The most powerful instrument any individual has at their disposal is their voice. If you don’t fancy public speaking, you still have your hands. You can use your hands to write words and create music. It is our voice–our inner voice–that is seeking to express itself in the external world.
That voice, according to Hindu tradition, emanates from Mother Saraswati.
At its most basic, learning the alphabet of a language–any language–is the first step to fixing a thought form in a tangible form. Before the invention of writing, we would pass down our wisdom orally, from generation to generation. At the heart of the oral tradition is repetition–which is why Goddess Saraswati is always depicted with a rosary. Similarly, when we learn to write, we practise writing the alphabet over and over again till it looks somewhat legible.
Mother Saraswati is thus the Goddess of Language.
Before we can learn to speak, however, we have to learn how to listen. When we were young, we learnt to speak from our primary caregivers. They would either sing or play us nursery rhymes and it was through imitating them that we first learnt how to use our voice. One of the animals associated with Goddess Saraswati is the parrot. Why? Because we often learn a language by imitating others.
When I was an aspiring novelist writing my first screenplays and novels, I often sounded like the authors I happened to be reading at the time. As my taste in books changed, so did my writing. Many of the books I enjoyed as an adolescent, I look back on with horror. The same could be said of the music that I loved at that age.
As we get older, we develop our own voice. We no longer rely on imitation or the trend of the day to express our inner voice.
The Divine Instrument
The instrument associated with Mother Saraswati is the Veena: an Indian classical instrument. In Japan, Saraswati is known as Benzaiten and is depicted with a biwa, a wooden lute. There is a strong relationship between studying a musical instrument and brain development; just as there is with studying a new language. It keeps the mind and the brain evergreen.
Furthermore, musicians–whether you play professionally or for pleasure–come to possess a certain sensitivity towards sound waves. Studying music requires a high level of focus, concentration and repetition. It can teach us to be patient with ourselves as we go from making a din at midnight to making music.
Have you ever been to a concert hall? The acoustics of the room are designed for maximum listening pleasure. At the same time, the busker on the street is perfectly capable of rousing a passerby without the help of any fancy equipment. In fact, some of these street musicians are excellent. Learning and listening to music can teach us to tap into our emotions as well as the emotions of others.
Mantra and Meditation
Now, coming back to the rosary I mentioned earlier. Mother Saraswati is always depicted holding one in her hand. This speaks to the power of mantra and meditation. In the Hindu tradition, our mantras are ‘given’ to us by a parent, a grandparent or a teacher. We learn to recite it with our elders as they try to inculcate in us the importance of doing a little mindfulness each day.
By learning and reciting these mantras–which are in Sanskrit–we gain exposure to a language that is now largely limited to religious study. We begin to understand the world through the language of the ancients. No language ever dies, though. It merely undergoes a metamorphosis.
If you listen carefully, you will hear the long gone ancient roots of the common vernacular of the day. Sometimes, the meaning of the word has changed. But that’s language for you. It is not confined to any dictionary definition.
It is a living, breathing consciousness that is forever changing.