Celebrating the Guru Purnima

Guru Purnima
Guru is the source of divine knowledge. (c) ExoticIndia.com

Hindus attach paramount importance to spiritual gurus—their teachers on matters of religion and spiritual growth. Gurus are regarded as a link between the individual and the immortal, to such an extent that they are sometimes equated with God. Just as the moon shines by reflecting the light of the sun and thereby glorifies it, all disciples can shine like the moon by reflecting the spiritual light emitted from their gurus.

It's no surprise, then, that Hinduism offers a sacred day devoted to honoring the guru. 

What Is Guru Purnima?

The full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August) is observed as the auspicious day of Guru Purnima, a day sacred to the memory of the great sage Maharshi Veda Vyasa. All Hindus are indebted to this ancient saint who edited the four Vedas and who wrote the 18 Puranas, Mahabharata, and the Srimad Bhagavatam. Even Dattatreya, regarded as the guru of gurus, was himself educated by Guru Purnima. 

Significance of the Guru Purnima Celebration

On this day, all spiritual aspirants and devotees worship Vyasa in honor of his divine personage and all disciples perform a 'puja' of their respective spiritual preceptor, or Gurudevs.

This day is also of deep significance to farmers, for it heralds the beginning of the much-needed seasonal rains, when the advent of cool showers ushers in fresh life in the fields.

Symbolically, this is a good time to begin your spiritual lessons, thus spiritual seekers traditionally begin intensifying their spiritual sadhana—their pursuit of spiritual goalson this day.

The period Chaturmas ("four months") begins from this day. In the past, this was the time when wandering spiritual masters and their disciples settled down in a single place to study and discourse on the Brahma Sutras composed by Vyasa—a time to conduct Vedantic discussions.

The Role of the Guru for Hindus

Swami Sivananda asks:

"Do you realize now the sacred significance and the supreme importance of the Guru's role in the evolution of man? It was not without reason that the India of the past carefully tended and kept alive the lamp of Guru-Tattva. It is therefore not without reason that India, year after year, age after age, commemorates anew this ancient concept of the Guru, adores it and pays homage to it again and again, and thereby reaffirms its belief and allegiance to it. For, the true Indian knows that the Guru is the only guarantee for the individual to transcend the bondage of sorrow and death, and experience the Consciousness of the Reality."

Traditional Steps for Celebrating Guru Purnima

At the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, the Guru Purnima is celebrated every year on a grand scale:

  1. All aspirants awake at Brahmamuhurta, at 4 o'clock a.m. They meditate on the Guru and chant his prayers.
  2.  Later in the day, the sacred worship of the Guru's Feet is performed. Of this worship it is said in the Guru Gita:
    Dhyaana moolam guror murtih;
    Pooja moolam guror padam;
    Mantra moolam guror vakyam;
    Moksha moolam guror kripa
  3. The Guru's form should be meditated upon; the feet of the Guru should be worshiped; his words are to be treated as a sacred Mantra; his Grace ensures final liberation.
  1. Sadhus and Sannyasins are then worshiped and fed at noon.
  2. There is continuous Satsang during which discourses are held on the glory of devotion to the Guru in particular, and on spiritual topics in general.
  3. Deserving aspirants are initiated into the Holy Order of Sannyas, as this is a highly auspicious occasion.
  4. Devout disciples fast and spend the whole day in prayer. They also take fresh resolves for spiritual progress.

A Guru's Advice on How to Observe the Holy Day

Swami Sivananda recommends:

Wake up at Brahmamuhurta (at 4 a.m.) on this holiest day. Meditate on the lotus feet of your Guru. Mentally pray to him for his Grace, through which alone you can attain Self-realisation. Do vigorous Japa and meditate in the early morning hours.

After the bath, worship the lotus feet of your Guru, or his image or picture with flowers, fruits, incense, and camphor. Fast or take only milk and fruits the whole day.

In the afternoon, sit with other devotees of your Guru and discuss with them the glories and teachings of your Guru.

Alternatively, you may observe the vow of silence and study the books or writings of your Guru, or mentally reflect upon his teachings. Take fresh resolves on this holy day, to tread the spiritual path in accordance with the precepts of your Guru.

At night, assemble again with other devotees, and sing the Names of the Lord and the glories of your Guru. The best form of worship of the Guru is to follow his teachings, to shine as the very embodiment of his teachings, and to propagate his glory and his message.