Last Sunday and Monday, the teachers, staff and students of Kathmandu Vidya Kunja Secondary School were busy decorating the centrally located stone image of Goddess Saraswati, the source of knowledge, wisdom and arts of all categories and making the school campus colourful and attractive.
The principal, Purushottam Gautam, remarked, "I have always taken this occasion to instill a sense of respect for our culture and tradition among the students. While the families worship a host of gods and goddesses, there is only one - but a very significant one - in the life of students, and invoking Her is natural. There will be more than 20 new toddlers and others starting their first alphabets right here under the feet of the Goddess before going to the well-decorated Montessori style classrooms especially designed for them, now and in the future."
There is every reason for the principals of schools all over the country today to do so as hundreds of thousands of students celebrate Saraswati Puja across the country - from the Himalaya to the hills, the Kathmandu Valley and the terai. The festival in the terai takes a totally different look and dimension.
The Hindus of Nepal believe that Goddess Saraswati is all powerful as far as knowledge is concerned. The popular belief supported by the Puranas says that Brahma created all the beings on Earth. But the human being needed more senses, conscience and skill to live happily. He thus created Saraswati, his female self, out of his own body and instructed Her to bestow the human kind with knowledge, skill and wisdom in order to be perfect humans.
Without Saraswati’s blessing and support, human beings would be walking idols without knowledge. When Brahma created the script (in our subcontinent it came to be known as Brahmi because of its celestial origin), He advised Saraswati to spread it far and wide. Saraswati did just that. When man began to hum a little bit and created music, Saraswati was there to bless this aspect of human endeavour. The list of Her association with human skills, wisdom and performance goes on and on.
The Buddhists of Nepal worship the source of knowledge with a different name - Manjushree - in more tantric and esoteric form - Mahamanjushree. Manjushree Bodhisattva is regarded as one of the primordial Buddhas who visited the holy site of the Kathmandu Valley from the time of its submerged state to the time of the full fledged settlements with several holy sites, caves, towns and rivers.
But Manjushree stands very special because of His special feats of cutting the tough and deep stony gorge at Chobhar. Here the popular Hindu hero Krishna and the legends are sidelined, and Manjushree comes all the way from Maha China to have a look at the eternal flame emerging out as Swayambhu (one who emanated or emerged all by Himself) and later made it visible and venerable to his followers. Once the water of Nagdah (snake pond) was drained out, the valley became hospitable, and Manjushree laid the foundation of a city state led by his followers.
The characteristic khadga that once cut the Chobhar Hill and drained the water is also seen as the weapon with which Manjushree cuts the curtain of ignorance that keeps human beings away from knowledge, the source of Nirvana. Therefore, the Buddhists of Nepal remember Manjushree as the bestower of knowledge and destroyer of ignorance inherent in the human beings of Kaliyuga.
At the Swayambhu hilltop, there is a mound known as the Manjushree Hill. Thousands of devotees, mostly young students and first time learners of alphabets, visit the site whole day today to bow down to the stone image of Manjushree placed on a wall there. A kind and compassionate Manjushree is supposed to cut the dark curtain of ignorance and bestow knowledge and wisdom highly essential for the humans to survive and thrive in the society one belongs to.
Buddhists in the monasteries and viharas sing songs honouring Manjushree Bodhisattva, the founder of civilization in the holy valley of Kathmandu.
Today, there is one more place the knowledge-seekers visit to pay respect to Manjushree - the holy site of Sudal village, a few kilometers east of the city of Bhaktapur. The legends say that before embarking on the epoch-making feat of cutting the hill at Chobhar, Manjushree spent time at a serene location to meditate and rest. Once the city of Manjupattana was created between Swayambhu and Devapattana area, several villages were created to support the city dwellers and maintain symbiotic relation. The people of Sudal have remembered Manjushree and made the particular site of his meditation and rest a pilgrimage.
As is the case at Swayambhu Hill, people creatively mix up Buddhist-Hindu legends and create a Saraswati-Manjushree combined theme to do away with the darkness of mind and soak it with knowledge, wisdom and arts.
This is an example of how people in Nepal assimilate different traditions, blur the petty and divisive differences and come together in united form to respect tradition, promote unity, fraternity, integrity and universal brotherhood. This is even more important today than yesterday, and the young students worshipping Saraswati and Manjushree together provide the best example of harmony and coexistence as the fundamental features of Nepali culture.
Saraswati is also worshipped in several other locations in the Kathmandu Valley, the significant ones being Lele, the source of the Nakhu River, and the Nil Saraswati at Naxal, among others. The crowd here is also huge and the devotion impressive.
In the terai, Saraswati Puja takes a festive and colourful form. School premises all over the terai belt are decorated to give a festive look. The terracotta image of Saraswati is prepared by professionals who emerge in the towns and villages near the schools during the season. A lot of hard labour goes into making these lively images. Today, not just the schools but the entire villages around the schools celebrate this festival with jubilation amidst the chanting of Saraswati songs intervened by current and popular film songs. And, finally, the next day the beautiful image of Saraswati is bade farewell by immersing it in the nearby rivers amidst celebration.
source:Prem Khatry ,Rising nepal