Saraswati is usually depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in white, with vina, a musical instrument, rosary, the lotus flower and the swan. She is the first of the three great deities revered in Hinduism, along with Lakshmi and Durga. Saraswati is worshiped as the goddess of knowledge and the arts, literature, music, painting and poetry.
It is associated with the white color because of the purity of true knowledge, but occasionally the yellow color of the flowers of mustard, which bloom in the period of its festivities. The main festival in honor of Saraswati falls during Navaratri particularly in South India, the Saraswati Puja is a deeply felt ceremony. The last three days of Navaratri, from Mahalaya are dedicated to the goddess and in the ninth day of Navaratri on Mahanavami, all books and musical instruments are collected near the statues of the goddess and worshiped with special prayers.
Nobody is allowed to study or practice any arts on this day. The puja ends on the tenth day of Navaratri on Vijaya Dashami and the goddess is worshiped again before proceeding to take away the books and instruments. It is tradition that this day is spent studying and practicing the arts, and it is known as Vidya-aarambham or beginning of knowledge.
In Bengal, however, she is worshipped during the Basant Panchami, which falls in late January or early February in a similar pattern of South India. In Pushkar, in Rajasthan, there is a temple dedicated to her on a higher mountain than the temple of Brahma. Saraswati Vandana or Saraswati Kundendu Ya is the most famous hymn dedicated to the goddess Saraswati.
Sarasvati has its origins in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas. The hymns of the Rig Veda dedicated to Sarasvati cite it as a mighty river and is identified with the river Helmand which flowed from the sacred mountain Hara Berezaiti. It was apparently part of the Seven Rivers, although the seven rivers are never mentioned explicitly. It is described, appreciated and revered as a great and powerful river, just as the Indus.
The Avestan Harahvaiti is linguistically an exact cognate of the Sanskrit Sarasvati. Along the Sarasvati would then be born and developed civilizations of Harappa and Saraswati-Sindhu. After an exceptional drought that lasted for 300 years from 2200 to 1900 BC Sarasvati gets completely dried up.
Just like Tara, even the worship of Saraswati was absorbed into the Buddhist pantheon, and in particular in the Sutra of Golden Light, which has a section dedicated to her. Through the first translations in Chinese spread to China, where she is now mostly disappeared, and from here in Japan where the goddess is still venerated by the name of Benzaiten. Saraswati is worshiped in Myanmar as Thuyathati and is very revered in Burmese Buddhism, especially before tests and exams.