In honour of our gurus
Hindus attach paramount importance to spiritual gurus. Gurus are often equated with God and always regarded as a link between the individual and the immortal.
What is Guru Purnima?
The full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August) is observed as Guru Purnima, a day sacred to the memory of the great sage Vyasa. Vyasa edited the four Vedas, wrote the 18 Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata and taught Dattatreya, who is regarded as the guru of gurus.
Significance of Guru Purnima
On this day, all spiritual aspirants and devotees worship Vyasa and disciples perform puja for their respective spiritual preceptors or gurudevs. Traditionally, spiritual seekers commence to intensify their spiritual sadhana from this day.
The period Chaturmas (four months) begins from this day. In the past, wandering spiritual masters and their disciples used to settle down at a place to study and discourse on the Brahma Sutras composed by Vyasa, and engage themselves in Vedantic discussions.
Who’s a guru?
The guru in Vedic tradition is looked upon as one no less than God. Guru is a honorific designation of a preceptor as defined and explained variously in the scriptures and ancient literary works including epics.
The English word guru has its etymological origin in the Sanskrit term. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines it as “Hindu spiritual teacher or head of religious sect; influential teacher; revered mentor”.
Basically a guru is a spiritual teacher leading the disciple on the path of ‘god-realisation’.
Swami Sivananda asks, “Do you realise now the sacred significance and the supreme importance of the guru’s role in the evolution of man? It was not without reason that the India of the past carefully tended and kept alive the lamp of Guru-tattva. It is therefore not without reason that we, year after year, age after age, commemorate anew this ancient concept of the guru, adore it and pay homage to it again and again, and thereby re-affirm belief and allegiance to it. For, the true Hindu knows that the Guru is the only guarantee for the individual to transcend the bondage of sorrow and death, and experience the Consciousness of the Reality.”
From hermitages to universities
Over time the guru’s syllabus gradually enlarged incorporating more secular and temporal subjects related to human endeavour and intellect.
Gradually the institution of Gurukul or in-forest-hermitage, where disciples learnt at the feet of guru for long years was evolved. The great urban universities at Takshashila, Vikramashila and Nalanda essentially evolved from these tiny gurukuls tucked away in deep woods. If we have to believe the records of Chinese travellers who visited Nalanda at that time, there were more than 1,500 teachers teaching various subjects to more than 10,000 students and monks.
Legends of gurus and disciples
There were gurus as well as disciples of different hues to whom references were made in scriptures and literary works. The most popular legend is that of Ekalavya on being rejected by the ace trainer Dronacharya, raised his statue and with great dedication practised the art of archery and left behind Arjuna, the master archer, who actually learnt the art under the living guru. And the heartless guru asked for his thumb as gurudakshina or fees, and made him inferior before his royal disciple.
In the Chandogya Upanishad, we meet an aspiring disciple Satyakama, who refuses to lie about his caste in order to get admission in the gurukul of Acharya Haridrumat Gautam. And in the Mahabharata we come across Karna, who did not bat an eyelid while telling Parashurama that he belonged to the Bhrigu Brahmin caste just to obtain the Brahmastra, the supreme weapon.
From generation to generation the institution of the guru has evolved various basic tenets of Indian culture and transmitted spiritual and fundamental knowledge. Gurus formed the axis of ancient educational system and ancient society, and enriched various fields of learning and culture by their creative thinking. Herein lies the lasting significance of gurus and their contribution to the uplift of mankind.