More than 500 devotees gathered on February 1 to celebrate Saraswati puja at Bhartiya Mandir on Balmoral Road in Auckland. Goddess Saraswati is an embodiment of learning, wisdom, arts, and music, and devotees pray to her to seek knowledge and blessings. It is believed that on this day, the goddess blesses the books, and therefore, no one should touch a book.

The celebration happens on Vasant Panchami, the onset of spring in the Indian subcontinent. People celebrate by wearing clothes in various shades of yellow. This is in keeping with the colour of nature at this time when yellow mustard flowers and marigold are in bloom.

During the puja, the Saraswati idol was covered in a white sari, symbolising purity, and was placed on the temple altar, which was decorated with flowers. The temple was lit with lights and flower strings.

The puja commenced at 5 p.m. with the dhyaan mantra (Om Saraswati Mayaa Dristawa...) followed by reciting the 1,000 names of goddess Saraswati and a havan (ritual burning of offerings) by the priest who used special wood, ghee, joss sticks, and incense. The devotees came forward and placed their books and pens at the feet of goddess Saraswati seeking blessings and knowledge.

This was followed by aarti. The devotees sang songs in praise of the deity while the handheld aarti lamps were being offered to them. Usually, aarti is conducted twice a day at the Bhartiya Mandir, one at 8.15 a.m. and the other at 7 p.m.

“The day is auspicious for aksharabhyaas (initiating education). Children can start their formal education from this day,” Bhartiya Mandir priest Pt Govind Prasad Sharma said.

The puja holds an immense significance to students as they pray to the goddess of knowledge and learning.

A similar puja was organised at Shri Ram Mandir in Henderson where hundreds gathered for the celebration.

“We witnessed more children accompanied by their parents to Saraswati puja celebrations than any other puja,” Umesh Chand, a member of the Shri Ram Mandir said.