Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Sarasvati included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Sarasvatī

Goddess of learning.


Sarasvati is the daughter of Brahmā. Kāmadeva was born from Brahmā’s heart; Krodha (anger) was born from his eyebrows; Lobha, from his lower lip, Sarasvatī, from his face; the Sindhus from his genitals, and Nirṛti, from his anus.

The following story about the birth of Sarasvatī is from Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Chapter 43:—

Brahmā got ready for creation, and while in meditation sattvaguṇa (sublime quality) began swelling up in his mind wherefrom a girl was born. Brahmā asked her who she was. She answered: "I am born from you. You fix for me a seat and duties." Then Brahmā told her that her name was Sarasvatī and ordained that she should stay on the tip of everybody’s tongue. You dance especially on the tongues of learned people. You should also exist on earth in the form of a river, and assuming a third form you should live in me too." Sarasvatī agreed to this.

Curse of Sarasvatī.

See under Gaṅgā.

Misled Kumbhakarṇa.

When Kumbhakarṇa requested Brahmā for a boon, Sarasvatī, at the instance of the latter, lodged herself in the tongue of Kumbhakarṇa and made him ask for Nidrāvatva (Sleep), something different from what he really desired to get Viz. Nirdevatva (absence of Devas).

Received Baḍavāgni.

(all-consuming fire). Baḍavāgni was born at the quarrel between the Bhārgavas and Hehayas. Baḍavāgni is flames of Aurva, the Bhārgava. (See under Aurva). It was Sarasvatī who took the Agni to the ocean. As a result of this, Sarasvatī, became a river in India. The story is told in the Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa of Padma Purāṇa as follows:—

The world was about to be burnt in Baḍavāgni, which originated from Aurva, when Indra requested Sarasvatī thus: "Oh! Devi! you should deposit this agni in the western ocean; or else the world will be consumed in its flames." To this Sarasvatī told Viṣṇu as follows: "I am not a free person. I will do nothing without the permission of my father. Therefore, please think of some other means."

The Devas, who understood Sarasvatī’s nature, went to Brahmā with their case. Immediately he called Sarasvatī to him and asked her to deposit Baḍavāgni in the western ocean for the safety of himself and the Devas. Unable to disobey her father, Sarasvatī, with tears in her eyes, agreed to do so. Then Gaṅgā followed her and she told the former that she (Gaṅgā) would see her flowing northwards when she reached the eastern region surrounded by Devas.

Sarasvatī sent back her companions like Gaṅgā, Yamunā Manoramā, Gāyatrī and Sāvitrī who followed her. Then she appeared at the āśrama of Uttaṅka under the Plakṣa tree in the presence of the Devas. Just as Śiva carried Gaṅgā, the Plakṣa tree bore Sarasvatī and immediately did Śiva give to her Baḍavāgni in a pot. Because of his blessing the agni did not burn her hands. She went towards the north with the pot and came to Puṣkariṇī, and she stopped there to redeem the sins of people. It is believed to this very day that those who drink water from the Puṣkara will attain Brahmaloka.

From Puṣkara Sarasvatī flowed towards the west and reaching a date-garden not far off from Puṣkara it rose up again where Sarasvatī is known as Nandā as well. There is also another reason for the name Nandā. Once upon a time there was a King called Prabhañjana. While hunting in the forest he saw a deer inside a cluster of shrubs and he shot an arrow at it. Then the deer told the King: "What a crime is this! You have wounded me, who am feeding my child. I have heard that the King shall not kill a deer while it is engaged in drinking, sleeping or mating. May you, who have done this cruel act, be transformed into a tiger and roam about this thorny forest." Saying again and again that he did not notice that the deer was feeding its child, the King begged for absolution from the curse. Taking pity on the weeping king the deer told him that he would be redeemed from the curse when he had talked with the cow called Nandā, which would go there after a hundred years.

