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Can you imagine your life without a mentor, coach or guru? Be it that one school teacher who encouraged you, or that one college professor who taught you to believe in your capability, or a spiritual coach who showed you the right path or that one mentor who steered you to become what you are today.
Imparting education and knowledge is only a small fraction of what a guru teaches. A true guru is one who also with diligence and dedication guides, supports and steers his/her students towards the right direction. In fact in the Hindu culture, we associate a Guru with a God.
In Indian cultures, Guru Purnima is a day celebrated to honour and thank our gurus for their selfless services. But do you know how did this day originate? Well, let me be your Guru here.
What does the word ‘Guru’ mean?
Guru originated from the Sanskrit language. ‘Gu’ means darkness and ‘Ru’ means the removal of darkness.
When is Guru Purnima celebrated?
It is celebrated on the full moon (Purnima) day in the month of Ashadha. This year it is on July 23rd 2021.
How is it celebrated in modern times?
It is believed that Mahatma Gandhi revived this festival by paying tribute to his spiritual guru Shrimad Rajchandra. Following his example, Guru Purnima is now celebrated by paying gratitude and reverence to our teachers.
Did you know that the Surya Namaskar originated as a fee to the Guru?
Lord Hanuman had the superpowers of strength, speed and shapeshifting. However, he needed education. His mother Anjana suggested he ask Surya Dev (the Sun God) to be his teacher. “He knows all the sacred scriptures and he travels all over the world every day and sees everything,” said Anjana.
Lord Hanuman went to Surya Dev, but he refused flatly. “I have a strict and busy schedule and with no spare time,” said Surya Dev, “Besides how can you learn when I keep moving?” Lord Hanuman gave his reply promptly ” If I keep up with you, will you then teach me?”
“You won’t be able to but ok you can try” replied Surya Dev.
Hanuman quickly flew and stood with joined hands while facing Surya Dev’s chariot. However, Surya Dev raced off across the sky at full speed and kept reciting the scriptures. Hanuman had to also fly fast to keep up. However, he did not want to face his back to his teacher and so kept travelling backwards.
This backward moving trajectory was the birth of the Surya Namaskar. Think about it. While performing the Surya Namaskar steps you also move to the back of the mat and then come again in front to finish the steps. Hanuman mastered all the scriptures within a week. Surya Dev didn’t ask for any fees, but Hanuman offered him his respect and namaskars.
Thus the Surya Namaskar series originated as Guru Dakshina or fees to the Surya Dev.
How did this auspicious day start being celebrated in Hindu culture?
One of the greatest teachers and gurus in Hinduism is the Maharishi Veda Vyasa. It is said that he was born on this day and so it is celebrated as Guru Purnima. This great Guru though from a humble background of having a wandering brahmin as a father and fisherman’s daughter as his mother is known as the greatest Maharishi.
He was the author of the great Mahabharata. Further, he achieved a remarkable feat of splitting the Veda into 4 parts which allowed mortals to understand the divine knowledge of the vedas. That’s why he is known as Veda Vyasa or the “Splitter of the Vedas”.
Fun Fact: But didn’t Lord Ganesha also assist in writing the Mahabharata?
Yes, it is said that Ved Vyasa approached Lord Ganesha for help in writing the great epic. Lord Ganesh put down a condition that the Sage cannot stop reciting the Mahabharata. If he stops, Lord Ganesha said he would leave and continue feasting on his modaks.
Ved Vyasa agreed but said he too has a condition, that Lord Ganesha should understand every word before he wrote it. So it was said that every time Ved Vyasa wanted to take a small breath of air or rest, he would say a few difficult words to confuse Lord Ganesha. It took them 3 years of continuous reciting and writing to finish this great epic.
What is the connection between Yoga and Guru Purnima?
It is said that 15,000 years ago a strange yogi appeared in the Himalayas. He danced with ecstasy and then suddenly became utterly still. His presence was extraordinary and even though exhibited no signs of life, people gathered around him. However, soon the people got bored and drifted away.
Except for 7 men. They wanted to learn from this yogi who was none other than Lord Shiva. However, Lord Shiva dismissed them. But the 7 men stayed. Days, weeks, months and years passed away. After 84 years, Lord Shiva acknowledged them and sat as a Guru in front of them.
That day Lord Shiva, the Adi Yogi (or first yogi) became Adi Guru (or the first Guru). It is known as Guru Purnima.
The 7 men became the Saptarishis and took his knowledge to the world. The seven different aspects of yoga that these 7 individuals got from Lord Shiva are now the 7 basic forms of Yoga.
How is it celebrated in Buddhism?
It is said that Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon to his first 5 disciples on this day at Sarnath.
That’s how and why we celebrate Guru Purnima in our country. So please go ahead and pay your respects today to your Guru who is your true Guardian Angel