Imagine all the students you know, dressed in colorful traditional clothing, each carrying a basket of offerings, walking in big groups on the way to school. Every 210 days (the number of days in the Balinese traditional calendar) this is the sight that fills the streets of Bali as students gather at their schools and universities to celebrate Saraswati Day with their peers and teachers.
A day to honor knowledge and learning
Saraswati Day is a celebration of learning and knowledge honoring Dewi Saraswati. Dewi Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge, worshipped by all that pursue knowledge. She is usually portrayed as a beautiful woman riding a swan, her four hands holding a traditional scroll (lontar), a necklace, and a guitar, all symbols of the meaning of knowledge. Lontar is a traditional Balinese scroll which is the source of knowledge. Genitri, or the necklace, is a chain of rudraksha beads symbolizing that knowledge never ends. Finally the wina or guitar is held by both of her hands, showing that knowledge is beautiful. Dewi Saraswati always sits on a lotus, which in Balinese Hinduism is a symbol of the holiness and supremacy of knowledge.
In traditional painting and art, Dewi Saraswati often rides a swan, but there is also a peacock behind her. A swan has a sensitive beak which is also believed as a symbol of the ability to differentiate good from bad. Before using knowledge, it is important to differentiate between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’. On the other hand, the peacock is fickle, changing moods according to the weather. The peacock has an important meaning for us as learners- we need to overcome fear and indecisiveness to obtain knowledge.
Saraswati Day is celebrated to remind students, teachers, scientist, learners of the purity of knowledge. During the day Balinese will gather all the books that they have to be blessed, but they are not allowed to read those books during the day. In the evening, the celebration continues by reading famous literature, especially religious texts.
The celebrations continue the day after Saraswati one Banyu Pinaruh. Banyu means water and Pinaruh means wisdom. People wake up early in the morning to find a pure source of water at local waterfalls or the beach. They will take a bath and ask for their wisdom and knowledge to flow like the water.
Knowledge is powerful, endless, beautiful and pure. Dewi Saraswati will remind us twice a year in the Gregorian calendar to honor the true meaning of knowledge and use it for the right purpose.