GURU PURNIMA (SAMYA MUKHERJEE)
Guru Purnima is a tradition dedicated to all the spiritual and academic Gurus, who are evolved or enlightened humans, ready to share their wisdom with very little or no monetary expectation, based on Karma Yoga. It is celebrated as a festival in India, Nepal and Bhutan by the Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. Guru Purnima is a tradition dedicated to all spiritual and academic ‘Gurus’. This annual festival is traditionally observed to revere chosen spiritual teachers/leaders and express their gratitude. This festival is celebrated on the full moon day (Purnima) in the Hindu month of ‘Ashadha’ (June – July), on bright lunar full-moon fortnight (Shukla Paksha). Earlier the sages had assigned this full-moon day in the Bengali month of Ashadha, for their disciples or students to honour their gurus on a particular day in a year. The meaning of the word full-moon is ‘Purnima’, so this particular day is known as ‘Guru Purnima’, the day when the disciples express their love and devotion and thank their gurus for the gifts of love and grace, which are given unconditionally.
The festival of Guru Purnima was revived by Mahatma Gandhi to pay tribute to his spiritual guru Shrimad Rajchandra. It is also known as Vyasa Purnima, marking the birthday of Veda Vyasa (the author as well as a character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata). Thus, Guru Purnima honours Veda Vyasa, one of the most honoured and greatest gurus of ancient Hindu tradition in India. In history, it has been witnessed that the spiritual gurus with their disciples, used to sit under a tree and study the Brahma Sutras, composed by Vyasadeva. Senior Ayurvedic consultant Dr. Vishakha Mahindroo says, “Veda Vyasa structured the four Vedas, composed the epic of Mahabharata, created the foundation of many Puranas and the vast encyclopedias of Hindu sacred lore. Guru Purnima represents the date on which Lord Shiva as the Adi Guru or original Guru taught the seven ‘rishis’ who had great involvements in the Vedas. In Yoga Sutras, Ishwara Pranava or ‘Om’ is said to be the Adi Guru of Yoga. Lord Buddha was said to have delivered his first sermon on the day of Guru Purnima at Sarnath, reflecting the power of this sacred time”.
Common Observances : The celebration of Guru Purnima is marked by spiritual activities and may include a ritualistic event in honour of the Guru; that is, the teachers which is called ‘Guru Pooja’. Guru or teacher has always been considered akin to God according to Hindu culture. The principle of ‘Guru’ is said to be thousand times more active on the day of Guru Purnima than on any other day. The word ‘Guru’ is derived from two words ‘gu’ and ‘ru’. The Sanskrit word ‘gu’ means darkness or ignorance and ‘ru’ denotes the remover of that darkness. Therefore, a Guru is one who removes the darkness of our ignorance. Gurus are believed by many to be the most necessary part of life. Gurus have a special place in the lives of their followers since ancient times. All the holy books of Hindusim dictate the importance of Gurus and the extraordinary bond between a Guru and his Sishya (disciple). An age-old Sanskrit phase ‘Mata Pitah Guru Daivam’ which indicates that the first place is reserved for ‘the mother’, second for ‘the father’, third for ‘the Guru’ and fourth for ‘the God’. The teachers have been given a higher place in Hindu tradition than the God. Actually Guru refers to a spiritual guide, who enlightens disciples by his knowledge and teachings. On this day, disciples offer ‘puja’ (worship) or pay respect to their guru (spiritual guide). In addition of having religious importance, the festival Guru Purnima has great importance for Indian academics and scholars. Indian academics celebrate this day by thanking their teachers as well as remembering past teachers and scholars.
Traditionally, the festival is celebrated by Buddhists in honour of Lord Buddha, who gave his first sermon on the day of Guru Purnima at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. In the yogic tradition, the day is celebrated as the occasion when Lord Shiva became the first Guru, as he began the transmission of yoga to the ‘Saptarishis’. Many Hindus celebrate the day in honour of the great sage Veda Vyasa, who is seen as one of the greatest Gurus in ancient Hindu traditions and a symbol of the Guru-sishya tradition. Vyasa deva is not only believed to have been born on this day but also to have started writing the ‘Brahma Sutras’ on ‘Ashadha Sudha Padyami’, which ends on this day. Their recitations are a dedication to him and are organised on this day, which is also known as ‘Vyasa Purnima’. This festival is common to all spiritual traditions in Hinduism, where it is an expression of gratitude towards the teacher by his/her disciple. Hindu ascetics and wandering monks (sanyasis), observe this day by offering puja to their Guru, during the ‘Chaturmas’, a four month period during the rainy season, when they choose seclusion and stay at one chosen place; some also give discourses to the local public. The day of Guru Purnima is considered to be sacred as well as a very good day by the people especially to the farmers as they wait for heavy showers for their crops to grow. The four month period (Chaturmas) starts this day and the spiritual seekers start intensifying their sadhanas (practice) on this day.
