I first saw a sculpture of the Hindu goddess Saraswati in front of a high school in Bali, Indonesia. Saraswati is the four-armed Hindu goddess of learning, music, and art. In one of her hands, she holds a book. I was surprised that the statue showed her atop a spread-winged goose. In my mind’s eye there suddenly appeared a venerated figure from my own culture, Mother Goose. According to an old nursery rhyme (which may once have actually rhymed),
Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would fly through the air
On a very fine gander.
Was Saraswati a relative of Mother Goose, I wondered. After all, the Indonesian island of Bali is at the far southeast corner of the Indo-European culture area, England is at the northwest edge.
I remembered Saraswati last week, when a teacher shared a quote from Reading Magic by Mem Fox,
"Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they're four years old, they're usually among the best readers by the time they're eight."
In Bali, Saraswati is venerated for all her gifts. She even has her own Saraswati Day.
Mother Goose, meanwhile, has been banished to the nursery. But apparently she hasn’t lost her goddess power, and woe to any parent who neglects to pass along her rhymes.
This statue of Saraswati and her goose (looking more like a swan?), created by five Balinese sculptors led by I. Nyoman Sudarwa, was unveiled at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington DC in 2013. One of the three studious children sitting by Saraswati is a young Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy.