Mother Saraswati is the Goddess of Learning. Her blessings are vital to our advancement and happiness.
Goddess Saraswati is described as being white colored and wearing radiant white garments that represent her pure Sattvic nature. She carries the vina, a musical instrument which symbolizes the vibrational harmony of all life. She holds the Vedas (all knowledge) and a japa mala, which represents constant meditation upon the Divine Names. While the Vedas represent knowledge and japa represents spiritual practice, by holding them both aloft, Mother Saraswati shows us that for the attainment of any important goal—we need both knowledge and focus.
We pray to Saraswati to shine forth the Light of true knowledge in our hearts and lives and lead us on the path of pure vibrations and Truth.
Saraswati, goddess of learning, has always been revered. Indian philosophy treats both Word (Shabda) and Sound (Nad) as Brahma. Hence, Saraswati has always been depicted with a string instrument. The shape of this instrument kept changing with times. This emphasizes that idea has always been dominant over matter in Indian Art. The artist was always eager to attribute highest form of learning to the Goddess, hence he did not hesitate to choose the superior instrument of his times over the traditional one.
(i) Earlier veenas, Vipanchi, Chitra and Ghoshvati:
A 1500 BC sculpture, “Roopur” shows a woman sitting cross-legged, holding an instrument horizontally at waist level. Scholars opine that this instrument is Vipanchi Veena in which three Vedic notes could be tuned.
Thirteen centuries later around 150 BC (Bharhut) there is a group of twelve musicians depicting women playing Mridang, Manjeera, Vipanchi Veena, marking beats and singing. Another group of same period sculpted on west gate of Sanchi Stupa shows one playing on flute, another on Mridang of Bharat period and two playing Vipanchi Veena.
Such resources indicate that from third, second BC to sixth, seventh century AD the Veena-s in prominence were Vipanchi, Chitra and Ghoshvati. While Vipanchi carried nine strings, Chitra had seven strings and Ghoshvati was single-stringed. Dr. Lalmani Misra says that on the basis of available sculpture and paintings, one may construe that Vipanchi was like modern Harp, Chitra resembles Sarod and Ghoshvati was built like Ektara.
Gandharva Chittorgarh Topkhana sculpture dating 200 BC to 600 AD show Chitra Veena, Huduk and Pinaki besides percussion. A panel from Nagarjun Konda, second century, shows a female playing Chitra Veena as others listen rapt.
The same has also been depicted at Ajanta, Cave 411 (second BC – sixth century AD) but the instrument appears to have frets while no mention is found of fretted instruments prior to Matang’s Kinnari Veena.
A fifth century panel from Pawaya of a dancer surrounded by musician gives clear depiction of instruments — Mridang, Chitra and Vipanchi Veena. One can see the seven key-knobs in Chitra Veena.
A female figure in Ellora Cave 2113 (seventh century) plays Alapini Veena, a variant of Ektantri.
(ii) Saraswati with Vipanchi Veena:
A sixth century Nalanda bronze of Saraswati holding Vipanchi Veena shows figure playing flute on right and percussion on left flank.
(iii) Saraswati with Kachchapi Veena:
Veena-player from temple of Harsat Mata, Abner shows her holding a different kind of instrument not seen hitherto. By its shape, it may be Kachchapi Veena.
(iv) Saraswati with Ghoshvati Veena Veena:
Another figure from the same temple is the first clear depiction of frets. The Ghoshvati Veena here does not have resonators.
(v) Saraswati with Kinnari Veena:
Twelfth century idol of Saraswati at Chennakesava temple, Belur is shown with a variation of Kinnari Veena. This is the instrument which initiated the form of Veena developed by craftsmen of Tanjore.
(vi) Saraswati with Ektantri Veena:
Hoysaleshwar temple of the same period (Twelfth century) at Halebid shows the Goddess playing Ektantri Veena. Saraswati with Ektantri Veena at Keshava Temple, Somnathpur, Mysore. 12th century Saraswati at Kothanoor with Ektantri
(vii) Saraswati with Rudra Veena:
Seventeenth century (Rameshwaram temple) that Saraswati is depicted playing Rudra Veena, prompted perhaps due adoption of this instrument by the Seni musicians who called it Saraswati Veena. During the medieval period, specially in Ragmala paintings this is the instrument which appears time and again.
(viii) Saraswati with Tanjore Veena
When in later half of nineteenth century the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma attracted west and became a source of inspiration for calendar art, it was Tanjore Veena that appeared in the hands of Saraswati. For almost a century and half it has been granted the title.