Like most deities, the Hindu goddess Saraswati is complex and multilayered. She can be interpreted many ways. Her simple white sari symbolizes devotion to knowledge above material wealth, but it also represents purity. Her four arms denote four forms of awareness, but also the four directions and the four Vedas (sacred Hindu texts). She holds a stringed musical instrument called the veena, which stands for many things: the arts, the music of the universe, the harmony of all life, the need for humans to tune themselves to the Divine.
But when I think of Saraswati, I think of knowledge, and not even sacred knowledge, just plain mundane learning—the kind that comes from reading. The book Saraswati holds in one of her hands may represent sacred texts to others, but when I see it I think of ordinary books (if there is such a thing). I think of what I’ve gotten out of books in my life, and what I put into the books I write.
When the myths tell of Saraswati as the Goddess of Language, they may be referring to prayer, but I think of the everyday power of words, the wonder of conversation, the miracle of poetry.
Saraswati holds a mala, or rosary: a symbol of meditation, evoking mystic union, cosmic awareness, devotion to god. But for me, the mala represents the contemplative aspects of writing: The sure and steady intellectual work required to write well.
I think of Saraswati as a writer’s goddess: an embodiment of the creative thought, insight, and linguistic skill that are the writer’s gifts.
Saraswati began as the personification of an ancient river. Much has been written about the flowing water of the river as a symbol of divine love, of purification, of the merging of individual consciousness with the All.
But, for me, the river is knowledge. Like a river, knowledge flows. Through generations. Across time and space. We writers are all on that river, riding the current. I think of us as sailors.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...