Vasant Panchami or Basant Panchami is a celebration of the arrival of Spring after the cold winter season. It marks the onset of spring in the country.
This festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the bright half of the ‘Magha’ lunar month. That day happens to be 5th February in 2022.
It is also a festival celebrated as Saraswati Puja in reverence of the God of Learning and Knowledge.
Yellow, the colour associated with knowledge, is the colour of choice for people dressing up on this occasion.
40 days later we celebrate Holi as a mark of completion of the transition to the Spring season fully.
Vasant Panchami also marks the day when Parvati summoned Kama deva (the God of Love) to disturb Shiva’s penance.
Vasant Panchami is also referred to as “Vasantotsav” in various parts of the country.
Celebrating the tradition of Knowledge
The banks of River Saraswati (during her days of glory) was home to many ashrams of great Sages during the Vedic times. It was also the seat of Vedic literature during ancient times and finds mention in the Mahabharata.
Sage Veda Vyasa, Sage Saraswat were some of the illustrious sages who resided along the banks of River Saraswati. It was on these river banks that ancient oral knowledge was put in the form of the four Vedas and the Upanishads.
The strong association between knowledge and the Saraswati river stems from the above facts. In fact, children are initiated into the tradition of education under the Hindu system on this auspicious day.
How did yellow come to be associated with Vasant Panchami?
In the days when River Saraswati flowed down the Himalayas, the onset of spring caused the ice and snow in the Himalayan abodes to start melting. This caused a surge in the river levels.
The associated rise in temperatures and availability of water that flooded the banks used to cause mustard plants to go into full bloom. Mustard plants bear yellow flowers.
It is said that the banks of river Saraswati, as it used to flow through the Indo-Gangetic plains, turned yellow due to the mustard flowers. This used to make for a wonderful spectacle.
Hence the association of colour yellow with Goddess Saraswati, learning and Vasant Panchami. People dress up in yellow, sweets and food items coloured in yellow are the speciality of the day and even Goddess Saraswati is draped in yellow to strengthen this association
Story of Kama Deva and Shiva
In the days long bygone, an asura by the name Tarakasura meditated upon Lord Brahma and as a reward for his austere penance was granted an audience by Lord Brahma. Seeking his blessings, Tarakasura requested that he be granted immortality. Lord Brahma refused, stating that every living thing has to embrace death eventually.
Tarakasura, being adamant, then sought the next best alternative. He thought of a plan and requested Lord Brahma to grant him a wish wherein he could only be killed by a son born to Shiva and his consort. Lord Brahma granted the wish.
Tarakasura was elated. Shiva had recently lost his consort Sati and had entered into deep meditation. It was unlikely that he would ever marry again or so thought Tarakasura. Emboldened by the boon bestowed on him by Lord Brahma, he started wreaking havoc on the world.
In the meantime, Sati was reborn as Parvati, the daughter of Himavata, the Lord of the Mountains. She often used to see Lord Shiva deep in meditation in his abode of Kailash. She fell in love with him. She summoned Kamadeva, the demigod of love to weave some of his magic to get the great God out of his deep meditation.
It was on a Vasant Panchami day that Kamadeva created the spring-like atmosphere that filled living beings with renewed hope and an air of freshness spread all around. Shiva’s penance was disturbed. So agitated was he that on getting to know that Kamadeva was behind all of this, he opened his third eye and reduces him to ashes instantly.
Shiva falls in love with Parvati. They get married and the son Kartikeyan born to them goes on to slay Tarakasura. Kamadeva is later restored back to life when his wife Rati pleads with Shiva to take cognisance of the circumstances under which Kamadeva disturbed the Lord’s penance.