Text as Saraswati

(Maitreya) Borayin Larios shrimaitreya at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 27 08:05:32 UTC 2010

Dear Colleagues,

This attitude of having respect for book is quite wide-spread in India and
can be found in several examples, even in bollywood films such as "Swades"
with Shahrukh Khan.
The respect and even veneration of scriptures and books is of course more
intense if they are "holy" (manuscripts of the Vedas or the Bhagavadgītā for
In most of the Vedic schools I visited for my fieldwork the books or
manuscripts were wrapped in silk and handled with great care. If touched
with the feet by mistake they would also touch the book with their hands and
then either their chest or their head in sign of respect. They also do this
when they accidentally touch a person by mistake with their feet.
The explanation I received is also that the goddess Sarasvatī abides in the
books in the form of knowledge and therefore should be treated like the
goddess herself. The annual Sarasvatī Pūja in Vasant Pañcami in which
scriptures and books are worshiped along with the goddess also attest of
this bibliolatry.
The feet being one of the most impure parts of the body should never touch
sacred items. Some people (particularly Brahmins) even recite a śloka every
morning asking for forgiveness to "mother earth" for stepping on her.
There may be more scholarly work written specifically on this subject, but I
can recommend two articles. The first one addressing Speech as Sarasvatī
called "Vāg vai Sarasvatī" by Usha Choudhuri found in the book "Veda as
Word" edited by Shashiprabha Kumar; the second one is "Purāṇa as Scripture:
> From Sound to Image of the Holy Word in the Hindu Tradition" by M. Brown
which deals with the veneration of scripture. This is the link to the
article: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062388

Best regards,

On Tue, Jul 27, 2010 at 8:43 AM, Dipak Bhattacharya <
dbhattacharya200498 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Dear Coleagues,
> The practice existed in Bengal too. One may also see S.K.Chatterji's
> account during his travel in Indonesia (I do not remember the page number)
> in company with Tagore and a few Europeans too. Chatterji tenderly caressed
> a book when it fell from a table. The care shown surprised the European.
> Chatterji spoke to him of the general Indian attitude to small vulnerable
> things. I remember having related this episode to some member of this forum
> long time ago. The attitude will not be found to be universal in India.
> Best
> DB
> --- On Mon, 26/7/10, Joseph Walser <joseph.walser at TUFTS.EDU> wrote:
> From: Joseph Walser <joseph.walser at TUFTS.EDU>
> Subject: [INDOLOGY] Text as Saraswati
> To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
> Date: Monday, 26 July, 2010, 4:11 PM
> I have noticed that at least among Tamil Brahmins, if someone touches a
> book with his or her feet, she quickly touches the book and touches her
> eyes. The explanation I have heard is that this is to apologize to Saraswati
> who resides in the print. Can anyone tell me how widespread this practice
> is? Does anyone know of any early references to or scholarly discussion of
> this practice?
> Best,
> Joseph
> -- Joseph Walser
> Associate Professor
> Department of Religion
> Tufts University
> 314 Eaton Hall
> Medford, MA 02155
> Office: 617 627-2322

(Maitreya) Borayin Larios
Jägerpfad 13
69118 Heidelberg

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