Gurupurnima: For Cultural Continuity
Utsavas – festivals are for continuation of tradition, for expressing the joy of life, strengthening the collectives like family, community, society, nation and for expressing the gratitude towards the creation. India is full of various festivals. The characteristic of our festivals is that no festival is without pooja. No festival is just for merry-making though in every festival we do enjoy. 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 as Nitya Nootan Chira Pooratan – that is ‘ever new and most ancient’. Some festivals are celebrated ceremoniously with all splendour 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 the eve of the Jayanti - the birth anniversary of Maharishi Vedavyasa son of Rishi Parashar and fisherwoman Satyawati. What was his work that made him so exalted a being that on his birthday Gurupurnima is celebrated? He did a fourfold work.
First, when he saw that the Vedas – Ananta Vai Vedah – a voluminous store of knowledge was in the fear of getting extinct, he collected and compiled it.
Second, 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.
Third, 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 which is music, vocal and instrumental, dance 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 became a repository of a branch of knowledge and so continuing the family tradition, got equated with continuance of knowledge.
Fourth, for the common man to understand the Vedic truth he also composed Puranas so that the application of Vedic truth in life is clear to all. Religion 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. Vedavyasa succeeded in preserving and inculcating the respect for tradition.
Therefore, traditionally this is the day to remember our whole tradition of Guru starting with Bhagwan Siva and to offer our respects to the Guru who guides us in life, who has handed over the tradition of knowledge and wisdom to us. This is also a day to express our gratitude to the Guru for carrying forward our culture vibrantly, with the vision of ‘Krinvanto Vishwamaryam – let us make the whole world noble.’
Now, in today’s context how do we celebrate it? In Gurupurnima, pooja is offered to the Guru. Today our pooja cannot be limited with flowers, it has to be with actions. We have to know the vision of our Rishis. In the world whether in the field of sociology, ecology or economy it is being proved that man can have a sustainable development, happiness in life only if he is linked to family, community, nation and through that to the whole humanity. This vision was given to us by the Rishis. Vyasa protected the Vedas through the family tradition. We would have to concentrate on families to develop these as basic units for moulding man and basic unit of our great nation. We would have to strive to make our families repositories of cultural knowledge and wisdom.
We followed Guru Tradition but it was never an imposing type of learning like ‘You listen what I tell without questioning me’. Actually Guru always told that ‘you see this for yourself, experience, go to the roots, Tapasa Brahma Vijidnyasasva – Strive to get the truth.’ He awakened the light within –the Atmaguru- so as to get properly guided for the whole life. That is the right way to guide others. Today our country known for its tradition of knowledge, known for its search of Truth is getting carried away by the propaganda. It is not the Guru who moulds our opinions and attitudes but unfortunately it is media. We just accept whatever has come in media as the fact. Celebrating Gurupurnima, respecting our Guru-tradition means we would have to learn to go to the roots, to see the facts, to use one’s intelligence and discrimination and not just believe in whatever is printed or whatever is shown on TV. As such most of the media is not in the hands of those who respect our culture. On the other hands it is controlled by those who are working to destroy our culture. So we have to be very alert.
We would have to also focus our efforts on identifying and exposing those ideologies, persons or thoughts which are obstacles in keeping the families intact as a cultural unit. Today the work of protection of Dharma also involves in identifying of the Ravanas in the society who come in very respectable garbs, as Ravana had come in the garb of a sadhu. They come today in the garbs of artists like M. F. Hussain or social activist, or international award winners, or with credentials as liberals, scholars etc. But they are bent upon humiliating and hurting, for damaging and deriding our culture, our Gods and goddesses. We should not be gullible to these forces. We should identify and expose them.
None has the right to point out the drawbacks in our system if they are not following that system. Who would be telling us what is beneficial to us? Those who are keeping eye on election, the vote-banks and those who are bent upon destroying this culture or those who give their life for saving this nation, who hold on to this culture in spite of all temptations? We would have to learn to develop our discrimination. If the Atmaguru is to be awakened we cannot afford to get carried away by wrong ideas.
There is another category of our people. They do not get carried away, they mean well for our culture but they are inactive. It is a common picture that when people read news-papers they sigh and tell that the situation is so bad, something needs to be done etc. But actually they do very little. They just do not have time for anything other than their career, entertainments and family obligations. One great quality that our Rishi tradition had inculcated in us was the Aarjavam – doing what is felt, being straight and truthful. The Rishis told and lived the truth. If really one is moved by the plight of our motherland then he or she should be spending some of his or her time, energy and money for the well-being of our motherland. We cannot say that ‘I have no time for that’. It means we are hypocrites and do not really feel for the motherland. So in today’s context engaging ourselves in Her work is another important dimension of celebration of Gurupurnima – the festival meant for cultural continuity.