Festivals of India
It is the divine time
of year when we celebrate Guru Purnima, the day in which we offer
our thanks, love and devotion to the Guru. The Guru Gita says that
the Guru is Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Verily, the Guru is the
Supreme Brahman itself.
But what is a "guru" in practical terms? While in the
West, the term has taken on myriad, frequently derogatory
connotations, the true meaning is pure and simple. In Sanskrit,
"gu" means darkness, and "ru" means one who
removes. So, a "guru" is one who removes our darkness.
It is one whose mere presence emanates so much light, so much love
and so much divinity that every darkness within us is alchemically
changed into light. And there is no darkness too dark for a guru.
Their light can shine through and transform even the darkest
darkness. Even the darkness of midnight would last but a second if
the sun decided to rise 6 hours early. Similarly, no darkness can
last in the Divine presence of a true guru.
Unlike a "preacher" or "minister" or
"rabbi", a guru does not necessarily have to be a
religious figure, nor does it have to be a person of a specific
religion, gender, age or ethnicity. It is simply someone who holds
the light for you if your path becomes shrouded in darkness; it is
someone who will carry you if you get tired; it is someone who -
after you have been in his/her presence - you are not the same.
You are lighter, freer, more filled with joy. It is someone in
whose light you want to bask forever.
In the West, guru is frequently defined as "teacher."
Yet, the crucial diference between a teacher and a guru is that
while teachers can explain concepts and give you verbal
information, they cannot actually take you to the realms of which
they teach. An astronomy teacher can tell you about other planets,
but cannot take you there. A science teacher can explain life on
the bottom of the ocean, but cannot take you there. A geology
teacher can explain the properties of diamonds to you, but he
cannot fill your hands with the precious gems. In contrast, a guru
not only teaches you about God, but rather, he takes you to God.
He not only teaches about peace, he also gives you peace.
As I mentioned, in Sanskrit, the word "guru" means one
who removes our darkness. Yet it is not merely the darkness of
ignorance. It is not simply that we go to our guru with a
question, ask him, he answers it and then our confusion is
cleared. Rather, the mere presence of the guru in our life removes
all darkness - all anger, all pain, all confusion.
HISTORY OF GURU
Guru Purnima is the day on
which we pay our reverence to the Guru. It is a day filled with
devotion, love and piety. On this day, Indians across the world
pay their deepest reverence to both their personal guru, as well
as to Sri Maharishi Vyasji. Vyasji is heralded as the one who
classified and arranged the four Vedas, and as the author of the
18 Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. Having brought
such an immeasurable treasure chest of wisdom to the world, Vyasji
is worshipped as the Great Guru. It is he who brought forth this
ocean of divine light to dispel the darkness of humanity.
Therefore, on this day we also pay our deepest respects to Sri
QUENCHES OUR THIRST
In India, the summer is
followed by the monsoon season when the skies themselves seem to
open , pouring down sheets of water upon the parched land. After
the long, hot, dry months of summer in which innumerable people,
animals and crops may have perished, the rains finally come,
quenching our thirst and bringing us life. And, in India, when the
rains come it is not a mere drizzle. Rather, the rains are
downpours of heavenly nectar, completely saturating the dry land.
Similarly, on this day of Guru Purnima as we find ourselves dying
of thirst for knowledge, understanding and peace, as we find our
hearts and minds have become dry due to ignorance, anger and
darkness, the Guru comes, pouring forth upon our lives the rain of
wisdom, love, light and life. Just as the flowers which have
wilted and yellowed in the never-ending heat of summer suddenly
stand erect and succulent as soon as the rains come, so we, who
have become ignorant and "dead" to the divinity within
us, are immediately born anew due to His grace in our lives.
However, the monsoon comes only once a year. The ground and soil
are graced only one season a year with the divine flow of rain.
However, the Guru is always with us. His grace is always showering
upon us. There is only one "monsoon season" but if we
allow the Guru's grace into our lives, then every season is the
season of the Guru.
