Saraswati and her Swan

Mute Swans are prominent in Hindu culture and associated with the beloved goddess Saraswati.

Swans have been the subject of myth and art in western cultures for centuries and when we presented at the Orillia Naturalists’ Club recently, we learned from one of the attendees that Mute Swans also appear in Indian culture and religion. 

In Hindu culture, they are connected to Saraswati. Her name means “elegant” and “flowing” and she is the goddess of learning, wisdom, music, and fine arts.  Spelled with a “v,” as Sarasvati she is also worshipped as the goddess of learning in the Indian religion of Jainism and by some Buddhist sects.

In art, Saraswati is often portrayed holding a musical instrument in one of her four hands and simply dressed, symbolizing her disinterest in worldly things.  

She is also often depicted riding a Mute Swan, which is her vehicle!  Like Saraswati herself, Mute Swans are associated with wisdom and knowledge, as well as discipline and excellence in Hindu culture.  They are also believed to have sensitive beaks, which can separate milk from water, representing the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

In India, musicians often pray to Saraswati before performances and students before examinations.  The festival in her honour, called Saraswati Puja, happens on the first day of spring.  Worshippers at the festival pray for blessings on their pens, books, and musical instruments, and children are taught to write. 

It’s fascinating to know that in so many parts of the world swans have a storied and symbolic presence in our collective imagination.


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