Introduction: The festival of kites namely ‘Vasant Panchmi’ is a significant festival of Sikhs and Hindus.
Other names of the festival: Saraswati Puja (in eastern part of India), Shree Panchami (in Bengal) or festival of kites (in Firozpur).
Occurrence of festive eve: ‘Vasant Panchmi’ falls on the fifth day of the bright half of Hindu month ‘Magh’ (January to February) that blows the horn of beginning of spring season and Holi season. The contrast between spring and winter season enhances the vitality of this festival in northern India in addition to the religious and cultural significance.
Significance: As per briefs mentioned in ancient literature, this festival is attributed to ‘Shringar Ras’ (aesthetics); therefore, its customary rituals are performed while following the foretold fashion. The deity of aesthetics ‘Kamadeva’, his wife ‘Rati’ along with friend Vasant (the personified figure of the ‘spring’ season) are honored on the eve of this festival.
It is more common practice prevalent in modern time to dedicate this auspicious day to Goddess-of-Wisdom, i.e. Goddess Saraswati since she blesses the celebrants learning, wisdom, knowledge, fine arts, refinement, science and technology. In order to celebrate this day as ‘Saraswati’s birthday’, people assemble for offering prayer to be blessed with enlightment via knowledge and by eliminating lethargy and ignorance.
Rites and rituals: Vasant Panchmi day is decided through Purvahna Kaal that falls amidst late morning and early afternoon. Then, Panchami Tithi (5th date) prevailing during Purvahna Kaal concludes to celebrate ‘Panchami’.
As per astrological assumptions, this occasion is referred as Abujha day that indicates a pious eve to initiate all good work. On the basis of this belief, Vasant Panchami is believed to be an auspicious occasion to appease goddess Saraswati.
As the narration goes that Rati, wife of Kamadev, was on ardent penance since she was full of anger over the burning of her husband in to ashes by lord Shiva while making effort to come out of his ‘samadhi’. The span between Vasant Panchami and Holi is 40 days long. Since Vasant Panchami, logs are arranged as ‘pyre’ for burning Holika and after 40 days, it is burnt on Holi eve.
Customary traditions: Since sacred day of Vasant Panchami is dedicated to Kamadeva, dancing maidens, Drum players along with other celebrants used to visit the Royal Bakshi’s palace in his informal Darbar during ancient period. Dancing maidens and royal young girls used to be adorned in elegant skirt, blouse, pink or saffron sari designed with tiny dots. During late years, gold and silver borders and brocades were added to the clothing for beautifying the clothing.
Dancing girls used to pick blossoms and mango leaves to arrange them in brass vessels from Bakshi’s garden in his palace. Various ragas elaborating the theme of ‘love’ used to be sung. At the winding-up of the celebration, red petals, blossoms and gulal were sprinkled over the dancing girls and in return, gift of money was given to them by the royal ladies. Now, this trend has been stopped.
Now, this day is oriented to only Goddess Saraswati who is worshipped on this eve. In Nepal, the idol of the goddess is embellished with yellow attire before worshipping and food is filled in the temples for arranging traditional feast. Special prayer-sessions are arranged in schools and educational institutions; summits of poets are held in musical gatherings and students are initiated to learn alphabets and writing under the practice of ‘Akshar-Abhyasam’ or ‘Vidya-Arambham/Praasana’. In Bengal, the statues of goddess Saraswati are immersed in the sanctified River Ganga while following a procession.
The colour of spring, i.e. Yellow, is richly witnessed since the celebrants wear mustard colour dress, eat yellow sweet saffron rice or sweets after worshipping goddess Saraswati in Yellow attire. Kids and youngsters fly kites afterwards. This tradition has allured several foreigners to follow this trend of flying kites.
Pitr-Tarpan (ablation) ritual is also performed for recalling expired ancestors on this occasion in which Brahmins are served feast.