This day is celebrated as the birthday of Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, She is the lily-white daughter of Shiva and Durga in spotless white robes and seated in a full-blown lotus. Her carrier is a snow-white swan. Her brother Ganesh, the elephant God, is invariably close at her side, and he receives animal sacrifices in her stead. In her hands Saraswati holds a book, a vina harp, and sometimes a great sword because of which many believe that she and Manjushri are one and the same.
Shri panchami brings people of all castes, ages and creeds together to the temples of Divinity, especially to the idol behind Swayambhunath.The image is inundated with gifts, sweets, fruits, flowers in the hope of gaining Saraswati's favor. As she rules over the realm of speech, letters, arts and sciences, students, scholars, writers, poets, artists, musicians and also spinners and weavers lavishly fete her. All her tools like pens, books, ink, etc. are also worshipped. According to popular belief, if a person swallows seven rice grains, which are offered to the Goddess, he/she will become wise and knowledgeable. So, students and children clamor for the rice grains strewn around the idol.
This is also the day when children of 5 to 7 are taught their first alphabet, which is repeated after the parent or teacher and traced on wooden slabs. And around the city numerous wedding processions followed by musicians and relatives can be seen, as this day is the most auspicious and popular day in the year for marriages, when the union is blessed by the Goddess Saraswati herself.
This day also coincides with the advent of spring. The ancient royal palace at Basantapur was first inaugurated in Kathmandu on Basant Panchami day with rites still officially commemorated at Hanuman Dhoka by the mid-morning gathering of hundreds of government officials, in formal attire and military officers laden with ribbons and medals. The King arrives in a motorcade, escorted by mounted cavalry officers and military band. Inside the old palace they all stand to attention through the strains of the traditional Song of spring. Then the season is inaugurated with gun salutes, while the royal priest conducts elaborate ceremonies in the honor of Goddess Saraswati.
Article by Vani Shah