The endearing thing about the Hindu pantheon is that there is no end of deities. Thus, you can pick a favourite according to your temperament, mood, traditions or some linear combination of the above.(I think only Catholicism comes even close, with its dazzling array of saints).
. I’m not particularly religious, but if you forced me at gunpoint to worship a god or goddess of my choice (what a very, very disturbing thought, by the way), I’d probably pick Saraswati. Yep, I know that Krishna is clever and fun and popular and Kali is beloved of the feminists, maximizing their respective cool quotients. Nevertheless, Saraswati remains my quiet, unassuming favourite.
First of all, she has the most extraordinarily relevant powers. If you’re unaware, she’s not only the patron of all kinds of learning, but also of poetry, music, literature and art: in short, all the things Rothinzil wants the world to have more of. Goddess knows our ignorant, restless world badly needs a lot of the above.
Secondly, personality-wise, she’s the least intimidating of the whole goddess-clan. Kali and Durga naturally win the scariness stakes hands down, but even the other milder goddesses seem a little bit like those too-nice primary school teachers who only just hide their strictness behind a sweet smile. In contrast, I have never come across a single instance of Saraswati being angry at any one or anything. (And I’m supposed to be a reasonably intense mythology nerd). In fact, if there’s one quality I’d associate with her, it would probably be infinite patience. I kind of have a hard time thinking of her as a scary, powerful being: I can imagine her more as a kindly, slightly stooped lady, probably peering down from behind unfashionable glasses and gently encouraging one to have another go at that tough economics reading.
But stop a moment, and think of how powerful patience really is. No art or knowledge in the world can be achieved without a steady, cheerful patience. Hell, one cannot even write a coherent five-hundred-word blog post without patience. All inborn talent or intelligence comes to nought in its absence. And this brings me in a roundabout way to the other thing about Madam S.: I like to think she’s also, in some way, responsible for creativity in general – both in terms of generating ideas as well as implementation.
Finally: while it’s pretty obvious how Durga and Kali got to become feminist icons, I find Saraswati an equally powerful one, in a more subtle way. If “being a learned and wise woman” is not the epitome of feminism, then what is? Only if you understand feminism as some kind of violence does this sound incongruent. But if feminism is simply the belief that women are as flawed, or as perfect, as men, and deserve an equal chance in life, then there is no contradiction at all in the idea of a person being wise, learned, patient, mild – and feminist.
Anyway. Off I go to lay down my pen and paper for the weekend!