According to the above curse the king got transformed into a tiger and spent hundred years eating wild animals. After hundred years were over a herd of cows came there grazing under the leadership of a cow called Nandā. Beautiful Nandā used to walk ahead of the other cows and graze alone at a secret place in the forest. There was a mountain called Rohita there, on the banks of the river. The northern side of the mountain was a dense forest infested by cruel animals. There lived there a very cruel and terrible tiger as big as a mountain. A generous person called Nanda was feeding the cows with grass etc. Nandā, the cow, got separated from the herd and came to the river when the tiger ran after it asking it to stop. Crying aloud the cow said: Oh tiger; I have a child, which has not begun even tasting grass and it is awaiting the return of its mother to the cow-shed at dusk. I shall go and take leave of the child and return so that you may eat me."

Taking pity on the cow the tiger granted its prayer. It returned duly to the tiger at dusk. The tiger, taken by surprise, by the honesty of the cow enquired of it its name, and the cow answered that it was named Nandā by its master, Nanda. As soon as the name was uttered Prabhañjana was released from his old curse and he became the former king. Dharmadeva then appeared there and asked her to choose the boon she liked and she replied as follows:—"I, with my child, must attain the ultimate place and position, and let this place become a sacred place for munis. Also, let this river Sarasvatī, come to be known as Nandā, by my name."

Nandā immediately ascended to heaven and Prabhañjana returned to his palace. River Sarasvatī came to be called Nandā from that day: After flowing through the above-mentioned date-garden towards the south for some distance Sarasvatī (Nandā) flowed again towards the north. She reached the ocean and deposited therein the pot of Baḍavāgni. (Padma Purāṇa, Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa).

Sarasvatī as Brahmā’s wife.

The Purāṇas mention three wives of Brahmā, Sarasvatī, Sāvitrī and Gāyatrī. But, the three are, according to Matsya Purāṇa, one and the same person. The Matsya Purāṇa mentions:—Brahmā created, from his own effulgence, a woman, who became famous under the names Śatarūpā, Sāvitrī, Gāyatrī and Brahmāṇī. Brahmā fell in love with his daughter and noticing the fact she turned away to the right side of her father. Then did a face appear on his right side. To avoid the amorous looks of the father, she slided off to both his sides, and faces appeared on those sides of Brahmā. Then Sarasvatī jumped up to the sky and a fifth face appeared on his head, turned upwards. Finding escape impossible she yielded to the desire of Brahmā and they enjoyed honey-moon for a hundred years. To them was born a son called Svāyambhuva or Virāṭ.

At one place in Skanda Purāṇa, Sāvitrī and Gāyatrī are referred to as different individuals. (See under Sāvitrī).

Idol of Sarasvatī.

Sarasvatī, clad in white clothes, sits on a white lotus. She holds in her hands a string of beads, book and Vīṇā. She is depicted in sitting, standing and dancing postures. She is conceived as Śakti related to Viṣṇu as also to Śiva. In certain old works in Bengal, Sarasvatī, instead of Bhūmidevī, is to be seen along with Viṣṇu. Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 50, enjoins that idols of Sarasvatī in temple should hold in its hands book, string of beads and Vīṇā.

Other information.

(i) It was on the banks of Sarasvatī that Vyāsa performed tapas and Śuka was born. (Devī Bhāgavata, Skandha 1).

(ii) There are various references to Sarasvatī in the Ṛgveda.

(iii) Sarasvatī shines forth in Indra’s court. (Sabhā Parva, Chapter 7, Verse 19).

(iv) Once Sarasvatī advised the muni called Tārkṣya (Vana Parva, Chapter 185).

(v) During Tripuradahana (burning of the city of the Tripuras) Sarasvatī served as a passage for the chariot of Śiva to advance. (Karṇa Parva, Chapter 34, Verse 34).

(vi) Muni Yājñavalkya once thought of Sarasvatī and she appeared before him wearing ornaments of vowels and consonants and sounding 'Om'. (Śānti Parva, Chapter 318, Verse 14).

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