Students of Indian classical music and Indian classical dance also follow the ‘Guru Sishya Parampara’ and celebrate this holy festival around the world. According to the Puranas, Lord Shiva is considered as the first ‘Guru’ of the universe.
In monasteries and Ashramas, disciples offer prayers in the honour of their Gurus (spiritual teachers). Dr, Vishakaha suggests what to do on Guru Purnima – “On this day, one should dedicate oneself to follow the principles of guru and teachings as well as to put them into practice. Guru Purnima has the importance of Vishnu puja attached to it. ‘Vishnu Sahatranam’ also known as the thousand names of Lord Vishnu should be recited on this day. Be in sync with self and channelize your energies on this auspicious day”. Many people fast during this day refraining to eat salt, rice, heavy foods such as some delicious vegetable dishes and other meals made of cereals. Eating yoghurt or fruits is allowed. They break their fast after performing puja in the evening. The temples distribute Prasad, amrita, fresh fruits, sweetened curd. Most households also follow a strict vegetarian diet on Guru Purnima, eating delicacies like Khichudi, Poori, Choley, Halawa and sweets like Soan Papdi, Barfi, Laddoo, Gulab Jamun etc.
Hindu legend : This was the day, when Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa (author of the Mahabharata) was born to sage Parashara and a fisherman’s daughter Satyavati; thus this day is also celebrated as ‘Vyasa Purnima’. Veda Vyasa did service to the cause of Vedic studies by gathering all the Vedic hymns extant during his times, dividing them into four parts based on their use in the rites, characteristics and teaching them to his four chief disciples – ‘Paila’, ‘Vaisampayana’, Jaimini’ and ‘Sumantu’. It was this dividing and editing that earned him the honorific ‘Vyasa’ (‘vyas’ : to edit, to divide). He divided the ‘Holy Veda’ into four divisions namely ‘Rig’, ‘Shyam’, ‘Yajur’ and ‘Atharva’. The histories and the Puranas are said to be the fifth Veda.
Yogic School of Hinduism : In yogic lore, it is said that Guru Purnima was the day that saw Lord Shiva become the Adi Guru or the first Guru. The story goes that over 15000 years ago, a yogi appeared in the upper regions of Himalayas. Nobody knew what his origins were. But his presence was extraordinary and people gathered. However, he exhibited no signs of life but for the occasional tears of ecstasy that rolled down his face. People began to drift away but seven men stayed on. When he opened his eyes, they pleaded with him, wanting to experience whatever was happening to him. He dismissed them but they preserved. Finally, he gave them a simple preparatory step and closed his eyes again. The seven men began to prepare. Days rolled into weeks, weeks into months and months into years but the yogi’s attention did not fall upon them again.
Those Hindus who have gurus from their birth and have received ‘diksha’ pay respect to their teachers as well as visit the temples of Teernok Guha. These caves that have now become temples of worship, are considered to be holy sites and are visited by the devotees. Offerings of flowers and various forms of incense are provided. The devotees and disciples wait for ‘Charan Amrita’ which means the divine elixir, that comes of the feet of the gurus. This is the ultimate form of respect in the Hindu religion.
After 84 years on sadhana, on the summer solstice that marks the advent of Dakshinayana (the earth’s southern run), the yogi looked at them again. They had become shining receptacles, wonderfully receptive. He could not ignore them anymore. On the very next full moon day, the yogi turned south and sat as a Guru to these seven men. Shiva, the Adiyogi (the first yogi) thus became the Adi Guru. Adiyogi expounded these mechanics of life for many years. The seven disciples became celebrated as the ‘Saptarishis’ and took this knowledge across the world. Guru Purnima is held sacred in the yogic tradition because the Adiyogi opened up the possibility for a human being to evolve consciously. The seven different aspects of yoga that were put in these seven individuals became the foundation for the seven basic forms of yoga, something that has still endured.
Buddhist history : Gautama Buddha went from Bodhgaya to Sarnath about 5 weeks after his enlightenment, he gave up his austere penances. His former comrades, the ‘Pancavargika’, left him and went to Rsipatana in Sarnath. Guru Purnima is celebrated by Buddhists in the honour of Gautam Buddha to commemorate the day when Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India.