Yet, just as the soil must allow the rain to penetrate its depths
in order to reap the benefits of this life-giving nectar, so we
must become porous vessels into which the divine nectar of the
Guru can flow.
The most important quality in a disciple is humility and surrender
to the Guru. If we are filled with our own ego, then there is no
room for the Guru's grace to flow.
There is a story of a man who had done many years of scriptural
study but he hadn't attained the height of spiritual progress
which he was craving. He had heard that there was an enlightened
master who lived on a mountain in the Himalayas. So, he traveled
the great distance to find this master.
When he finally reached to the Guru's cave in the mountains, he
was filled with excitement at being so close to attaining what he
had always wanted. When he beheld the Master, he bowed at the
Master's feet and started to tell the Master everything he had
studied, practiced and learned. He explained where he felt that he
was stuck on his spiritual path, and all of the obstacles he
faced. The Master was quiet. When the man finished talking, the
Master calmly said, "Let us have a cup of tea."
"Tea???" The seeker exclaimed. "But Gurudev I have
travelled weeks on foot to find you. I have spent years and years
in the quest for enlightenment. I am now at your holy feet waiting
for you to bestow your great wisdom upon me. I don't want tea!
Just bless me with Divine Liberation."
"First we will have tea," the Master said calmly, and
laid out two cups for tea. The Guru then began to pour tea, from a
kettle into each cup. As he filled the seeker's cup, the man
watched as the Guru poured and poured even though the tea reached
to the rim of the cup. Then, still, as the cup overflowed and tea
spilled onto the floor, the Guru kept pouring.
"Gurudev," the man said. "Stop. It is enough. Can
you not see that the tea is now spilling out on the floor. There
is no more room in the cup."
The Guru smiled and stopped pouring. "You are like this cup,
my child. Just as the cup is so full that it can hold no more tea,
so you are so full of your own ego, your own learning, your own
stories, your own explanations, that there is no room for anything
else. You cannot hold what I can teach you. Until you empty
yourself of your ego, your preconceived ideas, your own book
knowledge and your own explanations of how everything is there
will be no point in me teaching you at all. You cannot hold
anything right now. There is no room.
Similarly, if we really want the grace of the Guru to flow into us
and transform our lives, we must become empty vessels. Only when
we are empty of ego can He fill us with His divine light.
Guru Purnima is a day of
renewing our faith, our shraddha, in He who bestows the light upon
our lives. It is a day of re-opening our hearts, our souls and our
lives to His divine presence and letting it penetrate and saturate
every aspect of our being.
There is a beautiful story told about a man who wanted to walk on
water. He begged his guru to give him a secret mantra or a special
boon so he could complete this remarkable feat. The man was
extremely pious and devoted, and he had been in his guru's service
for many years. Therefore, the guru gave him a leaf, folded many
times until it was very small. He told his disciple, "Within
this leaf is a secret formula which will enable you to walk on
water. However, you must not open it because the formula inside is
So the man agreed, and he took the folded leaf carefully in his
hands and began his journey across the river. He was walking
successfully on the water when suddenly he was overcome by
curiosity and doubt. What could be this secret formula? Is there
really a secret inside? Is it a powder or a stone or some holy
mantra printed? Where did his guru get it? His doubts got the best
of him and he began slowly to open the leaf as he walked, careful
lest any of the secret formula should spill out into the water. As
soon as he unfolded the last piece to unveil the secret, he
suddenly sank into the water and drowned. Inside the leaf was
written the simple word, "faith."
It was not the leaf, nor any secret powder or mantra that enabled
the devotee to accomplish a miracle. It was the strength of his
faith in his guru and in the "boon" his guru had given
him. As soon as that faith wavered and doubt crept in, his life
was lost. This is the power of faith.
At this time of Guru Purnima, we must look at what really makes up
the Guru-Disciple relationship - what makes it so special, so
unique, so powerful and life-transforming?
