Contemplating Saraswathi

Saraswathi is the gorgeous, enigmatic goddess in the Indian pantheon that has, sadly, not been spared the reductionist lens of material interpretations in more recent times. By this I mean that she has come to symbolise knowledge in the narrow sense of academic, intellectual and artistic disciplines. However, knowledge in the Saraswathi domain is vidya, which is insight into the true nature of reality as Brahman.

The Saraswathi space is the heart of contemplation itself. It sets out the characteristics of the contemplative experience as one that is distinct from the experience of maya-based contexts. And the language of this domain is contemplative arts as it was practised traditionally in India. Saraswathi as the domain of vach or speech implies expression and embodiment as the channel of practising insight into the essence of reality . This is not speech and expression that interprets material reality. Hence contemplative arts in India traditionally provided modes of practicing access to Brahman or expanded experiences which are beyond the capacity of maya-based languages to interpret and express.

Saraswathi is removed from the worldly, domestic realms of Lakshmi and the paradigm busting realms of Durga. In her world, paradigms are already dissolved and she invites surrender to the purity of experience beyond paradigms and the known. Moreover, she suggests that this experience is gentle, creative and intensely beautiful.

The lotus, which is a central symbol of the Saraswathi space, suggests that insight is rooted in the murky swamp of our daily experiences. Saraswathi’s invitation is to remember the bloom that arises from the swamp and needs the dirt in order to flourish and offer its beauty to the world. In the yoga tradition, the thousand petalled lotus in the sahasrara is a similar symbol—the journey through the lower chakras is a necessary one to experience the fullness of the blooming lotus.

Rejecting nothing, attached to nothing, free, gentle, brilliant and, above all, creative—these are the attributes of the Saraswathi contemplation space.

Padma Menon