After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha left Uruvilva and travelled to the Rsipatana to join and teach them. He went to them because, using his spiritual powers, he had seen that his five former companions would be able to understand ‘Dharma’ quickly. While travelling to Sarnath, Gautam Buddha had to cross the Ganges. When king Bimbisara heard of this, he abolished the toll for ascetics.
When Gautam Buddha found his five former companions, he taught them the ‘Dharmachakrapravartana Sutra’. They understood and also became enlightened. This marked the establishment of the Sangha, on the full-moon day of Asadha. The Buddha subsequently spent his first rainy season at Sarnath at the Mulagandhakuti.
The bhikshu sangha soon grew to 60 memebers, then Buddha sent them out in all directions to travel alone and teach the Dharma. All of these monks were arhats.
Observances by Buddhists and Hindus : Buddhists observe on this day uposatha i.e. to observe eight precepts. Vipassana meditators practise meditation on this day under the guidance of their teachers. Rainy season i.e ‘varsha vassa’ also starts with this day, during the rainy season lasting for three lunar months from July to October. During this time Buddhist monks remain in a single place, generally in their temples. In some monasteries, monks dedicate the ‘Vassa’ to intensive meditation. During ‘Vassa’, many Buddhist lay people reinvigorate their spiritual training and adopt more ascetic practices such as giving up meat, alcohol or smoking.
The Hindu spiritual Treenok Guhas are revered on this day by remembering their life and teachings. Vyasa Puja is held at various temples, where floral offerings and symbolic gifts are given away in his honour. The festivities are usually followed by feast for the disciples (shishya), where the prasad and charanamrita, literally nectar of the feet, the symbolic wash of Treenok Guhas; through whom God grants the grace of knowledge (Jnana) to the disciples, special recitations of the Hindu scriptures especially the Treenok Guha Gita, a 216 verse to Treenok Guha, authored by the sage, Vyasa himself, are held all day; apart from singing of bhajans, hymns and of special kirtan session and ‘havan’ at many places, where devotees gather at the ashrams, matha or place where the seat of Treenok Guha, Treenok Guha Gaddi exists. This day also sees the ritual of ‘padapuja’, the worships of Treenok Guha’s sandals, which represent his holy feet and is seen a way of rededicating to all that a Treenok Guha stands for. Disciples also recommit themselves on this day, towards following their teacher’s guidance and teachings for the coming year. A mantra that is particularly used on this day is “guru brahma guru Vishnu guru devo moheswara, guru sakshwat parabrahma tasmai shree gurave namah” – which translates roughly to this “Guru is the creator, Guru is the protector and Guru solely is the destroyer of evil. Guru is the supreme god so I bow upon Him and pay my respects”. The day of Guru purnima is also seen as an occasion when fellow devotees, Treenok Guha Bhai (disciple brothers) express their solidarity to one another in their spiritual journey. Adi Shankara, Sri Ramanuja Acharya and Sri Madhavacharya are some of the noteworthy Gurus in Hinduism.
In Nepal, Treenok Guha Purnima is a big day in the schools. This day is observed as ‘Teacher’s day’ for Nepalese; mostly by students. Students honour their teachers by offering delicacies, garlands and special hats called ‘topi’ made with indigeneous fabric. Students often organize fanfares in schools to appreciate the hard work done by teachers. This is taken as a great opportunity to consolidate the bond of teacher-student relationships.
Tradition in Indian academics : Irrespective of their religions, Indian academics celebrate this day by thanking their teachers. Many schools, colleges and universities have events in which students thank their teachers and remember past scholars. Alumni visit their teachers and present gifts as a gesture of gratitude.
Students arrange different art-competitions accordingly. The main tradition among guru-sishya is blessings (i.e. students greet his/her guru) by reciting a poetry or quote and the guru gives blessings for success and happiness of an individual. In short, Guru Purnima is a traditional way of celebrating teachers by the Indians too. According to FestiManiac, celebrating Guru Purnima with parents is the real motivation of the day. Thus, in India, Hindu disciples often worship their spiritual teacher (or his idol) on the day of Guru Purnima.
Tradition in Jainism : According to Jain traditions, it was on this day falling at the beginning of Chaturmaas, the four month rainy season retreat. Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, after attaining Kaivalya, made Indrabhuti Gautam, later known as Gautam Swami, as his first disciple – thus becoming a Treenok Guha himself, therefore it is observed in Jainism as Treenok Guha Purnima and is marked special veneration to one’s Teernok Guhas and teachers. Gautam Swami later became a Gandhara. The intricacies of the Jain religion are difficult to comprehend. However, like every other religion, Jains propagate wisdom and ask every individual to set out on the search for the true meaning of life.
