by Acharya Shunya
Lead image by Damian Marhefka
One of my favorite Saraswati myths is the one in which she is married to her partner, in a rather unconventional marriage, to Lord Brahma. It might well be the first open marriage in Hindu mythology. Brahma, of course, is the creator, and Saraswati is his muse. She is representing both ego and awareness at a cosmic level. One is a bit more bound in the act of creation, the other is unbounded, because creativity must remain unbounded. So there they are — the Divine Mother and Father.
In this role, Brahma and Saraswati play out a story, not with a malevolent intent, but to teach us humans, at least in my interpretation, as to how we can be in partnerships but in a more open way than the more conventional manner. Brahma is about to start a great fire ritual, and in the Hindu tradition, if a couple is married, they are to initiate the ritual ceremony together. Saraswati, however, is out doing her own thing — awakening souls by inspiring them with new music, new art, and new ideas. This work keeps her busy, and she is late to Brahma's ritual.
Indra, who also appears in other Hindu stories and myths, is a guest at Brahma's ceremony. Indra offered the unsolicited advice that Brahma invite another goddess, Goddess Gayathri, to sit by him. After all, Indra argued, all the Goddesses are really one. Brahma was listening, likely agreeing with Indra's suggestion.
Just then, Saraswati walked in, realizing that these discussions were being had behind her back. She wasn't an object that could simply be replaced by another — one Goddess cannot be swapped in place for another; as if she wasn't a person at all. In her estimation, Indra and Brahma were implying that as long as one body could be replaced by another body and check the same box of gender and sex, it would be sufficient. Saraswati did not like it one bit.
Because she's a goddess, Saraswati doesn't keep her feelings to herself. She doesn't stew in her thoughts about how she had been rejected, but instead quietly lets Brahma know that she doesn't agree, and didn't like what was going on. She smiled at the guests, but told Brahma privately that because of his selfish, demeaning actions, no one would worship Brahma ever again.
And that, because of all Saraswati's inspirational power, is exactly what happened. It's not that Brahma isn't considered a god, but to this day in India, there are very few temples dedicated to him. He isn't exactly venerated on a daily basis. And though Brahma was the Divine Father and father of creation, he could have created a way through this punishment — but he did not. He understood that even well-meaning folks can cause pain, particularly to women and other-gendered people.
The lesson here is in the autonomy and sovereignty of all people — that one person cannot simply be replaced by another. The other lesson is in the freedom provided by the example of this marriage. Though Saraswati remains married to Brahma in principle, she's always depicted doing her own thing, a completely independent goddess. The creator and creativity may always be inextricably linked, but they need room to breathe to thrive.