By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore
Last Sunday (9.7.2017) Guru Poornima was celebrated in honour of Gurus. Gurus do not have shackles of religion and hence Guru is simply a Guru, without any limitations.
I asked my daughter who lives in the USA if they have a day for the Guru and her answer was no. They have Fathers’ Day, Mothers’ Day, Valentine’s Day but not a day reserved for the Guru. In India we have Teachers’ Day which coincides with the birthday of our respected President (now late) Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
I had the good fortune of knowing him as he was the neighbour of my Guru (now late) Padma Vibhushan Prof. K. A. Nilakanta Sastri who lived in Mylapore in Chennai. He was the Professor of Indology at Mysuru Maharaja’s College and I was his student. He was a Guru in real sense.
The word Guru has many connotations but it is generally taken as one who removes darkness from the minds of pupils. In India, there are many terms like Guru, Acharya, Upadhyaya and Meshtru in Kannada. There are subtle differences among them and perhaps, Guru is superior.
In fact, in our tradition, mother and father are the first gurus and then come acharya, atithi and so on. In one of the Upanishads it is said that among the persons to be worshipped are mother, father, Guru, guest, etc. and it is said that it is an order and should not be treated as an opinion of individuals. That is the reason why this solemn day (Guru Poornima) is celebrated as an important festival with rituals.
When we think of Guru Poornima the first name that comes to our mind is that of Lord Sri Krishna (Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum). One important aspect of a Guru is that he makes no distinction among people. The best example is from Mahabharata in the context of Pandavas and Kauravas and Krishna was treating both of them as equal.
The Kauravas being wicked in their behaviour did not heed to the advice of Lord Sri Krishna. Sri Krishna gave both the Kauravas and the Pandavas equal opportunities to take his help. Kauravas took a huge army while the Pandavas wanted only his blessings and his presence. As a Guru it was the responsibility of Lord Krishna to give advice to both of them but the Kauravas disregarded it. The result is well known to all of us.
It is the duty of every competent Guru to guide disciples for ethical living. Disciples get doubts and they hesitate to act accordingly. When Arjuna was thinking of going in the wrong direction, Sri Krishna removed his despondency right on the battlefield itself and narrated what is now famous as Bhagavadgita and this text provides cures for all occasions.
Vyasa or Vedavyasa is a Guru par-excellence in our tradition. He is also known as Krishna Dwaipayana. As he was born in one of the islands (dveepa) of Yamuna River, he became Dwaipayana. As he was dark complexioned, he is referred to as Krishna Dwaipayana. He is also referred to as Badarayana (did penance in Badari), Vedavyasa and Parasharya (as he was the son of sage Parashara). Actually he was the grandfather of Pandavas. He also advised Dhritarastra to make peace with the Pandavas and avoid war.
Another important contribution of Vedavyasa is the proper arrangement of the Vedic texts. Due to various reasons, the Vedic texts had spread out without proper arrangement. Observing this, Vyasa thought that the knowledge should be properly arranged and that was his great contribution to the Vedic knowledge. A grateful nation shows its indebtedness to this great sage on this day of Poornima and it is rightly named after him as Vyasa Poornima. As he was a great Guru, this day is also referred to as Guru Poornima. It is most appropriate.
Most of us are what we are today because of the excellent Gurus we had. They have shaped our lives. They are Gurus because they removed our darkness and guided us in many ways to become useful partners in the building the nation. We have hundreds of Gurus such as Vedic seers, Gautama Buddha, Jain Mahaveer, Bhagavatpada Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhwacharya, Basavanna, Guru Nanak, Purandaradasa and so on. All these saints are not there with us physically but their teachings are our guiding forces.
Kulapathi K. M. Munshi, founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai has written a biography of Vedavyasa in English. It was my good fortune that I got an opportunity to translate it into Kannada (Part VI of Krishnavatara, Vyasa, the Master, Mysore 2012) under the banner of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mysore Kendra and a special edition has been published by Lakshmi Venkataramanaswamy Temple Trust, V. V. Mohalla, Mysore. Interested readers can get a good history of the life of the great saint Vedavyasa by reading this book.