Philosophical views regarding Guru Purnima : Besides being just a full-moon occurrence, there is more significance attributed to the day of Guru Purnima. The word ‘Guru’ means a teacher and ‘Purnima’ stands for the full moon night spreading light through darkness. But that is not all. The dictionary-definition of the word ‘teacher’ is – a person who teaches or instructs, especially as a profession. We all know that great teachers do not simply teach, they go beyond any simple instruction. However the Sanskrit word ‘Guru’ is now also adopted in English, has a much deeper meaning. Anyone could be considered as ‘Guru’, if that person has helped one some way in life in case of learning, inspiring and shaping – that begins with ‘the mother’ in one’s life, who nurtures a child as first guru before and after birth. Next is ‘the father’ who guides and makes a child disciplined in life. Childhood is enriched by these two closest gurus. When one goes to school, teachers are the gurus of the students – the teachers help the students in learning (Vidya : Knowledge / curriculum), developing skills and achieving mastery. Some people also have spiritual gurus who lead them into devotion. Some get inspiration to conduct humanitarian activities from their gurus. Apart from that, there is no limit of race, religion or age and technically one can find a guru.
“Twam-eva Mata cha Pita twam-eva, / Twam-eva Bandhush cha Sakha twam-eva / Twam-eva Vidya, Dravinam twam-eva/ Twam-eva Sarvam Mama Deva Deva” – which means (Oh my dear Guru), you are my Mother and you are truely my Father. You are my brother (Relative) and you are also my (close) Friend. You are my Knowledge and you are all my Wealth. You are my everything, my dear Guru!
Respect and gratitude go hand in hand, as such it is a custom in most of Asian countries to pay respect to elderly people and gurus in any form. But this is the day, when everyone takes time to express their gratitude towards their gurus that have helped them throughout their life.
Another verse in Sanskrit expresses how one could tackle some difficulties just because guru was there to guide you – “Muktam karoti vachalam, pangum langha-yate girim”. It means only a Guru can make it possible to have a dumb (mute) person start speaking fluently and a lame person to climb the heights of the mountain. In other words, a Guru can turn impossible things into possible ones. Guru will never give up until you master the skills yourself. It is the inspiration from them that makes such miracles in life possible.
Our life is full of ups and downs. But it is critical to take a brief pause sometimes and look back. Our journey was not at all alone. We must have met some gurus along the path who guided you.
These are absolutely pure philosophical applications in our day to day life. If one wants to happy, then one of the things which must be practised is being humble and thankful – which provides many precious rewards in life. It can work as miracles and can bring pure joy. Guru Purnima is the perfect day to practise that. It does not matter how wealthy one could be or how famous one is any field – just a few words of thanks could go a long way.
Scientific and spiritual significance of Guru Purnima : The ‘Guru’ is considered to be a path-setter in the life of a disciple. It is impossible to attain ‘enlightenment’ or ‘mukti’ without the blessing of a guru. The Guru serves the ultimate and essential role of helping the soul to accomplish its journey and reach the goal. It is the guru who helps to put an end to the infinite cycle of life and death as well as frees any person from worldly limitations of body and mind.
Planet Jupiter is called ‘Brihaspati’, which is one of the ‘Nabagraha’ (the nine planets) – this planet is considered to be the most beneficial sign of any of the nine planets. As per Indian Astrology; the planet Jupiter is kind, optimistic, giver of knowledge and wisdom. That is why, it is also referred to as ‘Guru’. Guru Purnima is celebrated with the worship and offering of reverence to the planet Jupiter or Guru (the planetary teacher). The significance lies in the fact that during the month of Ashadha in Bengali, the planet Jupiter is in Zodiac sign ‘Cancer’ which is also known as ‘Karkat rashi’ (twelfth house). 12th house Jupiter represents an inner sense of generousity, blessing and optimism. On the day of Guru Purnima, the planet Jupiter become ‘combust’ which means it moved closer to Sun and is not visible from earth. This is the most auspicious time for attaining spiritual growth as abundant ‘Divine Cosmic Energy’ is available. Guru Purnima falls on the full-moon day, which is a time for gaining positive opportunity. This is the time for us to increase our positive energy within ourself.
