Basant Panchami: Welcoming Spring in diverse holy ceremonies

New Delhi: In popular culture, Basant Panchami is dedicated to the goddess of knowledge, arts and music, Saraswati and is marked by special prayers to Her in North India.
In certain parts of India, people also worship the God of Love, Kamadeva on this day. Interestingly, the day also heralds the arrival of Spring. Basant Panchami also marks the start of preparation for Holika and Holi, which occurs 40 days later.
Nityananda Misra, a well-known Sanskrit scholar and author of the recently released book ‘Kumbha: The Traditionally Modern Mela’, however, reminds us of a few lesser known facts of Basant Panchami, which is celebrated on the fifth day of the bright half of the ‘Magha’ lunar month and marks the onset of spring.
Misra says, “Basant Panchami is one of the many festivals (others include Kamotsava/Madanotsava and Holi) that have been celebrated in India for a long time as part of ‘Vasantotsava’ (“festival of spring”).”
As per Misra, one of the earliest textual references to the ‘Vasantotsava’ celebrations is in the ‘Taittiriya Aranyaka’ (dated first millennium BCE by some historians) in which a passage (1.3.5) mentions that spring is ‘jaradaksha’, meaning “skilled in water”.
He points out that Bhatta Bhaskara and Sayana have commented on this passage that during spring, people are fond of water and the clothes of the gods are coloured by agents like turmeric powder. These references show the association of spring season with both Holi and yellow colour (the colour of Basant Panchami).
According to the author, in Sanskrit literature, the onset of spring is associated with nature coming alive: flowers blooming, bumblebees buzzing, and animals mating.
“In both poetry and prose, writers have reserved their best for the spring season. In the ‘Ritusamhara’ (“The Collection of Seasons”), the poet Kalidasa (4th century CE) begins the sixth and last canto with a beautiful description of the onset of Vasanta,” Misra says, translating the verse (6.1): “O dear, the warrior Vasanta has arrived to pierce the hearts of lovers.”
In a passage in Banabhatta’s prose-poem ‘Kadambari’, the heroine beautifully describes how the slow arrival of Vasanta parallels the arrival of her youth.
Misra translates, “And, gradually, fresh youth appeared in my body—as the ‘Chaitra’ month in ‘Vasanta’ (the spring), as a new sprout in the ‘Chaitra’ month, as a flower in the new sprout, as a bumblebee in the flower, and as excitement intoxication in the bumblebee.”
Misra says that the festival of ‘Basant Panchami’ is referred to as ‘Shri Panchami’ in Sanskrit texts and historically, it was Lakshmi (also called ‘Shri’) and not Saras-wati who was worshipped on this date.
The author points to the ‘Varshakriyakaumudi’ (“The Moonlight of Annual Ceremonies”) of Govindananda (16th century Bengali scholar) which mentions the name ‘Shri Panchami’ of the festival and cites a verse from the ‘Brahma Purana’ which goes, “On the wish-granting fourth date of the bright half of Magha, Parvati is worshipped. And on the fifth date, Shri (Lakshmi) bestows incomparable fortune and prosperity.” (ANI)

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