinent and was considered sacred on par with River Ganga. Moreover, many civilizations flourished on the banks of the river before it dried up. Be it a Goddess or a river, Saraswathi was a revered and worshipped and She has bestowed all the goodness, more importantly, knowledge with which mankind has come this far. In fact, this country - India - has another name Bharath that denotes land of Bharathi (Another name for Saraswathi) and hence it was the Land of Scholars.
Many wise men, poets and sages have prayed and worshipped Her for the blessings of knowledge that She bestows. And that is the reason, Knowledge comes first of the three primary qualities that humans must possess, the other two being Wealth and Courage, in order. All the scholarly people would want wisdom and knowledge more than anything else, because wealth and weapons can be coveted but the knowledge dies with the person who has it. And hence, knowledge was equated to Goddess Saraswathi.
If we look back in the age old Tamil literature, many poets have sung lots of songs in praise of Goddess Saraswathi that proves the fact that Knowledge was more revered. As a matter of fact, people consider that one has to keep on learning throughout his life, rightly said by Avvaiyar in one of her songs - “Kattradhu Kai Mann Alavu, Kallaadhadhu Ulagalavu” which is engraved in one of the buildings in NASA - “What one has learned is a handful, what one hasn’t is like the earth”
கற்றதுகைம் மண்ணளவு கல்லாத துலகளவென்
றுற்ற கலைமடந்தை ஓதுகிறாள் மெத்த
வெறும்பந் தயங்கூற வேண்டாம் புலவீர்
ஏறும்புந்தன் கையாலெண் சாண்
Kattradhu Kai Mann Alavu Kallaadhadhu Ulagalavu Endru
Uttra Kalaimadandhai Odhukiraal Meththa
Verum Pandhayam Koora Vendaam Pulaveer
Erumbum Thann Kayyaal Enn Saan
meaning, “What you have learned is like the handful of sand, but what you haven’t is like the whole earth. Even the Goddess of Knowledge (Saraswathi) realises this and is learning eternally. You being mere poets, don’t draw everyone into some lame competition to prove your mettle. Even the ant measure eight Jaans (Unit of measurement - From the tip of middle finger to the tip of the thumb with the palm stretched out wide open) measured with it own hand”
This song by Avvaiyar has a small story to its background. Avvaiyar was a poet who did not sing songs for money or wealth, she was a noble poet who appreciated people with good heart even though they were poor, so she sang a few songs in praise of those poor people who showed great amount of hospitality to her, in spite of their poverty.
A mischievous poet thought that she has been singing for the poor, when poets sing in the praise of of Kings and get their bounties. So in order to mock her, he picked up some sand and thought she would sing in praise of worthless handful of sand, if she is already singing in praise of the poor people. But, Avvaiyar, taught a lesson for that poet with the same sand in his hand. The lesson is not just for the poet, but for all of us, thereby also emphasising the importance of learning throughout one’s life
In the Thirukural, Thiruvalluvar has dedicated an entire chapter for learning and knowledge. He said that people are blind if they are not learning, even if they have physically proper eyesight. A few couplets from Thirukural that emphasises about knowledge
கண்ணுடையர் என்பவர் கற்றோர் முகத்திரண்டு
புண்ணுடையர் கல்லா தவர்
Kannudaiyar Enbavar Kattror Mugathirrandu
Punnudaiyar Kallaa thavar
“The learned alone are said to have eyes.
The ignorant/unlearned have merely two disgraceful sores/wounds called eyes”
தொட்டனைத் தூறும் மணற்கேணி மாந்தர்க்கு
கற்றனைத் தூறும் அறிவு
Thottanaith Oorum Manarkeni Maandharkku
“The deeper you dig the sand, the more the spring flows
The deeper you learn the wisdom flows”
The next Kural emphasis the same point Avvaiyar has mentioned that one has to learn until the end of his life
யாதானும் நாடாமால் ஊராமால் என்னொருவன்
சாந்துணையுங் கல்லாத வாறு
Yaadhanum Naadaamaal Ooraamaal Ennoruvan
“All lands and towns are learner’s own
Why not till death, the learning go on”
There is even a saying in Tamil, that one should not give up learning until his death
“பாடை ஏறினும் ஏடதை கைவிடேல்”
Paadai Yaerinum Edu Adhai Kaividael
meaning, “Even if you get on to the deathbed, don’t give up the books that you read”.
Kambar was a very ardent devotee of Goddess Saraswathi and he had Her blessings that crowned him with the name Kavichakravarthi (Emperor of Poets). He has written the Saraswathi Andhadhi (An interesting form of poetry where the last word of the first song becomes the first word of the next song and finally the last word of the last song will be the first word of the first song, and one could imagine the entire sequence as a garland of songs).
