"Guru is Shiva sans his three eyes,
Vishnu sans his four arms
Brahma sans his four heads.
He is parama
Shiva himself in human form"
~ Brahmanda Puran
Guru is the God, say the scriptures. Indeed, the 'guru' in Vedic tradition
is looked upon as one no less than a God. 'Guru' is a honorific designation
of a preceptor as defined and explained variously in the scriptures and ancient
literary works including epics. The English word 'guru' has its etymological
origin in the Sanskrit term. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English
defines it as "Hindu spiritual teacher or head of religious sect; influential
teacher; revered mentor".
More Real Than Gods
Aren't gurus more real than the gods? Basically the guru is a spiritual teacher
leading the disciple on the path of "god-realization". In essence,
the guru is considered a respected person with saintly qualities who enlightens
the mind of his disciple, an educator from whom one receives the initiatory
mantra, and one who instructs in rituals and religious ceremonies. The Vishnu
and Manu Smriti
regards the Acharya
with the mother and the father as the most venerable gurus of an individual.
According to Deval Smriti
there can be eleven kinds of gurus and according
to Nama Chintamani
ten. According to his functions he is categorized
as rishi, acharyam, upadhya, kulapati
The Guru's Role
underlined the role of the guru. Mundak
Upanishad says to realize the
supreme godhead holding samidha grass in his hands one should surrender himself
before the guru who knows the secrets of Vedas
too speaks of the guru as the preceptor who alone can guide
the disciple on the spiritual path. Over time the guru's syllabus gradually
enlarged incorporating more secular and temporal subjects related to human endeavor
and intellect. Apart from usual spiritual works his sphere of instruction now
included subjects like Dhanurvidya
and even Natyashastra
(dramatics) and Kamashastra
Such was the ingenuity of the all pervading intellect of the ancient Acharyas
that they perpetuated even shastra
like thievery. Shudraka's celebrated
tells the story of Acharya Kanakashakti who formulated
the Chaurya Shastra,
or the science of thievery, which was further developed
by the gurus like Brahmanyadeva, Devavrata and Bhaskarnandin.
From Hermitages to Universities
Gradually the institution of Gurukula
or in-forest-hermitage, where
disciples learnt at the feet of guru for long years was evolved. The great urban
universities at Takshashila, Vikramashila and Nalanda essentially evolved from
these tiny gurukulas
tucked away in deep woods. If we have to believe
the records of Chinese travellers who visited Nalanda
at that time, there were more than 1,500 teachers teaching various subjects
to more than 10,000 students and monks.
Legends of Gurus & Desciples
There were gurus as well as disciples of different hues to whom references
were made in scriptures and literary works. The most popular legend is that
of the amazing young tribal boy Ekalavya on being rejected by the ace trainer
Dronacharya, raised his statue and with great dedication practised the art of
archery and left behind Arjuna, the master archer, who actually learnt the art
under the living guru. And the heartless guru asked for his thumb as gurudakshina
or fees, and made him inferior before his royal disciple. In the Chandogya Upanishad,
we meet an aspiring disciple Satyakama, who refuses to tell lies about his caste
in order to get an admission in the gurukula of Acharya Haridrumat Gautam. And
in the Mahabharata
we come across Karna who did not bat an eyelid while telling Parashurama
that he belonged to the Bhrigu Brahmin caste just to obtain the Brahmastra,
the supreme weapon.
From generation to generation the institution of the guru has evolved various
basic tenets of Indian culture and transmitted spiritual and fundamental knowledge.
Gurus formed the axis of ancient educational system and ancient society, and
enriched various fields of learning and culture by their creative thinking.
Herein lies the lasting significance of gurus and their contribution to the
upliftment of mankind.