Saraswati’s Cosmic Song

30 Days of Devotion
Day 3: Iconography

goddess-saraswati-AE03_l
Modern depiction of Saraswati

Images of Saraswati are easy to find with a quick search of the interwebz. In the wild, they are almost as easy to identify, because she has a fairly set visual iconography that has evolved over the handful of millennia that she’s been worshipped.

In modern Hinduism, Saraswati is usually shown with four arms. Two of these play a stringed instrument known as the veena. Saraswati’s veena is said to emit all the sounds of the cosmos. In fact, the veena is her characteristic iconographic trait.

Indian Sarasvati, 6th century MFAH
6th century CE statue of Saraswati from Uttar Pradesh
Currently in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Non-Hindu icons of Saraswati are more likely to show her with only two arms, which still nonetheless clutch the cosmic veena. She is so heavily connected with it that even when she came to Japan as Benzaiten-sama, she still strummed away on its strings – though it had been transformed into a different instrument, the biwa or lute.

Benzaiten Ukiyoe
Japanese Saraswati, aka Benzaiten-sama
Edo period print by Aoigaoka Keisei

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