Today everything would be closed in the state. The streets would wear a deserted look. Schools, shops, offices and even Government offices would be closed.
Why? Are people protesting or rising in revolt like the Middle East and elsewhere?
No, not exactly. It is a day of celebration and happiness. Today is a Public Holiday. India as a nation celebrates this day as a “Day of Knowledge”.
This is more popularly known as Saraswati Puja (Puja means offering of love and deep respect). Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge representing speech and creative expression of science and arts. Most things in India are symbolic and the image of Goddess Saraswati is not exception to this fact. The image is therefore a metaphor or representation of what knowledge is all about.
Want to know the story of how it all came about?
Well, as most things in India, the story goes back thousands of years to the era of the Vedas, which most historians agree was around 5000 years ago.
A group of wise sages were travelling all night. Just as the day was about to break they reached a river. The river was gently and rhythmically making its way down the snow clad Himalayas. The water was pure and sparkling. As it gushed over the numerous pebbles it encountered in its way, a sweet tinkling noise emanated. They could see the bottom of the river clearly and were fascinated by the numerous ripples that danced around merrily occasionally catching the glitter of the sun rays as the sun peeped over the distant hills.
They were mesmerized by the whole experience! It suddenly struck them that knowledge had the exact characteristics of what they just experienced. How was that?
They realized that knowledge is dynamic and always changing and flowing like the river. One can’t capture it. It can’t be imprisoned. If held it soon loses its freshness and flow
They understood that knowledge is a product of numerous ongoing interactions that produced music. The music is only produced by the flow going against the resistance offered by the pebbles. More the obstacles (pebbles) more subtle and more varied is the music. The deep experience provided them the insight that knowledge develops through repeated movements of passing over the numerous pebbles and emerges in a chaotic fashion in the form of waves.
It was also clear to them that the primary source of knowledge was through transparent observable (through all our senses) work that flows — an understanding gleaned from the transparent flowing waters. Everything was observable but transient.
They likened the occasional glitter of the sunrays ricocheting off the waves to the sudden flashes of insights that create new knowledge.
Such a splendid metaphor remained with them for years before they decided to give some physical form to it so that people recognize the importance of knowledge in their lives and live with a vision or mental image to go for it and develop it for themselves. With this in mind they came up with the splendid image of the Saraswati.
The image of the beautiful lady represents the creative nature of knowledge, the force behind all human activities. .
The swan reminds us of the river and also the sharp discriminating characteristic of knowledge. This is because a swan has a strange ability. If offered a drink of milk with water a swan drinks the milk without taking in a drop of water. It can separate the two. In other words knowledge helps us to discriminate between the real and the unreal.
The musical instrument called the vina (a much older form of the present day sitar) reminds us of the music of knowledge as it flows over pebbles and obstacles.
The symbol of the white lotus is significant. While the whiteness of the lotus stands for stainless purity of knowledge the lotus informs us that knowledge is rooted to reality which might be full of dirt, muck and darkness from which the purity emerges. It depicts the journey called knowledge from the unconscious or unseen or unknown to the consciousness of reality or the known.
It is also interesting to note that the image tells us how knowledge is created. This is shown by the four hands of Saraswati. Her two hands are engaged in playing the vina (Playing and Hearing). It means that the fundamental way knowledge is created is through transparent observable work that flows (remember how the sages could clearly see even the bottom of the river and sense everything around them). The image of the rosary that she holds in one of her hands depicts the need for deep mental reflection and repetition to gain real knowledge. The fourth hand shows a slim volume of documents representing that only a small part of the knowledge can be really documented and read.
The scattering and reflection of the golden sunrays on the waves representing intuitive insights are shown in the form of the golden crown that adorns her head meaning that all intuitive insights come from the mind. And the halo behind her head represents the energy and brightness that emanates from ever increasing wisdom.
So, to summarize:
1. Knowledge is rooted in reality. It then moves from the physical reality to the energy field of playing, listening and engaging in our chosen domain from where it moves to the mental plane which then makes its way to the planes wisdom and enlightenment.
2. Like the flowing river, knowledge can’t be captured (it is not an object but waves and a field) since it an on-going phenomenon of the numerous interactions, always changing course and fleeting in nature. Such movement of knowledge is only possible through facing resistance and overcoming obstacles encountered in its path generating the necessary music.
3. A very small part of knowledge can be really documented. That represents the explicit part of knowledge.
4. Major part of knowledge is implicit in nature that is created by constantly playing in a chosen domain, improvisations, repeated practice, deep reflections and sudden insights.
5. True knowledge in any field can be obtained through discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the meaningful and the worthless.
6. Knowledge leads to enlightenment and is the creative force behind all that we do.
7. And above all knowledge must be free and shared to maintain its flow that benefits all. This is the only thing in the world, other than love, that keeps growing and developing in strength and character when shared. It is unending and beautiful but can’t be precisely defined or described. The more we try the more incomplete it seems.
Today we usher the coming of spring signifying the blooming of the hidden, the latent and the unknown into conscious reality just like the first baby leaves that spring to life after winter. Isn’t that what we understand by knowledge?
It is therefore not surprizing for Indians to believe River Saraswati to be an underground river hidden from view only to meet the great rivers Ganga and Yamuna at Kumbh. Another great symbolic abstraction underlying the fact that Knowledge plays between our actions and emotions to elevate us to our true human potential. Those who use it rise to meet their potential. Those who don’t are unfortunate.
So do we listen to the music of the spheres and celebrate the joy that is knowledge?
1. The video is there to highten the visual experience of this rather deep and 5000 years old philosophy on knowledge.
2. India is probably the only country in the world to celebrate a special day in honor of Knowledge. What a country!