Balinese Musings – Saraswati, Hindu Goddess of Learning, Knowledge and Wisdom

This is Saraswati who is the Hindu Goddess of learning, knowledge, and wisdom. The Sanskrit word Sara means “essence” and swa means “self.” Saraswati means “the essence of the self.”

This photo was taken at the Ubud Palace – in a little area off the main entry way of the palace. The actual area itself was was off limits to tourists, but Saraswati stood at the entrance, which was plenty good enough for me as I have fallen a little bit in love with her symbology and story.

A guide at the art gallery I visited a few days ago told me that knowledge is like a beautiful woman and those who love her will chase after her for their lives (good looking women and knowledge!) Saraswati has four arms and in each hand she holds a symbol of learning/education. In one hand she holds a ‘lontar’, a Balinese traditional book which is the source of science or knowledge and often a pen, in another she holds beads or ‘genitri’ with 108 beads, which symbolize that knowledge is never ending and occurs across our lives, in her third and forth hands she holds a stringed instrument, which symbolises that science develops through the growth of culture and that the pursuit of knowledge is beautiful.  Beside her are swans, which I am told symbolise prudence and the ability to distinguish between good and evil. She is often seen sitting or standing upon water lilies (Lotus) which is considered the holiest flower for the Balinese.  Sometimes the imagery varies a little across the artwork, but overall these symbols are the constants.

Big love for the fact that the Balinese respect knowledge and learning so much, that they dedicate a day of celebration to Saraswati each year in June. Books are gathered together, dusted and cleaned and offerings are made to/for the books. No one is to read or study during the day, but in the evening, people choose a book, often a holy one, and take it to the temple to read. This is what I have been told :)

One response to “Balinese Musings – Saraswati, Hindu Goddess of Learning, Knowledge and Wisdom

  1. Showing multiple pairs of arms might be the sculptor’s way of showing different activities and interests at different times, while restricted to a static medium.
    It might be like those impressionist paintings that show a rapidly moving little dog as having many pairs of feet.
    Would you have an opportunity to ask a knowledgeable guide whether that is how Hindu’s interpret these sculptures?

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