Guru Purnima: Importance and Significance

Utsavas – festivals are for cultural continuation, for expressing the joy of life, strengthening the collectives like family, community, society, and nation and for expressing the gratitude towards the nature. Utsarati iti utsava – Festival is that which elevates. India is full of various such festivals. The characteristics of our festivals are that no festival is without pooja. No festival is just for merry-making though in every festival we do enjoy and celebrate life. The festivals are to make us relevant in time as well as to continue our tradition.

That is what made Hindu Dharma and our nation ‘Bharata’ as Nitya Nootan Chira Pooratan – that is ‘ever new and most ancient’. Some festivals in the society as well as in the organization are celebrated ceremoniously with all splendor, on large scale and some are celebrated quietly but very meaningfully. The festival of Gurupurnima comes in the second category.

This festival is celebrated on Ashadhi Purnima which is Jayanti – the birth anniversary of Maharishi Veda Vyasa – a son of a Rishi Parashar and a fisherwoman Satyawati. What was his work that made him so exalted a being that on his birthday Guru Purnima is celebrated? He did a fourfold work.

Firstly, when he saw that the Vedas – Ananta Vai Vedah – a voluminous store of knowledge discovered by seers over the ages was in the fear of getting extinct, he collected and compiled it.

Secondly, to protect Vedas, he allotted its Shakhas-branches to various families to be preserved by Guru-Shishya tradition. That is in a family, father would teach to his son and along with that to some other willing and deserving children. It would also happen that the children would come from far off places and stay with the reputed Guru who would treat them as part of his own family. Gradually, the famous Gurukula system of India developed. In today’s language it was the most extensive and privatized system of education in the world. Thus, a very natural way of protection of knowledge – as it was family based – was devised by him.

Thirdly, it was not just the Vedas but all the other branches of knowledge called as Upavedas like Ayurveda including Surgery (which was generally with barber community); Sthapatya Veda which means sculpture including everything related to construction with metals, stones, mortars and wood; Gandharva Veda covering music, vocal and instrumental, dance, drama etc; Dhanurveda all skills and knowledge related to military warfare were also systematized by Veda Vyasa allotting its branches to various families and communities. Thus, each family of every community in the society became a repository of a branch of knowledge and so continuing the family tradition got equated with continuance of knowledge.

Fourthly, for the common man to understand the Vedic truth he also composed Puranas, Mahabharat so that the application of Vedic truth in life is clear to all. Dharma is not just in believing but in being and becoming. Not just the information about one’s religion but realizing the truths and then expressing it in our lives was the aim of Sanatana Dharma. In this Guru- shishya tradition, the knowledge is learnt by observing the life of the Guru who may be one’s own parents or a realized soul. Veda Vyasa succeeded in preserving and inculcating the respect for tradition.

Therefore, traditionally this is the day to remember our whole tradition of Guru starting with Bhagawan Shiva and to offer our respects to the Guru who guides us in life, who has handed over the traditional knowledge and wisdom to us. This is also a day to express our gratitude and commitment to the Guru for carrying forward our culture vibrantly, with the vision of ‘Krinvanto Vishwam Aryam – let us make the whole world noble.’

Author Su Nivedita Bhide is the National Vice President of Vivekananda Kendra. She was decorated with the fourth highest civilian award of India, Padmashri in the year 2017 by Government of India.