Perhaps no other day in the entire Hindu calendar is so filled with significance as Guru Purnima. If a child imbibes the spirit of Guru Purnima, she or he can be said to have had a successful Bharatiya education.
For the youngest child, the best introduction to the day would be to talk about Maharshi Veda Vyāsa as the compiler of the Vedas and the Puranas, which are the foundation of Hindu Dharma. Veda Vyāsa, the greatest guru of the Hindu tradition, and the author of the Mahabharata, is said to have been born on this day.
Bharatiya tradition places great importance on knowledge as a force that dispels the darkness of ignorance. ‘Lead me from darkness to light’ says the famous prayer taught in schools as ‘Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya’. To this day, we follow the ceremony of lighting a lamp as an auspicious beginning at every event.
Shlokas often emphasize the role of Guru as one who removes the darkness of this world by shining the torch of knowledge. Ancient Bharat placed great importance upon knowledge, and by extension, worshiped the Guru as the giver of knowledge. Therein lies the significance of Guru Purnima in brief.
There are many Sanskrit verses devoted to the Guru. Foremost among them is “GururBrahma GururVishnuh, GururDevo Maheśwarah, Guruh Sākśat Param Brahma, Tasmai Śri GuraveNamaha”, indicating the deep respect for “Guru as Brahma, Vishnu and Maheśwara. Guru is the Sākśat Brahman Himself. I bow to this Guru.” Initiate a young child into this prayer today, and have them say it as part of their daily prayers everyday.
It is also important for a Hindu child to know about the concept of Guru-Shishya parampara, which just means an unbroken lineage of teachers and students, forming a chain through time. Most of our classical arts including music, dance, martial arts, arts of war like archery, and of course, all spiritual knowledge including the Vedas and Upanishads were taught in this way, passed down through a succession of teachers.
Guru Purnima is a good time to express our gratitude to all the teachers who carried the torch of knowledge before us. It is also the best time to reiterate our commitment to learning and passing on our traditional knowledge to the best of our ability. Our children must feel the pride in this unbroken tradition, and they must be enlisted in this great responsibility to carry it forward.
It is important to teach children to do namaskaram and touch the feet of their dance and music teachers too. It is also said that these actions promote learning by making the mind of the student open and humble enough to receive knowledge. Knowledge only comes to the one who sets aside his ego and is willing to learn at the Guru’s feet.
Having said that, our tradition is not passive. Many Upanishads are based on the question-and-answer format, where the shishya asks questions freely and the Guru answers.
We need to show our children that even the Bhagavad Gita follows this format, with Arjuna asking Bhagavan Shri Krishna so many questions. Humility before a Guru does not mean passively taking in information only. Our tradition honors vibrant exchange of ideas as cordial discussions and debate between different schools of philosophy called darshanas. Modern debate tends to be exclusivist with a view to defeating the opponent; whereas in ancient Bharat the final goal of a debate was not only to oppose and persuade the other, but to learn from one another, in a common search for the Truth.
Keeping all this in mind, Guru Purnima should be treated by the modern Hindu parent as a very significant day to introduce many concepts about the learning tradition that we are blessed with. Get children curious about asking questions, seeking answers and knowing more about the students mentioned in the Puranas and Upanishads. It is up to us as parents to instill in children an appreciation for our living culture. It then becomes their responsibility to carry it forward in the true tradition of guru-shishya parampara.
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