Hindu traditions revere the Guru as God himself. He is not just one who teaches but one who guides students through the maze of life by handing down valuable lessons that would stand them in good stead during times of trouble in particular and life in general. Guru has been accorded position of importance even before God Himself. He is the one who shapes and nurtures the characters of students making them worthy citizens of the country. In ancient time there were Gurukuls where students remained under the care of the Guru and his wife learning both academics and life skills.
A Guru is one who holds the hand of the shishya when the need arises and allows the student to guide when he deems fit. Shastras say that spiritual progress can be attained only with the help of a Guru. This is because while we may do sadhana on our own we often would not be able to distinguish the right from wrong because of our limited intellect. An accomplished Guru, on the other hand, would be able to take us through life towards our ultimate goal like an expert oarsman who guides his boat in rough waters.
History and tradition:
The word Guru is a combination of the Sanskrit root words ‘Gu’ meaning darkness and ‘Ru’ meaning dispeller. Thus, Guru is one who dispels darkness and leads the student towards enlightenment. Furthermore the planet Jupiter or Guru, also called Brihaspati is the teacher of the Devas. Sanatana Dharma has endured the onslaught of Christianity and Islam because it produced great spiritual leaders who lead by example. Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Sant Tukaram, Sant Dhyaneshwar and Samarth Ramdas among others are a few names that instantly spring to mind. We have a rich tradition of saintly Gurus who inspired the masses through their exemplary lives. The very first Guru was Mahadev Himself who took the form of ‘Dakshinamurti’ to pass on His knowledge to the Sapta Rishis so that they in turn pass the knowledge to humans.
History also points out the importance that was accorded to Gurus by the royals. Dronacharya and Kripacharya were teachers to the Pandavas and Kauravas. Even Shri Vishnu sought the feet of Gurus when He incarnated during the Treta and Dwapar Yuga. Rishi Vashishta was the Guru of Shri Ram and his brothers while Shri Krishna received his education Rishi Sandipini along with Balaram and Sudama. Every royal family had a ‘Rajguru’ or ‘Kulguru’ who guided the king in important affairs. It was Swami Samarth Ramdas who inspired Shivaji Maharaj to fight against the Mughals by reminding him of his Kshatriya dharma.
We have been celebrating Gurus for eons now. Hindu tradition reveres the great Maharishi Veda Vyasa born as Krishna Dwaipayana and celebrates the day he was born as Vyasa Purnima or Guru Purnima. Similarly, the Indian Government has instituted the Dronacharya award to celebrate the best teacher.
Why do we need a Guru?
The mind is fickle and it is very difficult for an ordinary person to control it. In the absence of proper guidance one is sure to lose his way and go astray. During such times it is an accomplished Guru who helps one to overcome one’s fears and bring him back on the right track. The tradition to touch one’s Guru’s feet and offer Gurudakshina continues to this day. If God, who was an ocean of knowledge Himself, sought the tutelage of a Guru then it was to teach us that spiritual progress is possible only with the assistance of a Guru.