Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning worshipped throughout Nepal and India. She is a part of the trinity (Tridevi) of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to create, maintain and regenerate-recycle the Universe respectively.
The earliest known mention of Saraswati as a goddess is in the Rigveda. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic period through modern times of Hindu traditions. Some Hindus celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami (the fifth day of spring) in her honour,and mark the day by helping young children learn how to write alphabets on that day. The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India, as well as some Buddhist sects.
Saraswati who is revered as a goddess of knowledge, music and arts is also found outside Nepal and India, such as in Japan, Vietnam, Bali (Indonesia) and Myanmar.
Saraswati, sometimes spelled Sarasvati, is a Sanskrit fusion word of Sāra (सार) which means essence, and Sva (स्व) which means one self, the fused word meaning "essence of one self", and Saraswati meaning "one who leads to essence of self knowledge". It is also a Sanskrit composite word of surasa-vati (सुरस-वति) which means "one with plenty of water".
The word Saraswati appears both as a reference to a river and as a significant deity in the Rigveda. In initial passages, the word refers to Sarasvati River and mentioned with other northwestern Indian rivers such as Drishadvati. Saraswati then connotes a river deity. In Book 2, Rigveda calls Saraswati as the best of mothers, of rivers, of goddesses.
अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति | – Rigveda 2.41.16
Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Sarasvatī, We are, as ’twere, of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown.
Saraswati is celebrated as a feminine deity with healing, purifying powers of abundant, flowing waters in Book 10 of Rigveda, as follows:
अपो अस्मान मातरः शुन्धयन्तु घर्तेन नो घर्तप्वः पुनन्तु | विश्वं हि रिप्रं परवहन्ति देविरुदिदाभ्यः शुचिरापूत एमि || – Rigveda 10.17
May the waters, the mothers, cleanse us, may they who purify with butter, purify us with butter, for these goddesses bear away defilement, I come up out of them pure and cleansed. –Translated by John Muir
In Vedic literature, Saraswati acquires the same significance for early Indians (states John Muir) as that accredited to the river Ganges by their modern descendants. In hymns of Book 10 of Rigveda, she is already declared to be the "possessor of knowledge". Her importance grows in Vedas composed after Rigveda and in Brahmanas, and the word evolves in its meaning from "waters that purify", to "that which purifies", to "vach (speech) that purifies", to "knowledge that purifies", and ultimately into a spiritual concept of a goddess that embodies knowledge, arts, music, melody, muse, language, rhetoric, eloquence, creative work and anything whose flow purifies the essence and self of a person. In Upanishads and Dharma Sastras, Saraswati is invoked to remind the reader to meditate on virtue, virtuous emoluments, the meaning and the very essence of one's activity, one's action.
Saraswati is known by many names in ancient Hindu literature. Some examples of synonyms for Saraswati include Brahmani (power of Brahma), Brahmi (goddess of sciences), Bharadi (goddess of history), Vani and Vachi (both referring to the flow of music/song, melodious speech, eloquent speaking respectively), Varnesvari (goddess of letters), Kavijihvagravasini (one who dwells on the tongue of poets).