Celebrating Hinduism's Guru Purnima

Janai Purnima or Raksha Bandhan Festival 2017 Nepal

 

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

When Is Guru Purnima?

The full moon day (purnima) 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. This ancient saint edited the four Vedas and wrote the 18 Puranas, the Mahabharata, and the Srimad Bhagavatam. Dattatreya, regarded as the guru of gurus, was himself educated by Vyasa. 

The Significance of the Guru Purnima Celebration

On this day, all spiritual aspirants and devotees worship Vyasa, and all disciples perform a puja (a ritual) 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 spiritual lessons; thus spiritual seekers traditionally begin intensifying their spiritual sadhana—pursuit of spiritual goalson this day.

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

Traditional Ways of Celebrating Guru Purnima

How Guru Purnima is celebrated varies by tradition and region. At the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, the Guru Purnima is celebrated every year on a grand scale:

  • All aspirants awaken at brahmamuhurta, at 4 a.m. They meditate on the guru and chant his prayers.
  • Later in the day, the sacred worship of the guru's feet is performed. Devotees meditate on the guru's form. His words are used as a sacred mantra, and the faithful believe his grace ensures final liberation.
  • Sadhus and sannyasins (religious ascetics) are then worshiped and fed at noon.
  • There is a continuous spiritual discussion—called satsang—during which discourses are held on devotion to the guru in particular and on spiritual topics in general.
  • Deserving aspirants are initiated into the Holy Order of Sannyas.
  • Devout disciples fast and spend the whole day in prayer. They also make fresh resolves for spiritual progress.

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

Swami Sivananda was a 20th-century Hindu spiritual leader, yogi, and guru who encouraged devotees to use Guru Purnima to reconnect with their own gurus and carry that inner spiritual connection into Chaturmas.

"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."

Sivananda recommended sitting with other devotees of your guru in the afternoon and discussing with them the glories and teachings of that guru. He suggested reassembling at night to sing the names of the Lord and the glories of the 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."