Dreaming again of:
Calving chunks of glacial ice,
Vast floods of moving water,
Mighty cascading waterfalls
Turbulent swift white rivers,
She Who Flows.
She is the generative waters which cradled an ancient, advanced civilization;
She is the flow of consciousness through the subtle yogic energetic system of nadis;
She is the river of inspiration sourced from the larger ocean of consciousness;
She is the liquid-light moonbeams of the illumined mind.
"Sarasvati by the perception awakens in consciousness the great flood (the vast movement of the ritam)
and illumines entirely all the thoughts." RV 4.58.1
The hymns to Saraswati are some of the oldest of the Rg Veda in which she is lauded as a Goddess and as a river. Rg Vedic hymns describe Saraswati as a powerful river flowing from the heavens downwards to earth. Some scholars suggest that geological records corroborate, for around 10 000 BCE, with temperatures increasing, the frozen glaciers of the Himalayas began to break up, flooding the plains below. This glacial melting created seven river channels, one of them being the Saraswati river which flowed all the way to the Arabian sea. It is described as “swift-moving with a rapid rush”, “bursting the ridges of the hills with its strong waves" and advancing with "a tempestuous roar". (RV 6.61)
The highly evolved Vedic civilization grew up along the banks of the Saraswati River and it is along these banks that parts of the Rg Veda and Upanishads were composed. "She" is likened to a nurturing mother for she is the source of water for drinking, crops, and cleansing.
The waters of the physical Saraswati river eventually diminished, possibly going underground, but the mighty powers that were embodied in her flow were also experienced as surging within the depths of one's own being ...
The Sanskrit word for river is "nadi" and within Yoga the flow of energies through our system is facilitated by a system of subtle channels also known as nadis.
When chanting Saraswati mantras, I have the sense that I am being purified, subtle obstructions within the energetic channels melting away. Some representations of Saraswati capture this open, heightened energetic flow with a swaying flexibility of the body. In other representations, Saraswati is playing her veena, an ancient stringed-instrument, which esoterically represents the power of sound to control the resonance of our body and the flow of energy through the subtle channels.
I first understood this years ago when I attended an introductory Naada yoga workshop by a visiting Indian pundit. At one point he asked us to close our eyes and listen as he played for us. I didn't just sway to the music, I began rhythmically undulating in wavelike movements as I became aware that he was opening our bodies through his music ascending, then descending, then ascending higher. I felt as if my body was an extension of his instrument, his fretted sitar mirroring the structure of my spine.
While most yogis are familiar with the main nadis, the Ida, the Pingala, and the central channel, the Sushumna, there are many more important nadis. One of these is the Saraswati nadi which starts at the root chakra and ends at the .... tongue! It facilitates the flow of consciousness manifesting as inspired speech.
Our body is the instrument; mantra, speech, and song are the music; She is the musician. It is all her play ...
As time went on, the concept of Saraswati the deity was merged with Vak, the Rg Vedic goddess of speech.
But within the Yogic system, speech is considered to exist on multiple levels. There is:
Sarasvati is all of this for as Para Vak she is the entire universe. Her body is comprised of all sounds, both audible and subtle.
And here I'll share a little story of my daughter when she was about 2 years old for I believe children are living in a deeper, undifferentiated state of knowingness. I had wallpaper books that she could cut things out of for cutting and pasting crafts. One day she ran up to me with something she had cut out, thrust it at me and said enthusiastically, "It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! What is it, mommy?!"
It was a picture of the full moon. It was grey, flat, dull. It didn't even look as nice as the photo I have placed here. She had never seen a full moon yet. (Hey, early bedtimes made for a happier mommy...) But she saw something in that wallpaper cutout that spoke to her on such a deep level, the essence of which communicated beauty and translated into joy.
It is through the power of Saraswati/Vagdevi that we can speak, think, and comprehend on all levels. While most of us are pulled out of that holistic, intuitive knowing of childhood, it is through the power of Saraswati, and specifically with mantra as a tool, that we can ride back a current of energy to the deeper depths of consciousness where we are aware that all of nature speaks in a resonant voice.
