As the chilly winter days melt into the more comfortable spring weather, people celebrate Basant Panchami or Vasant Panchami. This festival is celebrated in the Hindu month of Magh, which coincides with the months of January and February in Gregorian calendar.
Referred to as the spring festival, it signifies the beginning of Vasant Ritu (spring season). Vasant is associated with freshness and a new beginning in all spheres of life.
An important part of all Indian festivals is the feasting after the fasting and the rituals. Housewives pour over hot stoves churning out delicacies that could titillate the most demanding of palates. For Basant Panchami the yellow colour dominates for not only do people wear yellow coloured clothes, even the food that’s prepared as offering to the goddess is also yellow. In some traditional homes sweetmeats of yellowish hues are exchanged with relatives and friends. Kesari halwa and meethe chawal are the favorites in North India. A dash of saffron is added to the sweetmeats to get a yellow tinge.
Kesari sheera: A rich semolina sweet flavoured with saffron and generously garnished with almonds and cashewnuts.
Kesari bhaat: This sweet rice gets its name from saffron that lends its colour and flavour to make it special.
Kesari rajbhog: A sweet made from paneer (cottage cheese) with soft centered nutty stuffing, cooked in sugar syrup flavoured with saffron.
Boondi ke laddoo: Moulded sweet made from small dumplings of gram flour, fried and dipped in sugar syrup and garnished with nuts.
Besan ke laddoo: A moulded sweet made from roasted gram flour and powdered sugar.
Nariyal ki burfi: A rich coconut fudge flavoured with saffron.
Red pumpkin kheer: A delicious sweet of red pumpkin and milk flavoured with saffron and garnished with nuts.
Kanchipuram idli: Rice cakes flavoured with turmeric powder, steamed over banana leaves and served with sambar and chutney.
Khaman dhokla: Savoury steamed cakes made of fermented batter of chickpeas, tempered with mustard and coconut, served with chutney – a Gujarati delicacy.
Khichri: A nutritious blend of rice and split green gram, enriched with a tempering of spices in ghee.
Welcome the spring with Basant Panchami
Vasant Panchami is a famous festival when Saraswati, the goddess of intellect, learning and wisdom is worshipped. Young girls wear bright yellow dresses and participate in the festivities. The color yellow holds a special meaning for this celebration as it signifies the brilliance of nature and the vibrancy of life. The whole place bursts with yellow during the festival. People not only dress in yellow but they also offer yellow flowers to Goddess and Gods and also to others. They also prepare and feast on a special mithai called kesar halwa, which is made from flour, sugar, nuts and cardamom powder. This dish is flavoured with saffron strands, which gives it a vibrant yellow color and mild fragrance and also its name.
Some believe Vasanti Panchami to be Goddess Saraswati’s birthday and perhaps for this reason, it is also known as Vagishvari Jayanti Panchami. Others believe that on this day the goddess came down to earth, along with Durga, to drive away the demon king, Mahishasura. Some people feed Brahmanas on this day while some perform Pitri-Tarpan (ancestor worship) and some others worship Kamdev, the god of love!
Goddess Saraswati has four hands which symbolize ego, intellect, alertness and the mind. She carries a lotus and scriptures in two of her hands and she plays music on the veena with her other two hands. She rides on a white swan. Her white dress is a symbol for purity. Her swan signifies that people should have the ability to discern the good from the bad. Goddess Saraswati, sitting on a lotus, symbolizes wisdom.
Traditionally a child’s basic education is started on this day and prayer is offered to the goddess seeking her blessing. Colleges and schools organize special worship of Goddess Saraswati. Many colleges, schools and other learning institutions organize cultural programs. Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya had laid the foundations of Kashi Hindu Vishwa Vidyalaya on Basant Panchami. This has now become a world-renowned academic institution.
Rites and rituals
In parts of Bihar and Orissa it is the day when farmers worship the plough and start sowing the fields once again. It also marks the end of winter when the cold, miserable days usually give way to warmer ones and the fields are lush with the swaying of yellow sarson (mustard). Yellow is therefore very significant to Basant Panchami as on this day people wear yellow clothes, worship the goddess with yellow flowers and decorate the house with yellow colour. On this day ber and sangari form the main prasad. Ber is the fruit of the ber tree, which grows in abundance in North India. Sangaris are the beans that bear the seed of the mooli (white radish). These two items are placed in a thaali (a flat plate) along with some yellow barfi or ladoos with paans (betel leaves), a nariyal (coconut) and a few sheaves of sarson (mustard leaves). Another thaali with puja items of water, sindoor, rice and yellow flowers is made ready. The lady of the house in a yellow dress with zari and gota, with yellow and red bangles on the arms, then does the puja and the festivities begin.