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'Calendar with no equivalent'

Minakshi Maharaj
Sunday, January 28, 2018

THE Hindu religious calendar has no equivalent in the world: it is such a busy calendar. We are only in the first month of 2018 and a number of celebrations and observances have already taken place. On January 22, on Vasant Panchami, was Saraswati Puja.

On this day, students offer prayers to Saraswati Devi, the goddess of learning, and seek her blessing for success in academic endeavours.

Traditionally, a beautiful murti of Saraswati is ceremoniously installed in a special temporary pavilion. With sacred vermillion, students put tilak on their books and place the books at the feet of the goddess. They also seek the blessings of their teachers, who are the living form of Saraswati Devi, by touching their feet, a wonderful gesture of complete humility and utmost respect.

The supreme being is the source of all knowledge, so knowledge is a divine gift.

Saraswati is the symbol of the knowledge-giving aspect of the supreme. She is the illuminator of the mind, the giver of intelligence, the font of all the arts and sciences which have, in numerous ways, yielded pleasure, convenience and comfort to human life.

Saraswati is white like the jasmine flowers bathed in moonlight, dressed in pearly white and adorned in pearls. This picture of Saraswati embodies the essence of knowledge, education, and intelligence - which are, in the Hindu scheme, pure, beautiful, perfect, and elevating to humans.

Because all kinds of knowledge springs from this divine source, it follows that all knowledge should be used in a positive way. What a simple yet stupendous message, enshrined in the celestial murti of Saraswati!

In Fiji, too, Saraswati puja is a special day when, amid many special activities, Hindu students seek blessings from the goddess and their teachers - carrying forward the valuable cultural legacy that underscores the importance of education, inspires students to appreciate the educational opportunity, and instils respect for one another in both the students and their teachers.

To my mind, the essence of Saraswati puja can impart four meaningful lessons for today's students and teachers. These are: purity of mind and word leading to self-perfection, respect for the educational opportunity, respect for teachers and school property, and greater responsibility and integrity in teachers. These can help reverse the lamentable loss of many human values in modern societies.

Saraswati is Vak Devi, the goddess of speech. The tongue, we are told, is the temple of Saraswati. How is that? The human ability to use language is what distinguishes us from animals - it is a great gift from the divine and must be respected.

So, the scripture states, we should use kind words, true words and eschew language that defiles this temple of Saraswati and earns bad karma.

So Saraswati puja is a time for students to introspect upon their use of language and perhaps purify it.

These days the use of invectives, ugly words, and abusive language is very much in fashion. Although unfortunate, this is seen as something very smart, modern (a sad reflection on "modernity"), and "cool" because such words are foolishly showcased by celebrities and films.

In the past, many cultures, even western ones, did not accept such language. But today it is seen as evidence of modernity and feminist emancipation whereas it is quite the opposite. It is reductionism: instead of finding appropriate words, we use clichéd obscenities which is no indication of intelligence or intellectual advancement.

The words that we use "colour" our character - we become the words we use. Good words create good thoughts, and bad words, bad ones.

When we utter only the truth and avoid lies, we will live up to our promises, our given word. Living up to one's promise, not betraying trust, gives individuals integrity and uprightness and creates a righteous and honest society.

The veena in Saraswati's hands signifies the refining effect of the fine arts. Music, sculpture, painting, song, and dance are all sadhanas - devotional paths which uplift humans.

Today we are fortunate to have both information and entertainment at the tips of our fingers, in the form of internet and television. It is said, 70 per cent of internet use is for pornography. Many TV programs depict violence and perversity. What does one gain from pornography, perversion and violence? Nothing, except degrading sub-human ideas that have been linked to abuse of women and children.

Whatever music we listen to, whatever we read and watch should be carefully self-monitored.

Avoiding ugly materials and using good words gives us a pure and clean mind, this is purity of mind which frees it for enhanced learning and mental and spiritual betterment.

I remember that many years ago, when I was teaching in high school, a non-Hindu teacher said in an inter-school meeting that "Indian" students respect books because of the Saraswati concept and as a result, Indian schools always have an adequate number of text books. Where this concept is absent, she said, books were treated shabbily, there was a resultant shortage of books, and children's education was hindered.

Symbolically, books are Saraswati as they contain knowledge. This concept encourages the care of books, stationery and school furniture.

If our stationery or books fall to the floor, we pick them up and touch them to our forehead with respect. We do not throw books on floor, or put our feet on them, or damage school furniture. This results in good and plentiful educational resources. These values not only instil respect for books and teachers, but also makes students value the opportunity to get an education. Thus they become disciplined, focussed, sincere and hard-working in their studies. This benefits them, their parents and the country.

Saraswati is an ideal for teachers. Teachers who see themselves as living forms of Saraswati, have self- esteem, integrity, honesty and purity. They are good role models, and do their best professionally. As symbols of the divine, they do not indulge in inferior behaviour such as neglect of duty, and verbal, physical and sexual abuse of students.

As I said earlier, the murti of Saraswati is a thing of beauty, a feast for the eyes. Its symbolism is food for philosophical contemplation and inspiration. The sheer perfection of the murti represents, as it were, the perfection that civilisation equates with and seeks in what we call "an educated human being".

* The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

? The writer has been acting HOS, SCLL and HOD LL, Fiji National University; lecturer in linguistics, The University of Fiji; lecturer, Queensland Institute of Business and Technology; HOD Languages Jasper Williams High School; senior language teacher, Tilak High School; lecturer, communication studies, FIT.

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