Vasant Panchami

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Vasant Panchami (Basant Panchami)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Religious (Hindu)
Date of Observation: January-February; fifth day of the waxing half of the Hindu month of Magha
Where Celebrated: India
Symbols and Customs: Books, Sarasvati
Colors: Yellow-the color of the mustard flower that announces the arrival of spring.


Vasant Panchami is a springtime festival in Hinduism, which many scholars regard as the oldest living religion. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which meant river. It referred to people living in the Indus valley in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism has no founder, one universal reality (or god) known as Brahman, many gods and goddesses (sometimes referred to as devtas), and several scriptures. Hinduism also has no priesthood or hierarchical structure similar to that seen in some other religions, such as Christianity. Hindus acknowledge the authority of a wide variety of writings, but there is no single, uniform canon. The oldest of the Hindu writings are the Vedas. The word "veda" comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from ancient oral traditions, contain hymns, instructions, explanations, chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Mahab- harata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Hindu pantheon includes approximately thirty-three million gods. Some of these are held in higher esteem than others. Over all the gods, Hindus believe in one absolute high god or universal concept. This is Brahman. Although he is above all the gods, he is not worshipped in popular ceremonies because he is detached from the day-to-day affairs of the people. Brahman is impersonal. Lesser gods and goddesses (devtas) serve him. Because these are more intimately involved in the affairs of people, they are venerated as gods. The most honored god in Hinduism varies among the different Hindu sects. Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of reality and look back on a common history.

Vasant Panchami marks the changing of the seasons, which people in all parts of the world have honored since ancient times. Many cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the SUMMER SOLSTICE and WINTER SOLSTICE, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

One such seasonal event is Vasant Panchami, a festival of spring celebrated by Hindus throughout India in late January or early February (panchami means "fifth"). People wear bright yellow clothes because yellow is a color associated with the blooming of the mustard flower and the arrival of spring. Men often wear yellow turbans, while women wear yellow saris or tunics over trousers with a yellow scarf. The main meal of the day is made with yellow rice cooked especially for the occasion.

Vasant Panchami is a time for families to get together and spend the day flying kites, listening to music, and dancing. Because it is also a festival that honors SARASVATI , the Hindu goddess of learning, her image is frequently displayed and worshipped. In West Bengal, where the veneration of Sarasvati is particularly widespread, there are processions in which images of her graceful figure are carried to the river for a ceremonial bath.

Many of the celebrations held on this day take place in schools and universities, where SARASVATI is held in high esteem for her association with literature and the fine arts. Some young people in India have started to celebrate Vasant Panchami in much the same way that Americans celebrate VALENTINE'S DAY, as a day for young couples who are in love.



As an appropriate symbol for learning and eloquence, books play an important role in the celebration of Vasant Panchami. In the hope that SARASVATI will help them with their exams, students place special offerings of pens, brushes, and books before the goddess's image. Young Hindu children start their education on Vasant Panchami

this day by writing the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet while seated before an image of Sarasvati, who is credited with the invention of the Sanskrit language. In some regions, it is a day for the dedication of books.


Sarasvati is usually shown holding a vina or lute, reclining on a lotus blossom or riding a white swan. In later Hindu mythology, she is the wife of Brahma and the goddess of wisdom and eloquence. It is widely believed that without Sarasvati's blessing, no one can be skilled in poetry, music, or any other art.

Sarasvati was originally a river goddess, worshipped for her fertilizing and purifying powers. She was personified in the Sarasvati River, which was as sacred to early Indians as the Ganges is to them today. But the identification of the goddess with the river is controversial, and the name Sarasvati is now applied to two rivers: one flows through the Punjab region and the other arises in the Aravalli Range, a series of hills that run through northern India.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Kapoor, Sukhbir Singh. Sikh Festivals. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Enterprises, 1989. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. Sharma, Brijendra Nath. Festivals of India. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1978. Thomas, Paul. Hindu Religion, Customs, and Manners. 6th ed. New York: APT Books, 1981. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Underhill, Muriel M. The Hindu Religious Year. London: Oxford University Press, 1921. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


Hindu Council UK

Vasant Panchami (Basant Panchami)

January-February; fifth day of waxing half of Hindu month of Magha
Vasant Panchami is a festival of spring, celebrated throughout India among Hindus and Sikhs at the end of January or in early February. People wear bright yellow clothes, the color of the mustard flower that heralds the onset of spring, and mark the day with music, dancing, and kite-flying.
In Shantiniketan, West Bengal, the festival is celebrated with special lavishness in honor of Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of learning and the arts. Her images are taken in procession to rivers to be bathed, and books and pens are placed at her shrine.
Many five-year-old Sikh children begin attending school for the first time on this day because Sikhs believe it a sacred time for children to begin their education.
In recent years, many young people observe Vasant Panchami (also spelled Basant Panchami ) by exchanging tokens of affection, similar to Valentine's Day in the United States.
Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal
2, Brabourne Road
Kolkata, West Bengal 700 001 India
91-33-22258134; fax: 91-33-22254565
BkHolWrld-1986, Feb 16
OxYear-1999, p. 720
RelHolCal-2004, p. 182
SikhFest-1989, p. 41
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