The key is faith. Faith can work true miracles, and without it
much of life is futile. The guru might be of infinite power,
knowledge and compassion. Yet, without the faith of the disciple,
the guru can do very little for him. There is a beautiful poem
As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend I
brought my broken dreams to God, because He was my friend. But,
instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone, I hung around and
tried to help with ways that were my own. At last I snatched them
back and cried, "How could you be so slow?" "My
child," He answered, "What could I do? You never did let
That "letting go" is faith. If we can surrender to the
guru with complete faith, he will transform our lives. However, if
we "hang around" and doubt and think that we know better
than he does, then we gain nothing.
CHOOSING A GURU
A guru should not be chosen
haphazardly. Most people say that they "just knew" as
soon as they met their guru. That is the way it should be. Our
hearts should fill with joy in his presence. Our entire beings
should feel like they are bathed in warm sunlight. We should
instinctively know that he can take us where we need to go.
So, in the early stages, before we take a mantra, or before we
officially make someone our guru, that is the time to watch and
reflect: "Is he (or she) really the one?" However, once
we know deep in our hearts and souls that the decision is right,
then we should not look back. We should offer ourselves with full
abandon at the feet of the guru, and our lives will become magic.
Many people today, especially in the West, are hesitant about what
they see as "blind obedience" to the Guru. They feel
that somehow they will be lesser people if they become obedient to
a master. They don't want to feel like "slaves." I hear
this so frequently by people who have been over-indoctrinated by
the Western ideal of individuality. And yet, we must realize that
we are living our lives as slaves of our own egos and vanity. We
live in blind obedience to the call of our senses and desires. We
have blind faith in that which our minds and hearts tell us and we
act accordingly. Yet, these false "masters" so
frequently lead us astray. We act out of impulse, emotion or
vanity and later regret it.
Let us realize that we are, as it is, acting in obedience to a
master. Therefore, let us choose a master who will lead us to the
light, not the darkness, a master who will lead us to wisdom, not
ignorance, a master who will lead us to peace instead of pieces,
and a master who will never give us an order we will later regret.
Let us live our lives in obedience to the divine orders of our
guru instead of in slavery to the volatile callings of our egos,
desires and senses.
It is through the teachings of the Guru and through the grace of
the Guru that we become masters of our minds, thoughts and senses.
Only then can we truly be free.
The Guru Gita tells us: "Meditate with concentration upon the
Guru's form. Worship with devotion the Guru's feet. Take the
Guru's teachings as sacred, perfect mantras and recite them
diligently. Only through the Guru's grace will you attain
OF A DISCIPLE
People sometimes make the
mistake of putting all of the responsibility on the Guru. We
expect that we can continue to live our lives exactly as we want
-- along with our own egos, greed and vices -- and yet the Guru
will come, wave a magic wand and grant us instant peace,
prosperity and enlightenment. It is not like that. The disciple
must be dedicated, committed, faithful and assiduous in his/her
A good disciple:
Always tells the truth to the Guru and never hides anything from
Practices the teachings of the Guru with faith, discipline and
Follows the instructions of the Guru without argument.
Questions, of course, can and should be asked when there are
doubts or confusion in the disciple's mind, but prior to asking
any question the disciple should first deeply introspect to see
whether the question really warrants the time and attention of
the Guru or whether the question is simply to satisfy the ego or
desires of the disciple.
Continues to grow and develop each day, making a commitment each
morning to be more pure, more holy, and more divine every day.
Vows to live as a beautiful example and representative of the
Guru. Disciples are the reflection of the Guru. So, if we truly
love, revere and adore our Gurus we must pledge to live our
lives as shining examples of their teachings and as pure
reflections of their Divine lives.
Is humble in front of the Guru, accepting the Guru's words (and
sometimes reprimands) with surrender and humility.
