Gnana Saraswathi temple in Basara draws huge crowds, mainly of students and early learners

Gnana Saraswathi temple
Gnana Saraswathi temple

It was an arduous five-hour drive to Basara aka Basar from Hyderabad but it was a long-awaited journey so we weren't complaining. We were here for the Gnana Saraswathi temple with which the town has become synonymous.

All six of us who had piled into a van sharing the cost, each had our own reason to visit the temple of the goddess of learning and wisdom. There was with us a young couple with a two-and-a-half-year-old kid. They were taking their daughter for the “Aksharabhyasam” ceremony. 

Aksharabhtasam; the initiation into the alphabet is the first step in a child's education. In fact, such pilgrims account for the highest number of visitors to the temple because it is believed that such a first step in the presence of the goddess of learning ensures a good education and makes one wise and knowledgeable for life. 

And as the priest accompanying the couple said: "Knowledge is the highest power. A king is respected only in his country. But the learned man is respected in all lands.”

There was my friend, she had just been admitted to her MPhil course and had come to pray for its successful completion. As for me, I am always in need of the goddess' blessings, given my profession!

Temples to Saraswathi are not very common in India, and dedicated ones even less so. The Gnana Saraswathi temple is, moreover, one of the very few large ones dedicated to this Goddess of Learning,
The roads leading to the temple a lined with shops selling ritual paraphernalia like coconuts, agarbathies, packets of haldi, kumkum, camphor, and sandalwood. 

Large and small framed photographs of the deity Saraswathi and figurines in different materials and sizes complete with a tiny veena in hand crowded the shop shelves as did notebooks, pens, slates and chalk pieces used for the aksharabhyasam ceremony.

As we made our way through the queues we heard people chanting “Om Sri Saraswathyey namaha” and “Saraswathi namasthubhyam varade kamarupini” and so on. There were hundreds of parents with their kids in tow in the queue among other devotees. 

We entered the sanctum sanctorum, where the Goddess is in a seated form holding a veena in her hand. Her face was smeared with turmeric powder. We said our prayers and came out after receiving the “theertham” or holy water and a packet of turmeric powder given as prasadam.

We also visited the sanctum of Goddess Lakshmi and the Mahankali temple nearby. We next visited the Vedavathi Shila, a rectangular monolithic stone believed to contain Sita Devi's jewels.

We later visited the eight Pushkarnis i.e. water bodies that sprawl across the area around the temple.  These are Vyasa Theertham, Surya Theertham, Indra Teeratham, Valmiki Theertham, Vishnu Theeratham, Ganesha Theertham, Shiva Theertham and Puthra Theertham. 

However, as we were visiting towards the beginning of March, summer had set in and the water was gradually becoming scantier. 

The reason we had gone at this time was to avoid the crowds at the temple's biggest festival which happens around mid-February, Vasantha Panchami. This is an event which marks the advent of spring.

The other festivals which draw big crowds are Vyasa Purnima as it is believed that Sage Vyasa installed the three goddesses here and thus founded this temple. 

He had come here to perform penance in the Dandakaranya temple after the Kurukshetra war it is believed. So, the town was originally called Vyasapuri, which in time became Basara.

Being a Devi temple the Dasara Navaratri and Mahashivaratri also see large scale festivals and big crowds. The temple visits completed and we made our way to Nizamabad for a night halt. 

Next day we were to visit Nirmal, the art-rich city where the famous, eponymous paintings are made. But that is another story.