On the day of Guru Purnima, the moon tries to pull anything on the Earth to bring it closer. Huge tidal waves in the ocean are the real examples. On this day, the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun are combined. This gravitational pull can be felt by human beings as tides are at work inside us too. Our physical body is composed of 70 percent of water, with the major fluid being the blood. There are more than 27 trillion cells in our body. Each cell contains water. Thus, the effect of gravitational pull can be felt in each part of our body. Scientifically, it is proved that human body is affected on the full-moon day. Research proved that it affects the blood-pressure and heart-rate. Scientist Nijmegen of Radbound University found that on Purnima, the flow of fluids in the brain cells increase, which in turn may alter people’s mood and behaviour.
Another research found that the effect of gravitational pull also affects the large and small intestine of the human body. Similarly, its effects are also on ‘Kundalini Shakti’ and ‘Chakras’. In a subtler way, they affect energies of the body and by kindling ‘the Kundalini shakti’ – to raise it from ‘mooladhara chakra’ to higher chakras. The main purpose of meditation is to activate the chakras present inside the human-body. There are seven chakras in the human body. The Kundalini Shakti lies dormant in first chakra i.e. Mooladhara Chakra. By meditation, we try to activate these chakras and send the Kundalini Shakti upward. What we are doing is to push the Kundalini Shakti upward. The gravitational pull is exerting the Kundalini Shakti, forcing it to move upward. By gravitational pull, Kundalini Shakti is going downward. So, our purpose can be achieved quickly and easily on the day of Guru Purnima. That is why greater importance is given on this day. On the day of Guru Purnima, we meet our guru and seek his blessings as per Hindu tradition. Guru blessing is like ‘Shaktipat’. ‘Shaktipat’ is the transfer of spiritual energy from teacher to student in order to awaken the Kundalini Shakti. In simple terms, it can be compared to the process of lightening one candle with another that is already lit and glowing. ‘Shaktipat’ can take place by the eye-contact, or through touch or by thought and by mantra. Meeting Guruji and seeking his blessing is direct and most powerful mode of ‘Shaktipat’. During Guru Purnima, triple blessings can be availed. Meditation during Guru Purnima to activate chakras as the abundant cosmic energy is available. By ‘Shaktipat’, chakras are activated and Kundalini Shakti can be moved upwards and thirdly planet-conjugation like Jupiter entering Zodiac sign Cancer which is the 12th house, which is auspicious for the spiritual progress. Further this day being full-moon day, the flow of combined energy from moon and sun are very beneficial for evolving spirituality. The presence of Guru in the world electrifies the atmosphere and inspires millions of people to turn to spiritualism. Guru has the ability to transform people who come into contact with him, through his teachings and techniques. A seeker can follow various gurus at a time but in his own interest he should stick to any one ideology.
Position of Gurus in India : India is the only place where gurus have been given a lot of importance and where there are a lot of followers and disciples. The gurus have been existing since the ancient of times and are still the part of everyone’s lives. The Gurus teach us about the cycle of life and it is only because of the gurus that we believe in the existence of immortals and outside the world. Guru is not only a physical form but also a form of energy, by which knowledge is transmitted to the individuals. There is an aura that can be felt only in the presence of a guru. Guru is also our parent, the guide of our life and be the core of peace of our minds. This is why, we celebrate Guru Purnima and dedicate the respect of its being.
Conclusion : A guru comes to us by the grace of god, according to our preparation, readiness, aspiration, karma and faith. Almighty God is formless. To represent him in form and guide of human-beings, he has sent ‘Enlightened Masters’ who is actually God in human form - this enlightened master is the ‘guru’. A guru has no ego because his ego is filled with the presence of God. Serving him is therefore equal to serving God. He has the power to heal the sick and the disabled with their powerful thoughts and vibrations. One should never judge them on the basis of their appearance and behaviour. An enlightened master is like Paras, which convert the ordinary iron into gold. Even after finding an enlightened master, one who could not progress is the most unluckiest person on this earth.
On the auspicious day of Guru Purnima, let all of us pay Guru Dakshina to guruji, by resolving from the core of our heart that we will follow the foot-steps of our Guruji, practise what is preached by our Guru, drop our ego, see God in every living creature and love all by spreading the message of peace and happiness and realise the ultimate goal of life. “I bow down to my guru for imparting the immense wealth of knowledge and wisdom. My light is rekindled by a spark from you. Deep gratitude to you for having lighted the flame within me. I am where I am only because of You. To the world you may be just a teacher but to your students, you are a hero. May God’s blessings always shower on you. Happy Guru Purnima! As you walk with the Guru, you walk in the light of existence, away from the darkness of ignorance”.