Is ever ready to serve the Guru - any time of the day, any day
of the week, any week of the year. Seva given by the Guru and
performed for the guru is a rare and precious jewel on the road
to God Realization. In fact, selfless, dedicated seva for the
Guru is one of the straightest and clearest paths to ultimate
moksha. We must never give up an opportunity to perform seva for
GURU OF NATURE
Another beautiful aspect of
Guru Purnima is represented by the teaching of Dattatreya, who
himself is regarded as a Guru of Gurus and even as an incarnation
of God Himself. Dattatreya said that he had 24 Gurus, all
manifestations of nature. From each of nature's creations, he
learned a different lesson, ranging from the selfless service of
the fruit-bearing tree to the persistence of the rain drops.
us, too, on this day, look around us at God's natural creation and
ask what we can learn from Mother Nature. Rather than look upon
Her as a commodity to be used and abused, let us look upon Her as
a Guru from whom we receive countless lessons and blessings.
is perhaps the most well-known of the Indian festivals. It is a
five day celebration which occurs on the fifteenth day of the
Hindu month of Kartika (during October/November in the Gregorian
calendar). The word Diwali means "rows of lighted lamps"
and the celebration is often referred to as the Festival of Lights
because of the common practice of lighting small oil lamps (called
diyas) and placing them around the home, in courtyards and in
gardens, as well as on roof-tops and outer walls.
During this time, homes are thoroughly
cleaned, windows are opened and diyas are lit as a greeting to
Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. In urban areas candles are often
substituted for diyas. During Diwali, gifts are exchanged and
festive meals are prepared. The celebration means as much to
Hindus as Christmas does to Christians. Because there are many
regions in India, there are many different versions of the Diwali
The festival of Diwali is often celebrated with huge firework
displays and the exchange of sweets. As with other Indian
festivals, Diwali signifies many different things to people across
In northern India and elsewhere, Diwali celebrates Rama's return
from fourteen years of exile to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana
and his subsequent coronation as king; in Gujarat, the festival
honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; in Nepal Diwali
commemorates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king
Narakaasura; and in Bengal, it is associated with the goddess
Everywhere that it is celebrated, Diwali signifies the renewal of
life, and accordingly it is common to wear new clothes on the day
of the festival. It also heralds the approach of winter and the
beginning of the sowing season.
Diwali is also a Sikh festival. It particular it celebrates the
release from prison of the sixth guru, Hargobind Singh, in 1619.
Sikhs had celebrated Diwali for many years before that and the
foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holiest
place in the Sikh world, was laid on Diwali in 1577. For Jains,
Diwali marks the attainment of Moksha (Nirvana, or eternal bliss)
by the founder of Jainism, Lord Mahavira.
isn't Diwali celebrated on the same date each year?
The Hindu calendar is based on
the lunar cycle and the movement of the moon, unlike the
conventional Western (or Gregorian) calendar. The result is that
Hindu festivals move about the Western calendar from year to year.
Diwali, for example, falls on the date of the new moon between the
Hindu months of Asvina and Kartika. Usually this is in October or
What is the
story of King Rama?
After fourteen years of exile
in the forest, the King of Ayodhya, Rama, and his brother, Laksham,
returned to their hometown having fought a fierce battle with the
demon king of Ceylon, Ravana, who had captured Rama’s consort,
Sita. Aided by an army of monkeys as well as some bears, Rama and
Laksham defeated Ravala and rescued Sita.
Upon Rama’s return to Ayodhya the people of the town lit lamps
to welcome the King back and to celebrate the brothers' victory
over Ravana. Overjoyed at Queen Sita's rescue and the safe return
of King Rama, the people danced and celebrated and lit fireworks
to show how happy they were. These festivities continue every year
at Diwali and are still celebrated today.
What is the
story of the demon Narakaasura?
The demon Narakaasura was the
evil king of Pragjyotishapura, near present-day Assam. Power made
the demon king arrogant and he became dangerous to his subjects
and even to the gods. He ruled with a reign of terror, abducted
16,000 daughters of the gods, and stole the earings of Aditi,
mother of the gods.
The gods asked Lord Krishna for help, and after a mighty battle he
killed the demon, freed the girls and recovered the earrings. The
rescue of the 16,000 girls is said to be the origin of the story
that Krishna had 16,000 wives. After his victory Krishna returned
very early in the morning and was bathed and massaged with scented
oils. Taking an early morning bath with oil is still a Diwali
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