During the ancient period when Vasant Panchami was more oriented toward Kamadeva, dancers, musicians, and other celebrants would congregate in a fine display of arts. Specially made Vasanti clothes would be worn, consisting of a skirt, blouse, and pink or saffron sari with tiny red square or circular dots.
On the celebration day the dancers would collect flowers and mango and arranged them in brass vessels. The occasion was marked by the singing of various ragas usually on the theme of love (especially songs involving Krishna and Radha or the gopies). Today this is not practiced, and the festival is oriented toward Sarasvati, however Kamadeva remains an important figure as feasts are held in his honor during Vasant Panchami, and the theme of love and festivity remains an important part of the festival with this being the most popular day of the year for weddings in some areas.
Vasant Panchami is the first and more minor of two spring festivals in Hindu culture; the second being Holi. The 40-day period between Vasant Panchami and Holi corresponds with the 40 days of Rati's penance after her husband; Kamadeva was reduced to ashes for shooting the eye of Shiva with his love arrows. In modern times for Holi, preparations are made for numerous burnings in effigy of the demoness Holika. Starting on Vasant Panchami, a log with a figure of Holika is placed in a public place and during the next 40 days, the faithful add twigs and other combustible material to the log to form a pyre which is lit on Holi. In some places the singing of Holi songs and the throwing of color begin on Vasant Panchami and continue throughout the Holi season.
The story of Saraswati Puja is related to the Brahma Vaivarta Purana. Sri Krishna in His role as Jagat Guru or world teacher and the Great Reformer, especially in the re-alignment of some traditions, customs and practices, Gita Ch4: V 8:-
(Paritranaya sadhunaam vinashay cha dushkritam
Dharma sangsthap-anarthay sam bhabami yuge yuge)
granted Saraswati a boon that she too will be worshipped on Vasant Panchami. Goddess Saraswati is the goddess of learning, wisdom, knowledge, fine arts, refinement, science and technology. Vasant Panchami is treated by celebrants as Saraswati's birthday. People worship Goddess Saraswati to attain enlightenment through knowledge and to rid themselves of lethargy, sluggishness and ignorance.
After performing morning ablutions and bathing, a Kalasha is established. After worshipping Ganesh, the Sun, Vishnu and Shiva, Saraswati is worshipped. Interestingly, in Tamil Nadu and South India Saraswati is worshipped on the ninth day of navratri in the month of ashwin.
The day before Vasant Panchami, Saraswati's temples are filled with food so that She can join the celebrants in the traditional feasting the following morning. In temples and educational institutions, statues of Saraswati are dressed in yellow and worshiped. Most educational institutions arrange special prayers or pujas in the morning to seek blessing of the Goddess. Poetic and musical gatherings are held and children are initiated and are often taught to write their first words. This ritual of initiating education to children is known as Akshar-Abhyasam or Vidya-Arambham/Praasana, one of the famous rituals of Vasant Panchami. Older students clean their pens and inkwells but abstain from reading or writing on this day. In Bengal, idols of Saraswati are taken on procession and immersed in the holy Ganga.
Saraswati Puja is a "great day to inaugurate training institutes and new schools” – a trend made famous by the renowned Indian educationist Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861-1946), who founded the Banaras Hindu University on Vasant Panchami day in 1916
Muslims have been celebrating Basant since the 12th century CE. According to legend when Saint Nizamuddin Aulia's young nephew Taqiuddin Nooh died, he became stricken with grief, and he eventually withdrew from society. The court poet, Amir Khusrau, tried to think of ways to brighten the Saint's mood. Upon seeing local women carrying flowers on Basant and dressed in yellow, Khusrau too dressed in yellow and took flowers to the Saint. This brought a smile on the Saint's face. Since then, Basant has been celebrated at the dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi and all dargah's of the Chishti order.
Basant Festival of Kites
In the Punjab region, Basant is celebrated as a seasonal festival by all faiths and is known as the Basant Festival of Kites. Maharaja Ranjit Singh introduced the tradition of kite flying on Basant over two hundred years ago, which became popular in the Punjab region. Kite festivals are held in cities such as Firozpur and Sangrur, where children generally fly kites to mark the auspicious occasion. This has led to the festival being called the Festival of Kites or the Kite Festival.