Vasant Panchami or Saraswati puja is a festival that is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu god of knowledge, art, music and learning. She is the daughter of Durga and is considered as a partner to Brahma. This is the most popular festival in the eastern region and is celebrated in the month of Magh (January-February) where young children and students invoke the blessings of the Goddess. The Goddess is presented as a graceful woman in white, wearing a white silk sari, seated on a white lotus and representing purity and peace. The lotus and the moon associated with her are both symbols of eternal womanhood.
There are various mythological stories associated with Goddess Saraswati. Both the gods and demons decided to churn the ocean and drink the Amrit or the elixir of life. Saraswati with her beauty decided to lure the asuras, but Rahu and ketu slipped in with the Gods. Vishnu detected them and cut off their heads. Saraswati helped the Gods to be immortal and was established in the heavens.
Hate Khori celebration in West Bengal
Saraswati puja holds a special place in the Bengali culture and at almost in every educational organization and even at home this puja is performed. On this day, devotees take a bath early in the morning and wear new clothes and adorn the deity with white clothes and flowers, as it is believed to be her favorite color. The sweets used in Prasad are also made of milk and white sesame seeds or til laddos are offered. Yellow flowers or marigold is offered to the goddess.
Hate Khori is a popular celebration in West Bengal where little children of the age of three or four are made to perform a ritual of writing the first letters of the alphabet. They are made to take a bath after using turmeric paste and then little boys are made to wear Dhoti and Kurta and the girls are made to wear Saree, especially yellow in color. New black slate, chalk and books and copies are purchased for the Hate Khori ceremony and the pandit performs the ritual. Little kids are made to sit on the lap of the pandit who hold their hands and make them write the first letters mainly, OM or A, B, C and or some Bengali alphabets like “K-a”, “Kh-a”.
To perform this Hate Khori ritual, people usually go to the nearby temples where the pandit performs the ritual or it is arranged at home where the pandit or Brahmin comes and performs the Saraswati puja and the Hate Khori ritual. Since the puja holds special significance among Bengalis and is considered an auspicious day to start anything related to learning, people try to introduce young children to the world of education on that special day.
Formal education is started from this day and children seek blessings of the Goddess of knowledge and wisdom. Young girls wear yellow saree and offer pushpanjali to the god. Palash flowers, Khichuri, mixed vegetables and Kul chutney are some of the special dishes that are prepared during this celebration.