“May the Goddess Saraswati, with all power, full of power, further us, as the guide of our minds.”
RV I. 61.
Saraswati is the personification of the Shakti, the feminine force, which allows us to think, understand, and create.
Saraswati is lauded with a variety of terms and names including:
Jnanasakti: she who is the power of knowledge;
Smrtisakti: she who is the power of memory;
Kalpanasakti: she who is the power of forming ideas;
Saddavasini: one who dwells in sound ; and
Kavijihvagravasini: one who dwells on the tongue of poets.
As such she is the patron deity of scholars, scientists, and artists of all sorts. She is evoked by such individuals to bless their endeavours and celebrated popularly across India at the onset of spring. Saraswati mantras are taught to children to enhance learning and skill at school. As the vital energy which gives rise to the Word and all its creative aspects, her vehicle is the swan a symbol of the breath. She is the transcendent aspects of being human as expressed through the powers of the mind and the cultural arts.
I remember years ago devoting some time to work with the energy of Saraswati. One day, while watching my child play in the yard, I kept spontaneously bursting into musical mellisandos, sustained high notes, and flowing coloratura. "Odd!", I thought. My then pre-schooler responded with outstretched arms, hoppy skips, and sideways somersaults. No great work of artistic expression but mommy and kiddo had stepped into the flow! In my daily life this aspect of being surfaces most often as the quiet voice of insight into my own behaviour or a loved one. It is the clarity which allows me to choose the right word to say in a particular situation instead of going off the rails. While one aspect of Saraswati is the unleashing of flowing forces within the body, she surfaces within my mind as a clear, moonbeam of awareness. She is the flow of insight and ideas which lead to creative output.
And the name Saraswati itself? What does it mean? There are many associations but the more generally accepted meanings are "saras" meaning "a body of water such as a pool, pond, or lake", and an associated meaning of "speech". "Vati" indicates "she who posesses" and possibly "the essence of".
She is the essence of speech upon which our mind is dependent and therefore she is an essential aspect of ourselves for one defining aspect of our being is speech. Consciousness is often likened to water within the Yogic system for both are wavelike in their motion and water points to a certain fluidity of consciousness that we inherently possess. To pull a quote from something other than the Rg Veda, here's Bruce Lee!:
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the
cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot,
it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
In certain images, Saraswati holds a little vessel called a kalasha. When she, as a channel of feminine Shakti, pours into our being, we become the container for "her" wisdom. This flow of energy is mediated by the physical body and the subtle channels. Saraswati purifies our obstructions, (traumas, cultural and familial conditioning) as we open to a greater energetic flow, an expanded sense of self, a wider experience of being.
To evoke Saraswati is to align ourselves with specific forces so that we think and speak more wisely. It is to surrender to a river of energy that ultimately leads us back to the oceanic creative source of the universe which is the vibratory Word. It is to tap into the "matrix", the original source of all thoughts, ideas, and inspirations. And it is to align ourselves more consciously with the boundless source of Shakti which ever flows in unbridled, joyous freedom.
To know the masculine and be true to the feminine
is to be the waterway of the world.
To be the waterway of the world is to flow with the Great Integrity,
always swirling back to the innocence of childhood.
To know yang and to be true to yin is
to echo the universe.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 28
Learn the devotional mantra for Saraswati in the free resource section of this website. You just need a username and password... don't worry, there's no catch! (You can create your username and password by clicking on LOG IN/REGISTER up above.)
The next workshop will be Tuesday, September 25th from 7-8:45 pm with yoga teacher Brandee Safran to explore the healing applications of Sanskrit mantra. There will be accessible yet powerful mantras from the Vedic and Tantric traditions, guided relaxation, and song. This is an evening to dive deep and clarify your commitment to connecting to your highest self. More info here.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.