INDIAN FESTIVALS : What is Guru Purnima ?
By Meera S. Sashital
Guru Purnima

In the month of Ashadh (July-August) on the full moon day falls the Guru Purnima. This day is very auspicious and holy because it commemorates the day of the great sage Vyasa. This day is also called the Vyasa Purnima and the festival observed annually is no less significant.

Guru or the preceptor is held in high esteem in our Hindu tradition. The Guru is looked upon as an embodiment of God himself. Because, it is due to his spiritual teachings and guidance one acquires knowledge. It is the Guru who leads one away from darkness or ignorance to light or wisdom. The well-known hymn says “My salutations to the Guru who is Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. The Guru is Parabrahma incarnate”.

The great sage Vyasa, son of a fisherwoman, is revered as the preceptor of preceptors. He classified the spiritual knowledge of the Vedas into four parts viz. The Rig, the Yajur, the Sama and the Atharva. He wrote the eighteen Puranas containing the stories of our great saints and heroes for the benefit of laymen, to instill in them the spiritual and moral precepts. Besides these, he was the author of the greatest Epic Mahabharata comprising the gem of the immortal song The Bhagavad Gita and in addition Bhagvata, the story of Lord Krishna. Thus Vyasa is regarded as the Supreme preceptor or Guru and, offering of worship to him means worshipping all the Gurus.

On this Guru Purnima day spiritual aspirants and devotees perform Vyasa Puja and disciples worship their respective Gurus. In the field of Arts too, e.g. Music, Dance, etc. teachers are honoured and revered with offerings of fruits, flowers and gifts. It seems at the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, the Guru Purnima is celebrated with great pomp where devotees from all parts of the country congregate. The whole day is spent in meditation, prayers and holding of discourses. Initiation of matured disciples into the Holy Orders of Sanyas is performed, as this occasion is highly auspicious. Devotees also fast and some observe vow of silence and engross in spiritual studies.

Guru plays a significant role in our Hindu tradition and religion. Extravagant respect is shown to the spiritual teacher or Guru. It seems the first lines of Bhakti Mala gives us the essentials of religion, Bhakti, Bhakta, Bhagvata, Guru (faith, a faithful devotee, the Adorable and Guru) and this aptly illustrates the importance attributed to the last named. The rule that respect be shown to a spiritual teacher is very old in India. The scriptures say that perfect obedience was required from his pupil. The Guru was more venerable than a father. Generally, once a Guru is selected, the pupil obeyed and served him till the end of his tutelage. Full devotion in word, act and deed was rendered to the Guru and His commands were declared to be the voice of God.

In ancient times Vedic studies were imparted orally by Gurus to their disciples. The accents, the intonations and punctuations of the Vedic hymns etc. could be clearly defined and stressed which could not be done through books or scripts. Thus it strengthened the bond and proximity between the Guru and the chela i.e. the disciple. Besides, in early times the books were written on Tadpatra (leaves) which were scarce, costly and easily torn. Hence the importance of Guru in preference to books.

No Hindu can become a member of a sect without the permission or sanction of a Guru belonging to the sect. Unless the Guru finds his disciple fit to be taken into the Order of Sanyas, the initiation does not take place. When the Guru considers him fit for admission, after a ceremony, the Guru whispers into the disciple’s ears an initiatory formula (mantra). According to Swami Vivekananda, the Guru is the conveyance of spiritual influence to the disciple. He says, anyone can teach, but the spirit must be passed on by the Guru to the Shishya (disciple) and that will fructify. The Guru passes the thought power, the mantram and nothing can be done without the blessings of a Guru. Constant repetition of the mantram whispered in secrecy helps to fix the mind firm. The relation between shishyas is that of brotherhood and this method of worship prevails among religious devotees all over India.Kabir

Jnaneswara, the saint of Maharashtra, owed crossing of ocean of existence to his Guru Nivrittinatha. To Jnaneswara the grace of a Guru is like a true mother who rears up the spiritual aspirant on the lap of the Adhara Shakti and swings him to and fro in the cradle of the heart or waves lights of spiritual illumination before the aspirant. To Jnaneswara the only adequate way of expressing one’s appreciation of Guru’s greatness is to submit in silence at the feet of the Master.

However much the pupil be talented or brilliant without the Guru’s grace or initiation he has no grounds. Without a Guru one can never attain mastery or perfection is the notion according to Hindu ideals. There are many examples in this connection. Kabir the saint was in search of a Guru but had doubts whether the famous Guru Ramananda (a disciple of Ramanuja) would accept him as Kabir was a Muslim. So Kabir hits upon a plan. One day before dawn he hides himself on the steps of the Ganges ghats down which Ramananda used to go for his morning bath in the river. Since it was dark, Ramananda unknowingly steps on Kabir and exclaims “Ram Ram”. Kabir instantly falls at his feet and says “Thou hast given me the word of initiation (Guru Mantra) and now I have become thy disciple.” Ramananda without hesitation accepts him.Eklavya

Similarly, Eklavya, the son of Nishadraj Hiranyadhanu’s son goes to Guru Dronacharya to accept him as his disciple to learn archery. But, Dronacharya, realizing his prowess and to prevent him from becoming more powerful than Arjuna rejects him on false pretexts. But Eklavya does not give up hope. He prepares a clay statue of Dronacharya and daily practises his archery in front of it acknowledging it to be his Guru. Once it so happens that Dronacharya and Arjuna come for hunting. Eklavya, perfectly skilled by now, shoots arrows into the mouth of the dogs and stops their barking. When Dronacharya sees Eklavya’s excellence in archery and on learning how he had achieved his ambition, he asks for Eklavya’s right thumb as Guru Dakshina to diminish his skill than Arjuna’s. Eklavya readily gives the Dakshina.

Thus the ‘glory’ of a guru is unfathomable. Just like the full moon dispels darkness and lights up the path of a wayfarer, so does the Guru with his boundless knowledge remove the darkness of ignorance and enlightens the path of the spiritual seekers.

From her book:“Gems from Mythology”, - a Bhavan’s Publication.

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