Guru Purnima is a festival celebrated by the Hindus, Jains and Buddhists every year in the month of June-July as per the Gregorian calendar. Guru Purnima is celebrated with reverence to the spiritual and academic gurus or teachers who dedicate their lives for the benefit of others. The festival is observed in Nepal and also in some Buddhist dominant countries.
Guru Purnima 2019
This year, the festival of Guru Purnima was celebrated on Tuesday, 16th July 2019. It is more of a spiritual festival celebrated in India, to commemorate academic and spiritual teachers. The festival also marks a respect to one of the ancient time’s most revered spiritual and academic guru – Maharishi Ved Vyas.
Normally, Guru Purnima occurs on a full moon day in the month of Ashadha (June-July) as per Hindu calendar; though, this year the occurrence was rare as it coincided with total lunar eclipse or Chandra grahan, as it is called in Hindi.
Veneration ceremonies of Maharishi Ved Vyas were organized on the day, mainly in religious and educational institutions. Day started with priests and spiritual gurus giving sermons and telling people about the significance of a guru (teacher) in spiritual and academic development of a society.
Schools and colleges across the country organized independent events to commemorate Maharishi Ved Vyas as well as their own teachers. Children had organized several events to honour their teachers.
Since the festival of Guru Purnima is equally celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists; the day was reverently celebrated at religious places related to the mentioned religions.
Buddhists celebrated Guru Purnima to pay their respect to their first spiritual guru – Gautam Buddha. Special events were organized at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh where Buddha supposedly gave his first sermon. Thousands of tourists had visited Sarnath to witness the spiritual celebration.
When is Guru Purnima Celebrated?
Guru Purnima is celebrated in the Hindu calendar month of Ashadha, on the full moon day (Purnima). The festival coincides with the Gregorian calendar months of June-July.
The word “Guru” is a combination of two words “Gu” and “Ru”. “Gu” is a Sanskrit word which means darkness and “ru” refers to someone who removes darkness. The word “Guru” therefore refers to someone who removes darkness or ignorance from life i.e. an academic or spiritual teacher. Therefore, the festival of reverence of Gurus which is celebrated on a full moon day (poornima) is known as “Guru Purnima”.
Why is Guru Purnima Celebrated?
Gurus enjoy a special status in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cultures. These religions/cultures have many spiritual and academic gurus who are revered as equivalent to God. Some of the important Hindu Gurus were – Swami Abhedananda (1866-1939), Adi Shankara (c.788-820), Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 – 5134) etc. These are only a few names among thousand Gurus who served the people as spiritual and academic gurus; providing enlightenment and knowledge. The festival of “Guru Purnima” is celebrated to express gratitude towards the gurus.
It is believed that parents could give birth to a child and feed him, but only a guru can recognize his/her talents and tune it. Buddhists celebrate Guru Purnima to commemorate the day when Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath.
History/Legend Of Guru Purnima
There are many legends associated with the celebration of Guru Purnima. Buddhists believe that Lord Buddha gave his first sermon on a full moon day at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi. Hindus believe that on this day Shiva taught yoga to the saptrishis. The saptrishis are mentioned in many ancient Hindu texts like – Upnishads and Vedas; suggesting the ancientness of “Guru Purnima” festival.
Hindus believe that Shiva became the first teacher or adi guru by teaching yoga to the saptrishis. The story dates back to nearly 15000 years ago when a mysterious yogi appeared in the upper ranges of Himalayas. His mystical appearance attracted the curiosity of people, who started gathering around him. But the yogi showed no sign of life except occasional tears rolling down from his cheeks. Gradually people started moving away from him, but a seven of them remained as they were too curious to know the truth.
In the due course of time the yogi opened his eyes, and the seven men pleaded to him that they too want to have the same experience as him. Initially the yogi relented but later gave them a few preparatory steps and went back in meditation.