Kaalamegam has sung the following song in praise of Saraswathi that instantly provided him a seat to the level of the King who insulted Kaalamegam in front his court members. Reciting this song is believed to bring the blessings of the Goddess and get good knowledge
வெள்ளைக் கலையுடுத்து வெள்ளைப் பணிபூண்டு
வெள்ளைக் கமலத்தில் வீற்றிருப்பாள் வெள்ளை
அறியா சனத்தி லரசரோ டென்னைச்
சரியா சனம்வைத்த தாய்
Vellai Kalai Uduthu Vellai Pani Poondu
Vellai Kamalathil Veetriruppaal Vellai
Ariyaasanathil Arasarodu Ennai
Sariyaasanam Vaitha Thaai
meaning, My mother of knowledge who wears the white attire of purity, and adorns the white ornaments and sits on the white lotus, would bless me with the knowledge that will seat me on par with the kings.
The great poet of recent times, Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiar, was adorned with the title Bharathi (blessed by the Goddess of Knowledge). As with most poets, who sing the first song in praise of Goddess Saraswathi or the second song after the praise of Lord Vinayagar, Bharathi has song a lot of songs in praise of Goddess Saraswathi. One of his famous songs is the Saraswathi Devi Pugazh or the Vellai Thaamarai. Bharathiar emphasizes the importance knowledge and the importance of the people in the society being educated. The following are the few stanzas from the poem
வெள்ளைத் தாமரைப் பூவில் இருப்பாள்
வீணை செய்யும் ஒலியில் இருப்பாள்;
கொள்ளை யின்பம் குலவு கவிதை
கூறு பாவலர் உள்ளத் திருப்பாள்!
உள்ள தாம்பொருள் தேடியுணர்ந்தே
ஓதும் வேதத்தின் உள்நின் றொளிர்வாள்;
கள்ள மற்ற முனிவர்கள் கூறும்
கருணை வாசகத் துட்பொருளாவாள்.
இன்ன றுங்கனிச் சோலைகள் செய்தல்
இனிய நீர்த்தண் கனைகள் இயற்றல்,
அன்ன சத்திரம் ஆயிரம் வைத்தல்
ஆலயம்பதி னாயிரம் நாட்டல்,
பின்ன ருள்ள தருமங்கள் யாவும்
பெயர்வி ளங்கி யொளிர நிறுத்தல்
அன்ன யாவினும் புண்ணியம் கோடி
ஆங்கோர் ஏழைக் கெழுத்தறி வித்தல்.
நிதிமி குந்தவர் பொற்குவை தாரீர்;
நிதிகு றைந்தவர் காசுகள் தாரீர்;
அதுவு மற்றவர் வாய்ச்சொல் அருளீர்!
ஆண்மை யாளர் உழைப்பினை நல்கீர்!
மதுரத் தேமொழி மாதர்க ளெல்லாம்
வாணி பூசைக் குரியன பேசீர்!
எதுவும் நல்கியிங் கெவ்வகை யானும்
இப்பெருந் தொழில் நாட்டுவம் வாரீர்
In the last stanzas he says that providing education is much more important than establishing orchards, water resources, religious places of worship, establishments that provide free food for everyone. And he openly asks for donations from people who can afford and those who cannot just give good words in support of the effort to provide education for the needy. And it is true, the the literacy rate determines the growth of a country.
Kumaragurubarar who couldn’t speak until he was six years old, starting singing Kandhar Kalivenba with the grace of Lord Murugan who gave the start of the collection by uttering the word - Poo. Kumaragurubarar when he went to Kasi sang the Sagalakalavalli Maalai comprising of 30 stanzas in praise of Goddess Saraswathi.
Though Goddess Saraswathi is venerated and revered throughout history by all the learned and knowledgeable people, She has only one temple in Tamil Nadu where She is the main deity as she wanted to undergo the curse of Her consort Lord Brahma, who was cursed by Lord Shiva that Lord Brahma will not have any temple where He will be the main deity. However on the request of Ottakoothar, She fulfilled his wish by being the main deity at Koothanoor.
Knowledge is one differentiation factor that has taken mankind this far in the evolution, and it is not surprising to see that man has deified the differentiator as the Mother and the Goddess of Knowledge. In India, there are celebrations that are held yearly to worship the Goddess of Knowledge along with the Goddess of Wealth and the Goddess of Courage - The Dussehra or the Navarathri - Nine Nights of Worship.
Knowledge will take us even far if we remember “Kattradhu Kai Mann Alavu” and worship the Goddess of Knowledge
More to come, until then...