Vasant Panchami, popularly known as Basant Panchami, is one of the many festivals celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs. ‘Vasant’ means "spring" and ‘Panchami’ means "the fifth day." Vasant Panchami falls on the fifth day of spring.
The festival falls in the month of Magh, corresponding with the months of January and February of the Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated to worship the birth of Goddess Saraswati, who is considered the Devi of knowledge, wisdom and art.
As the festival symbolises new beginnings, in many regions of the country, children are encouraged to write their first word on this auspicious day of knowledge and wisdom. This ritual has been expanded to simply starting a new venture, preferably an educational venture, on this day.
The festival marks the end of the winter season and the dawn of spring. Vasant Panchami falls on 22nd January, in 2018.
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People wear yellow clothes, as the colour of Spring (Basant) is yellow, and also since the colour represents the fields of mustard which a common sight in the Punjab and Haryana areas at this time of year.
Any Indian festival would be incomplete without the traditional Indian sweets. The most commonly cooked bright coloured foods include Meethe Chawal, Boondi ladoo and Kheer. Sarso ka Saag is the highlight of the festival celebrated in Punjab.
Poetic and musical gatherings are held in some communities in reverence for Goddess Saraswati.
Kite flying is of great importance and significance in the region of Punjab, as a way of celebrating Vasant Panchami.
A popular legend associated with Vasant Panchami is a story about a poet called Kalidasa. Kalidasa married a beautiful princess, who left him when she assumed that he was unwise.
In despair, Kalidasa was planning to kill himself when Goddess Saraswati emerged from the river and told him to bathe in its waters. Upon doing so, the water gave him wisdom which eventually led him to write beautiful poetry.
Another legend behind Vasant Panchami is based on the Hindu god of love, Kama. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, approached Kama to wake up Shiva who was in Yogic meditation since Maha Shivratri. The other Gods supported Parvati, since Lord Shiva was required to continue performing his duties for the world. Kama agreed and shot arrows made of flowers and bees at Shiva, from his heavenly bow of sugarcane in order to arouse him to pay attention to Parvati.
In many parts of the country, mainly Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh, after bathing in the morning, people worship Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Offerings of mango flowers and the ears of wheat are traditionally made and offered to the Gods.
Specific rituals are followed in different parts of the country. In Rajasthan, it is considered customary for people to wear jasmine garlands.
In Maharashtra, newly married couples are encouraged to visit a temple wearing yellow dresses and offer prayers on the first Vasant Panchami that falls after their wedding.
In the Punjab region, Sikhs and Hindus wear a yellow turban or headdress, which reflects the agricultural fields that are ripening with yellow flowers of the mustard crop.
In Uttarakhand, in addition to Saraswati Puja, people worship Lord Shiva; Goddess Parvati in the form of Mother Earth and the crops in their fields.
Vasant Panchami also marks the start of preparation for Holika bonfire and the festival of Holi, which occurs forty days later.