Not in Bali.
Here, science and the arts are not poles apart. Here, science and the arts are not opposed to each other. On this beautiful isle of gods, the two not only meet, but also complement each other.
This is the inner significance of Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge and Music. The Balinese are quite naturally drawn to this particular form of the Divine for She represents the totality of human experience. She is the very personification of power and beauty.
Every 210th day, the people of Bali celebrate Her presence in their lives and homes. Hari Raya Saraswati, or Saraswati Festival reminds them of the divine qualities She stands for.
She is depicted as a beautiful lady with four arms.
Each of Her arms represents one of the four purusharthas, the four pillars of the structure of human life. These, as we have discussed before, are Dharma, Righteousness; Artha, Prosperity; Kama, Willpower; and Moksha, the Ultimate Freedom (please see my earlier articles, at www.thebalitimes.com).
Two of her arms hold a veena, a stringed musical instrument representing the arts, music, all that is beautiful and fine. When She plays on the veena, the primeval sound Aum resonates and universes come into being.
Aum is the core of the big bang. It is the nucleus of sound, the primeval cause of all sounds. This primeval sound is actually made of three different sounds, “A,” “U” and “M.”
“A” stands for Brahma, the Creator. This is the sound of Creation. A child is born with this sound. In the language of science this is the Positron.
Listen to the cry of a newborn; you shall hear all the different variances of sound “A.” In many languages, therefore, “A” is either the first letter of the alphabet or the first vowel sound.
“U” is the sound of Preservation, of nurturing and caring. This sound stands for Vishnu, the Preserver, and the Electron.
And “M” is the sound of Annihilation. This is Maheshvara, or Shiva. In the language of science, this is the Neutron.
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – Positron, Electron and Neutron: Creation, Preservation and Annihilation – and this is Aum. Birth, Life and Death. Here, however, Death is not the end, but the beginning of a new cycle. Aum is the sound of Immortality, Eternity and Infinity.
Saraswati reminds us to chant Aum, and to discover the Eternal Truth, Sat; the Immortal Self, Chit; and the Infinite Bliss, Anand. When rightly chanted – with the first sound, “A,” we become expansive. We go beyond all manmade barriers. All borders and boundaries are instantly transcended.
The second sound, “U,” helps us in self-discovery: that Expansive Truth is none other than you! Tat Tvam Asi – That Thou Art! Having attained this state of consciousness, we cannot but love all creation. Here, compassion is the rule of life.
The third sound, “M,” takes us deeper into the sanctum sanctorum of Self, the core of our being – where birth and death are intertwined. This is where “That” and “Thou” meet. This is where Yin and Yang, the Feminine and the Masculine, are ever engaged in the eternal life-dance of birth and death.
Pause for a while, take a deep breath, inhale very, very deeply, and while you exhale, very slowly chant Aummmmmm. Do this three times with your eyes closed, and you shall experience what you have just read.
Saraswati carries a Rosario, Ganitri or Japmala in Her third hand. This is the symbol of Continuity, Time. This emphasizes the very meaning of Her name. Saraswati means the Eternally Flowing River of Life.
Ganitri also implies “counting of beads” – mathematics, logic. In this it represents the left hemisphere of the human brain, as also the book in Her fourth hand, representing knowledge, science.
With two of Her hands holding the veena, representing the arts, and two others holding ganitri and a book, representing knowledge and science – Saraswati is the very embodiment of human intelligence. She unites the right and left hemispheres of the human brain.
Clad in white – the colour of Purity – She stands upon a fully blossomed lotus flower. This emphasizes Her Purity, and Ability to Transcend Impurities. Like the lotus, the muddy waters of life do not affect her.
A white swan and a peacock surround Her. Sometimes She is seen standing or sitting on one of them. The swan is considered the most intelligent of all birds. The legendary swan of Saraswati is known for its ability to draw milk from water mixed with milk. It can distinguish the good from the bad.
And the peacock is known for its beauty, and dance. It represents the Celebration of Life, of all experiences, pain and pleasure, heat and cold, so on and so forth. It is the dance that transcends all dualities.
Saraswati is, indeed, the Totality.
Worshipping Saraswati is worshipping Totality. Invoking Her is invoking self, this little self, the individual self – and the Great Self, the Universal Self, the All.
Discussing the Bali bombings, a senior journalist wondered: “What made Bali not retaliate?” Years after the incident he was still unable to understand the mindset of the Balinese: “Those bombers were outsiders; they followed a different religion; and they used their understanding of religion to justify their act.”
In order to understand the mindset of the Balinese, one must understand the totality of Saraswati. Totality is harmony. Seeing partially is the root cause of all evils. One who is not able to see the big picture, the whole, is worse than the blind. For the blind can at least feel the totality of darkness. The half blind, on the other hand, is in the state of limbo. He is neither here nor there. He is in the state where misconceptions and misapprehensions easily arise.
The Balinese inherit the best of the archipelago, its cultural values and indigenous wisdom. Saraswati represents those values and wisdom. How, then, can Bali retaliate and react violently to an act of violence? How can Bali answer terror with terror?
The journalist I mentioned is very much man of this archipelago, albeit uprooted from its cultural ground. He is deeply rooted in the cultural ground of those foreign lands where the old commandment “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” has yet to be amended.
Strength, science, the arts, knowledge, purity, righteousness, prosperity, willpower, ultimate freedom, creativity, care, eternity – these and all other similar values are synonyms. This is Saraswati, Mahashakti, Almighty. This is Bali, the very personification of beauty!
The writer is a spiritual humanist and author of more than 170 books, several in English (www.aumkar.org, www.anandkrishna.org). His organisation runs Holistic Health/Meditation Centers, a National Plus/Interfaith School, a Charitable Clinic and a Public Reading Room in Bali. For more information, call 08788 511 1979 or (SMS Only) 0811 14 4959
Filed under: Anand Krishna