"The goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes that she is founded in the experience of the Absolute Truth. Thus, she not only has the knowledge but also the experience of the Highest Reality.
She is mainly associated with the color white, which signifies the purity of true knowledge. Occasionally, however, she is also associated with the colour yellow, the colour of the flowers of the mustard plant that bloom at the time of her festival in the spring. She is adorned with simple jewels and gold, unlike the goddess Lakshmi; representing her preference of knowledge over worldly material things.
She is generally shown to have four arms, which represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. Alternatively, these four arms also represent the 4 Vedas, the primary sacred books for Hindus. The Vedas, in turn, represent the 3 forms of literature:
Poetry — the Rigveda contains hymns, representing poetry
Prose — Yajurveda contains prose
Music — Samaveda represents music.
The four hands also depict this thus — prose is represented by the book in one hand, poetry by the garland of crystal, music by the veena. The pot of sacred water represents purity in all of these three, or their power to purify human thought.
She is shown to hold the following in her hands:
A book, which is the sacred Vedas, representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as her perfection of the sciences and the scriptures.
A mālā (rosary) of crystals, representing the power of meditation and spirituality.
A pot of sacred water, representing creative and purification powers.
The vina, a musical instrument that represents her perfection of all arts and sciences.
Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music.
The beautiful human form of Saraswati comes to the fore in this English translation of the Saraswati hymn:
"May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops, who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus,who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me.
May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance."
A hamsa or goose is often located next to her feet. The sacred bird, if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. It thus symbolizes discrimination between the good and the bad or the eternal and the evanescent. Due to her association with the bird, Saraswati is also referred to as Hamsavahini, which means "she who has a hamsa as her vehicle".
She is usually depicted near a flowing river, which may be related to her early history as a river goddess.
Sometimes a peacock is shown beside the goddess. The peacock represents arrogance and pride over its beauty, and by having a peacock as her mount, the Goddess teaches not to be concerned with external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth."
Original photograph by Karon Melillo DeVega of antique wood carving discovered in a warehouse full of antiques on the island of Maui, Hawai'i