Vasant Panchami: The Festival of Spring

Basant Panchami or Vasant Panchami is the festival that celebrates the arrival of spring. This festival is celebrated on the fifth day after the second new moon after winter solstice during Shukla Paksha of the month of Magh that falls between January and February of the Gregorian calendar. This day announces the end of winter and the beginning of the spring season. Basant Panchami was considered the beginning period of fresh life as the season of spring is the time of rebirth and flowering.

Vasant Panchami initiates the harvest cycle and announces her summation that occurs with Holi. The seasonal aspects of the festival are more significant in North India due to the sharper contrast between winter and spring, but the festival's religious and cultural importance are emphasized in all the regions. In ancient literature, Vasant Panchami was associated with Shringara Rasam and the festival was celebrated in this tradition honoring Kamadeva, his wife Rati and his friend Vasant.

During the ancient times when Vasant Panchami was more oriented towards Kamadeva, dancers and drum players would come together to celebrate the orgiastic festival of fertility, where girls chose their partners after dancing through the night followed by the ritual wedding. Specially designed golden coloured dresses would be worn by the girls. The color yellow played an important role in Vasant Panchami as this was the time of flowering of mustard flowers. On the day of celebration the girls would gather flowers and mango leaves.

The flowers and mangoes were arranged in brass vessels and the occasion was characterized by the singing of the different ragas as a rule on the theme of love. At the end of the celebration, the flowers would be sprinkled with red gulal and the boys would apply it to on their cheeks of the girls. Today, this is not practiced, and the festival became oriented towards the worship of Sarasvati as in the post vedic period, Shiva was given a higher pedestal, who killed Kamadeva for shooting Shiva with his arrows, as also rituals of sexuality started to be personified as sinful among all religions.

However Kamadeva remains an important figure as festivals are held to his honors in the Vasant Panchami and the theme of love remains an important part of the festival whereby this is the most popular day of the year for weddings in many areas.

Later, Vasant Panchami Day was started to be associated with Saraswati, the goddess of learning, wisdom, knowledge, fine arts, science and technology. It is when Saraswati Puja is celebrated mainly over the eastern parts of India in Bengal. In homes and educational institutions, statues of Sarasvati are dressed in yellow and worshiped. Most educational institutions organize special prayers or pujas in the morning to seek the blessing of the goddess. Students, teachers, musicians, artists and other people worship the goddess.

Poetic and musical gatherings are held and children are initiated to learn the alphabet and are often taught to write their first words in the belief that the goddess will bless them in their quest for knowledge. This ritual to initiate education for children is also known as Hate Khori or Akshar Abhyasam or Vidya Arambham, one of the famous rituals during Vasant Panchami. Older students forgo reading or writing on this day. A noon feast is held everywhere with Khichdi. Next day the idols of Saraswati are carried in procession and immersed in the water bodies.

In the Punjab region, is celebrated as a Basant Festival with Kite festivals held in cities like Firozpur. For Sikhs, in the Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, on the day of Vasant Panchmi, musicians start the music by singing Basant Raga. In Tamil Nadu Saraswati Puja is done on the ninth day of Navratri in the month of Ashwin As Ayudha Puja. According to tradition, yellow rice and Halwa is offered in the pooja and then everything is tasted like Prasadam. In places like Balarama Temple in Baithain, the singing of holi songs and the throwing of colours begin at Vasant Panchami and continue throughout the Holi season.

Between Vasant Panchami and Holi, the preparations for numerous bonfires are made and during the next 40 days, the faithful add branches and other combustible materials in the log to form a pyre that is illuminated on Holi.

In terms of its cultural significance, the festival has been compared to Chinese New Year and the Beltane or Candlemas, with the subsequent 40 day route between Vasant Panchami and Holi compared to the fasting period. The festival of Beltane stood out for the rituals of joining hands and the sexual rituals of antiquity. It is clear that the date celebrated the union of Gods and Goddess. The subject of sexuality was propitious for the celebration.