Speech, truth — self-expression

Saraswati and Vac Devi link the three aspects so that we can know ourselves

November 02, 2017 04:37 pm | Updated 04:37 pm IST

As a writer and one who makes a living out of creative pursuits, there are two deities that I must call upon when I face a writing block. The first is Ganesha, the divine scribe and patron deity of writers, who removes obstacles (such as blocks) and in his iconography, represents the need to quell the rebellious ego. In my experience, more often than not, the ego is the source of the aforementioned obstacle or block — it is a refusal to see another perspective, or assume another identity or settle for a different outcome.

The other deity who I find myself calling on in times of creative blocks is the Goddess Saraswati. Saraswati is not merely the patroness of art, literature and music but her name also suggests the “essence of self” — or the idea of self-knowledge. I’ve often thought about this — what does art, music or literature have to do with the idea of self-knowledge?

I’ve thought about this, and the Goddess Saraswati often, working on a novel that I’ve just finished, on the end of the Sangam era, focusing on the lives of many Sangam poets — for, in the course of writing this novel, I have had to often consider whether one of the goals of literature — and this is why Saraswati, the deity of self-knowledge must preside over this discipline — is to illuminate the self.

The writer must inhabit, exorcize and excavate all those parts of him or herself that may have laid in darkness; must go beyond their own ideas of limitation and expand their own selves to inhabit another character and imagine a different experience, and thus simultaneously acquire self-knowledge and also transcend the self.

There is a wonderful myth I stumbled upon, which makes Saraswati, too, the source, the lifeblood of the legendary poets of the Sangam era in Tamil Nadu. Legend has it that Brahma cursed his wife — who, among her many roles also holds the office of deity of the Tamil alphabet — to split into as many parts as there are letters of the alphabet, and be reborn in the tongues of forty-eight poets, of different castes and communities.

Sangam poets

The Sangam poets are born in different walks of life, separated by distance and birth, but these separate parts of Saraswati are all brought together by the divine skill that they share, and sit together as in Madurai, as the Sangam, and their literature and poetry illuminate the era that shares the name that they are collectively known by.

In times when we witness the silencing of poets and writers, I often find myself thinking about the other personification or aspect of Saraswati — Vac Devi, the Vedic Goddess of speech and sound, who is also truth. Vac Devi, in concert with Saraswati and the idea of self-knowledge, makes me consider the relationship between speech and self-expression, and truth. Vac Devi makes me wonder if we are, perhaps, divinely inspired or impelled to express our own subjective truths, even if these truths clash and cause debate. It is only by speaking our truths that we can know ourselves, and we can be known.

The writer is the author of ‘The Mahabharatha-A Child’s View’, ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Missing Queen’

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.