The day of Vasant Panchami is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and the learning. Vasant Panchami is known as Shri Panchami as well as Saraswati Puja especially in West Bengal. It should be noted that Saraswati Puja is also done during Sharad Navratri which is more popular in South India.
Vasant Panchami is believed to be the birth anniversary of Goddess Saraswati. Hence the day of Vasant Panchami is also known as Saraswati Jayanti.
As Diwali is significant for worshipping Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and Navratri is significant for worshipping Durga, the goddess of power and valor, similarly Vasant Panchami is significant for worshipping Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom.
On this day, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped during Purvahna time which is the time before midday as per Hindu division of the day. Devotees adorn the deity with white clothes and flowers as the white color is believed to be the favorite color of Goddess Saraswati. Usually, the sweets made of milk and white sesame are offered to Goddess Saraswati and distributed as Prasad among friends and family members. In north India, yellow flowers are offered to Goddess Saraswati on the auspicious day of Vasant Panchami due to the abundance of blossomed mustard flowers and marigold (Genda Phool) at this time of the year.
The day of Vasant Panchami is significant for Vidhya Arambha, the ritual of introducing young children to the world of education and formal learning. Most schools and colleges arrange Saraswati Puja on the day of Vasant Panchami.
Vasant is the equivalent to spring and one of the seasons out of six Indian seasons in Hindu calendar. Vasant Panchami is misnomer as the day is not linked to Indian season of Vasant. Vasant Panchami is not necessarily falls during the season of Vasant. However, in present time, in some years it falls during Vasant. Hence, Shri Panchami and Saraswati Puja are more appropriate names to refer the day of Vasant Panchami as none of the Hindu festivals are linked to seasons.
As per Hindu Calendar Vasant Panchami is observed during
Shukla Paksha Panchami of Magha lunar month
Following are the main rituals and activities which are followed on the day of Vasant Panchami -
Vasant Panchami in Brij - Vasant Panchami celebrations are none other than those in temples of Mathura and Vrindavan. The day of Vasant Panchami marks the beginning of Holi festivities in Brij temples. On the day of Vasant Panchami, most temples are decorated with yellow flowers. The idols are adorned with yellow dresses to mark the arrival of spring.
On this day, the famous Shah Bihari temple in Vrindavan opens Vasanti room for devotees. In Shri Banke Bihari temple of Vrindavan, priests start Holi celebrations by tossing Abeer and Gulal on devotees. Those who prepare Holika Dahan Pandal dig up holes and install Holi Danda (a wooden stick) which would pile up with waste wood and dried cow-dungs in next 41 days for Holika Dahan rituals.
In West Bengal - Vasant Panchami is celebrated as Saraswati Puja in West Bengal. Like Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja is celebrated with lots of devotion and enthusiasm. Saraswati Puja is performed especially by students. As a custom, the girl students wear yellow Basanti Sari and the boys wear Dhoti and Kurta. The students as well as artists keep education books, musical instruments, paint-brushes, canvas, ink pots and bamboo quills in front of the idol and worship them along with Goddess Saraswati.
In most homes, Anjali is offered to Goddess Saraswati in the morning. The Goddess is worshipped with Bel leaves, marigold, Palash and Guldaudi flowers, and Sandal paste.
Like Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja is also celebrated as a community festival, people come together and build Pandals in their localities and install the idol of Goddess Saraswati. Traditionally, music is played on the gramophone to appease and to get the blessings of the Goddess of wisdom and knowledge.
In Naivedhya, Kul (which is jujube fruit and popularly known as Ber in North India), apples, dates and bananas are offered to Goddess Saraswati and later distributed among devotees. Even though the Kul fruit is available in the market much before the festival, many people don't start eating it until the fruit has been offered to Goddess Saraswati on Magha Panchami day. Most people look forward to relish the Kul fruit on this day. Topa Kul Chutney is special dish which is savored on the day of Saraswati Puja along with Khichuri and Lubra.
Apart from Saraswati Puja, Hate Khori i.e. the ceremony of Learning Bengali alphabets and known as Vidhya Arambha in other states is performed on this day.
In the evening the idol of Goddess Saraswati is taken out of home or Pandals and immersed in the water body with a gala procession. Usually the idol is immersed on the third day but many people perform immersion on the same day of Saraswati Puja.
In Punjab and Haryana - In Punjab and Haryana, Vasant Panchami is pronounced as Basant Panchami. Basant Panchami rituals are not related to any worship. However, it doesn't make the occasion less significant as the day is marked with various fun and frolic activities to welcome the arrival of the spring known as Basant.
The day is very popular for flying kites. Both, men and women, participate in the event. The activity is so popular that the demand of kites soars just before Basant Panchami and kite makers have busy times during the time of the festival. On the day of Basant Panchami, the clear blue sky is filled with numerous kites with various colors, shapes and sizes. It should be noted that in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, kite flying is more popular during the time of Makar Sankranti.
The school girls wear traditional Punjabi outfits known as Giddha and participate in kite flying activities. To welcome the arrival of spring, they prefer wearing yellow colored dresses popularly known as Basanti color. Gidha, a folk dance from Punjab, is also very popular among school girls on the eve of Basant Panchami.
Vasant Panchami is not a compulsory Gazetted Holiday in India. However, usually in Haryana, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal one day holiday is observed on the day of Vasant Panchami.