Marking the beginning of spring season is the festival of Basant Panchami. The festival has various aliases, spelt as Vasant Panchami and also known as Saraswati Puja. Basant means spring and Panchami means the fifth day, so Vasant Panchami literally means the fifth day of the spring season. It marks the official end of the winters and the onset of the spring season, with the dreary cold winds being replaced by warm sunshine and blooming flowers. 

In 2021, the Basant Panchami festival falls on 16th February. The festival is also referred to as Saraswati Puja in many parts of the country and involves worshipping Goddess Saraswati. People dress in yellow, as the colour is considered auspicious and represents the fully bloomed mustard fields of Punjab and Haryana. The colour of Basant is yellow which symbolizes peace, prosperity, light, energy and optimism. As Goddess Saraswati is worshipped as the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, art and culture, children are encouraged to write their first words in front of her idol, to seek her blessings.

Basant Panchami also announces the arrival of Holi which takes place forty days later. The Vasant Utsav on Panchami is celebrated forty days before spring, because any season’s transition period is 40 days, and after that, the season comes into full bloom.

The festival is celebrated by people in various ways depending upon the region in the Indian subcontinent. 

History Of Basant Panchami

History Of Vasant Panchami

Although the entire day of 16th February is considered auspicious, the timings for Vasant Panchami this year are 06:45 to 12:35. It is the right time to do the puja in the afternoon.

But why do we celebrate Basant Panchami? The reason for the celebration lies in the Vasant Panchami history, myths and legends. According to Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Brahma created the universe on this day. Apart from that, the reason why Saraswati Puja is celebrated in some parts of the country is that it was believed that on this day Goddess Saraswati was born to Goddess Durga. On Basant Panchami, devotees worship Goddess Saraswati to get enlightened with knowledge and get rid of lethargy. 

Another Basant Panchami story follows the celebration of the day to commemorate God Rama as he ate half tasted grapes of Mata Shabari on Basant Panchami. The day of Basant Panchami is considered as the beginning of life. It is the day of the arrival of happiness. And considered as an auspicious day to begin good work. 

The legend associated with the festival says that after Kalidasa was left by his wife, who was a beautiful princess, he planned to kill himself in despair. When he was about to commit suicide by drowning himself in a river, Goddess Saraswati emerged from the same waters and asked him to bathe in it. When Kalidasa took a dip in the river, the water gave him wisdom and he became a famous poet, celebrated throughout the world.

Vasant Panchami Celebration Across the Country 

Vasant Panchami Celebration

In the northern states of Punjab and Bihar, people celebrate it as a festival of kites. It signifies freedom and joy. The Vasant Panchami celebration is incomplete without Meethe Chawal, Makki ki roti and Sarson ka saag. In Rajasthan, people wear jasmine garlands on the day of the festival as a part of their rituals. For Bengalis, Saraswati Puja serves as a children’s festival. The schools close for the festival and children pray to goddess Saraswati. Wearing yellow is considered to be auspicious during Basant Panchami. Women wear yellow sarees, while men don in ‘panjabis’ and ‘dhoti’ or ‘pyjama’. People eat khichuri, a blend of rice and pluses and pair it up with various fritters. Sweets like rajbhog and payesh are also savoured on Saraswati Puja.

Odisha celebrates Vasant Panchami Saraswati Puja similar to the other states. Pushpanjali is offered to the deity; bright, yellow flowers are used. As Saraswati is also the goddess of music, culture and learning, singers and musicians also observe the day with great devotion.

In some parts of the country, young children are encouraged to write their first words on a slate as a tribute to the goddess. During Saraswati Puja, offerings of pen, pencil and other things used in education are offered to the goddess to seek her blessings. 

Basant Panchami or Saraswati Puja is celebrated in Assam as well. The birth of Saraswati is associated with getting up early in the morning, cleaning the surroundings of the house and puja area and praying together. 

While some schools close to the festival celebrations, some schools perform the puja and celebrate the Vasant Panchami among their students. They also teach them the importance of Basant Panchami.

How To Celebrate Basant Panchami & Perform Saraswati Puja At Home

Basant Panchami Celebration And Saraswati Puja At Home

The festival is also known as Shri Panchami or Saraswati Panchami. During Basant Panchami Saraswati Puja, people traditionally wear yellow clothes and decorate their homes with yellow flowers, which are then offered to Goddess Saraswati on the day of Basant Panchami. Students place their books, pens and musical instruments beside the idol for the entire day of Saraswati Puja to seek Goddess’ blessings. In many parts of the country, it is considered auspicious for children to write their first words during the celebration. Popular delicacies like khichuri, labra (mixed vegetables), begun bhaja, paayesh, sondesh and rajbhog are prepared. 

But how to celebrate Basant Panchami Saraswati Puja at home? On the day of Vasant Panchami, one usually wakes up early to bathe, clean the house and puja area. A paste of neem and turmeric is applied to the body before bath and after, one dresses in yellow clothes and prepares the puja area. While preparing the altar, a Saraswati idol is placed on the platform or puja area. 

Along with Goddess Saraswati, you can place an idol of Lord Ganesha on her side. Stationary or any creative items are also placed next to her. A plate decorated with turmeric (haldi), vermillion (kumkum), rice and flowers is offered to Goddess Saraswati and Lord Ganesha to seek blessings. Incense sticks and diyas are lit during puja and mantras are recited. After the puja, prasad is distributed. 

