Guru is a Sanskrit word, which is equivalent to ‘teacher’ in English. It also means master of any one or many subjects/arts. E.g. if somebody has mastered yoga, he would be called as Yoga-guru. Ramdev Baba and Ayyangar are famous Yoga-gurus. The word guru is comprised of two words viz. ‘Gu’ and ‘Ru.’ ‘Gu’ means ‘the darkness’ and the ‘ru’ means ‘the remover.’ Therefore, the meaning of the word guru is ‘the person who removes the darkness from one’s life.’ The word ‘Guruji’ is used to refer the male teacher as the word sir is used in English. ‘Ji’ is added to the word guru in order to show respect. In Sanskrit and other Indian languages, the word ‘Ji’ is added after the name or surname of a person in order to show respect. Female spiritual teachers are mainly referred as Gurumaa or Gurumauli. Some forms of the word guru are also used as names of Hindu gods. E.g. Lord Dattatreya is also referred as Sadguru or Gurudev. The word guru is also used for the leader of a group. The books are also sometimes called as guru as they teach us many things. Hence, it is clear that the word guru is used for non-living things also. Mother Nature also teaches us many things; therefore, she is also called as a guru. A guru can by anybody. Your mother, father, schoolteachers, friends, etc. can also be your gurus. There can be more than one guru in a person’s life, but there cannot be more than one spiritual guru. If you want to accept another person as your spiritual guru, you have to leave discipleship of your previous guru with his/her permission. Lord Dattatreya is considered as the biggest of all gurus.
Importance of Guru in Hindu Culture:
In Hindu culture, the word guru has deeper meaning than just a teacher. Guru is considered as next to God and is highly respected. Those who disrespect gurus are considered as uncivilized. Hindus believe that a person’s life is incomplete without a guru. It is very difficult to attain salvation without the guidance of a guru. Wife, daughter and son of the guru are treated as mother, sister, and brother respectively by his disciples. A true guru not only imparts knowledge to the disciples but also protects and guides them in their lives. Hence, guru is also called as Gurudev by his disciples.
The following Sanskrit Shloka underlines the important of guru in Hindu culture:
गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णू गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरा |
गुरुर साक्षात परब्रह्म, तस्मै श्री गुरवे नमः ||
Gururbrahma, Gururvishnu, Gururdevo Maheshwara |
Gurur Sakshaat Parbrahma, Tasmai Shree Guuwe Namah ||
The meaning of this mantra is”
Guru is Brahma
Guru is Vishnu
Guru is Lord Shiva
My salutations to him who is the Supreme Soul himself |
Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh are the three most important deities of Hindus. Guru is considered as equivalent to them. Hence, you can understand the importance of a guru by this Shloka.
The spiritual gurus are frequently referred as Sadguru or Jagadguru. The word Sadguru means ‘Good Teacher’ and the word Jagadguru means ‘the teacher of the world.’
In ancient India, Gurukul system was practiced for education in which the students had to go to the guru’s home in order to acquire knowledge. The homes of the teachers were referred as Ashramas. The fees for the education, called as Gurudakshina, used to be paid at the end of the completion of education. The gurus at the ancient times were selfless and knowledgeable. They used to impart knowledge to the students as their duty mainly, instead of cravings for wealth.
Students also had great respect for teachers at that time. A story from Mahabharata would explain this.
Guru Dronacharya was the teacher of the Kauravas and the Pandavas who were princes of Hastinapur. Eklavya was an aboriginal boy. Eklavya was refused to give education by Dronacharya as he was not from the royal family. Then, Eklavya made a statue of Dronacharya and practiced archery and other arts before it. Soon, he pioneered many arts on his own, but he was best at archery. After the completion of his curriculum, he went to Dronacharya and offered him Gurudakshina. Dronacharya refused it as he did not teach him. Then, Eklavya told him the story about his statue and practice. Dronacharya asked him to display his archery skills and was amazed by it. Eklavya was equivalent to his best student, Arjuna. Therefore, shrewd Dronacharya asked the thumb of his right hand as gurudakshina so that Eklavya would not be able to compete with his best student, Arjuna. Eklavya understood the cunningness of the Dronacharya but gave the thumb of his right hand to Dronacharya immediately. Thus, he freed himself from the debt of gurudakshina. But this did not affect Eklavya as much as Dronacharya had thought and Eklavya still managed to be one of the best archers of his time.
The moral of the story is the students were ready to sacrifice anything for their gurus.
September 5th of every year is celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India. All the educational institutions remain closed on this day. Students greet and gift their teachers on this day. They show respect to the teachers by touching their feet.
Guru-Shishya Parampara (Teacher-Disciple Tradition) is one of the important aspects of Hinduism. Many important Hindu scriptures like Bhagvad-Gita, Vedas, etc. were preserved in this way. Lord Krishna was the guru of Arjuna. Therefore, he told him Bhagvad-Gita in order to clear his doubts about war and life.
Some famous Guru-Shishya duos in Hindu culture:
Now a day, you would find a spiritual guru at every corner of India. Most of them use their powers to earn money and fame. It is very difficult to find a genuine guru these days. Those who are really good prefer to stay away from the crowd. But this is the reality of the 21st century and we have to accept it. If you want the knowledge, you have to pay the fees also. Otherwise, you will have to travel to Himalayas to find a guru.
If you are thinking of spiritual progress, you have to find a good guru and follow him. There are many Ashramas in India and abroad where you can find a good guru who would guide you on your spiritual path. In India, it is said that when the right time would come, you would definitely find your guru.
The word guru is used in many Bollywood and Hollywood films. A few years back, a Hindi film named ‘Guru’ starring Mithun Chakrawarti had been released. The film named ‘Love Guru’ had created controversies for some time in Hollywood.