The seven men started preparing as per the instruction of the Yogi. Meanwhile years passed by, but the attention of the yogi didn’t return on the men. After a span of 84 long years the yogi opened his eyes on the summer solstice that marks the beginning of Dakshinayana and realized that the seven men were shining bright with wisdom. Impressed, the yogi could not ignore them and turned south on the next full moon for teaching the seven men. Thus, Lord Shiva became the first Adi Guru on a full moon day in Ashadha month.
Another legend associates “Guru Purnima” with the birth of Veda Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata and also the one who classified Vedas. Hindus believe that Veda Vyasa was born on the day of Guru Purnima and also as the day when he divided Vedas. For this reason the festival is also called “Vyasa Purnima”.
Before Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment, he was referred to as “Gautama”. Gautama became Gautam Buddha under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya; where he gained enlightenment. He started his journey to Sarnath, where his five companions had gone before he gained enlightenment. Through his spiritual powers he knew that his five companions could be easily enlightened on the path of dharma. Buddha is believed to have given his first sermon to his five companions at Sarnath on a full moon day in the month of Ashadha. The same day is celebrated as “Guru Purnima”.
According to the Jain religion, Lord Mahavira who was 24th Tirthankara made Indrabhuti Gautam his first disciple, thereby himself becoming Trinok Guha or the first Guru. In Jain traditions it is also called as “Trinok Guha Purnima”.
How is Guru Purnima Celebrated?
The festival of Guru Purnima is majorly a spiritual festival rather than displaying pomp and show. Major events of the day include reverence of spiritual masters and academic gurus; thanking them for sharing their wisdom with others and enlightening them. People thank their academic teachers and also remember past teachers and spiritual gurus. Hindu spiritual gurus and yogis observe the day by worshipping their gurus and sharing wisdom with others.
Many Hindu temples organize Vyasa Puja on Guru Purnima in reverence to rishi Ved Vyasa followed by distribution of Prasad to the disciples.
In Jain temples “Treenok Guhas” are revered and their teachings remembered. It is believed that it was on the day of Guru Purnima that lord Mahavira made his first disciple. In Jainism the term Trinok Guha is a reference to a guru or teacher. Jains also mark the festival as the advent of four months of rain and retreat of Jains monks.
Many educational institutions organize events for the commemoration of spiritual gurus as well as the academic teachers. The past teachers are remembered and the present ones felicitated. Students give gifts to their favorite teachers as a token of their respect and love.
In Nepal the day of Guru Purnima is observed as Teacher’s Day. Fares are organized in schools and students commemorate their teachers. It is also an opportunity for the students and teachers to interact with each other.
Significance of Guru Purnima
In Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions, gurus are revered equivalent to the Gods. They are believed to be the ones who remove darkness by sharing their wisdom and knowledge. It is a festival to felicitate your teachers and also to remember the past spiritual and academic gurus.
Guru Purnima reflects the status which gurus enjoy in Indian religions and cultures. Some cultures even place Gurus above Gods and believe that one should thank his/her Guru first before worshiping God.
Various legends associated with Guru Purnima implies the fact that even the revered Gods have evolved from being the Gurus first – Shiva, Ved Vyas, Gautam Buddha and Mahavira, all were gurus before they achieved the status of God.
In ancient days Guru Purnima was mainly observed as a spiritual festival. Spiritual gurus like Lord Mahavira and Ved Vyas were revered by reciting hymns and sermons. Temples were decorated and idols of gurus placed appropriately, surrounded by worshipping disciples. Though the custom is still followed at many places, the fervor has taken a beating due to modernization and busy schedules. Today less people go to the temples on Guru Purnima and it has shrunk to be a festival of mainly Sadhus and Sanyasis.
These days, mainly Jain and Buddhist temples celebrate Guru Purnima in reverence to Lord Mahavira and Gautam Buddha respectively. However, some Hindu temples do organize worship or hymn recital functions.
Initially schools and colleges were celebrating Guru Purnima with much pomp and show, but today the celebration has reduced to a small event marking secluded worships and reverence of the gurus. Students in modern days also felicitate their teacher by giving gifts and other articles.