3 Popular Dishes Served During Vasant Panchami

1. Meethe Chawal Or Zarda 

A popular north Indian flavoured rice dish prepared with basmati rice, saffron and sugar. The dish is typically served as a dessert after the meal. 

Prep Time: 5 mins 

Cook Time: 25 mins 

Ingredients:

  • 0.13 cup clarified butter (ghee)
  • 4 cashews (kaju)
  • 2.5 almonds (badam)
  • 1 tsp raisins (kishmish)
  • 1 tsp dry coconut (kopra)
  • 1 pods cardamom (elachi)
  • 2 cloves (lavang)
  • 0.5 cup of water
  • 0.13 tsp saffron (kesar)
  • 0.13 tsp orange food colour, optional
  • 0.25 cup basmati rice, soaked 30 minutes
  • 0.25 cup sugar

Method

  1. Firstly, in a large kadai heat 2 tbsp ghee and roast 8 cashews, 5 almonds, 2 tsp raisins and 2 tsp dry coconut.
  2. Roast to golden brown on low flame and keep aside.
  3. In the remaining ghee add 2 pods cardamom and 4 cloves.
  4. Also add 1 cup water, ¼ tsp saffron and ¼ tsp orange food colour.
  5. Mix well making sure the colour is mixed well.
  6. Further, add 1 cup soaked basmati rice (30 minutes) and mix well.
  7. Cover and cook on a medium flame for 10 minutes.
  8. Mix gently, making sure rice is half cooked.
  9. Further add ½ cup sugar, 2 tbsp ghee and roasted dry fruits.
  10. Mix gently making sure sugar melts. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
  11. Stir in between to prevent burning.
  12. Cook until the rice is cooked completely. and do not overcook as rice turns mushy.
  13. Finally, serve meethe chawal or zarda pulao hot.

2. Rajbhog 

A simple yet classic Bengali sweet recipe prepared with milk solids and kesar. This Bengali dessert is very similar to the popular rasgulla dish.

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cook Time: 30 mins 

Ingredients: 

For paneer balls
  • 1½ litre milk, cow
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp semolina (suji)
  • Pinch saffron food colour
  • Pinch cardamom powder (elaichi)
  • 2 tbsp crushed dry fruits, cashew, pistachios, almonds (kaju, badam, pista)
For Sugar Syrup:
  • 1½ cup sugar
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp  saffron (kesar) 

Method:

  1. Firstly, knead fresh paneer till it turns out smooth texture without any grains of milk.
  2. Now add a tbsp of suji, pinch saffron food colour and pinch cardamom powder.
  3. Knead further for 5 more minutes or until a soft dough is formed.
  4. Pinch a small ball sized ball and flatten it.
  5. Place ½ tsp crushed dry fruit in the centre.
  6. Get the edges together, and make a round ball without any cracks. keep aside.
Sugar Syrup Recipe:
  1. Firstly, in a deep vessel take 1½ cup of sugar.
  2. Furthermore, add 8 cups of water and 2 tbsp saffron.
  3. Boil the syrup for 10 minutes on medium flame.
  4. After that, drop the prepared paneer balls into boiling sugar syrup.
  5. Cover and boil for 15 minutes. the paneer balls will have doubled in size.
  6. Furthermore, keep aside till it cools completely and then refrigerated.
  7. Finally, serve rajbhog chilled or at room temperature garnished with few saffron strands.

3. Pumpkin Halwa

Pumpkin halwa is an Indian sweet prepared from khoya, pumpkin, milk and flavoured with cardamom to give you an irresistible taste.

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cook Time: 10 mins 

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsps clarified butter (ghee)
  • 500 grams yellow pumpkin (kaddu)
  • 300 ml whole milk
  • 150 grams khoya
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cardamom (elaichi)
  • cashews and raisins 

Method:

  1. Scoop out the seeds and membranes from the pumpkin and peel it.
  2. Using a food processor or a manual grater, grate or finely chop the pumpkin.
  3. Use a heavy-bottomed pressure pan to prepare the halwa. Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a pressure pan. Add the grated pumpkin. Saute on a medium flame for 5 minutes. 
  4. Add the milk, give it a stir. Cover the pressure pan with its lid, along with the whistle. Cook for 3 whistles and on sim for 5 minutes. Switch off the flame and allow the pressure pan to cool.
  5. Open when cool. Add the grated khoya and sugar, along with saffron strands dissolved in 1 tsp milk. On a low flame, allow it to simmer until most of the milk has solidified and halva is dry. At this stage add the powdered green cardamom seeds, stir well to mix.
  6. Remove this into a bowl.
  7. In a small saucepan, heat 1 tbsp ghee. Fry the cashew nut until golden brown, drain and keep aside. Fry the raisins until puffed up. Transfer both the cashews and raisins over the Halwa.
  8. Serve chilled or warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Like every Indian festival, Vasant Panchami is a festival of fun and fervour. It is the beginning of the spring season. The biting cold weather is slowly giving way to the beautiful and bountiful spring. The blossoming flowers, the ripened fruits and the lush green fields, there is a reason why spring is also dubbed as the king of all seasons.

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