Teacher’s Day vs Guru Utsav

– Sandeep Singh, Business Consultant, Writer, Friend of Bharath Gyan

The syllable ‘gu’ means shadows
The syllable ‘ru’, means he who disperses them.
Because of the power to disperse darkness the guru is thus named.

Aaradvayatka Upanishad 14—18, verse 5

There is an unfortunate artificial darkness created around Teachers Day and Guru Utsav. I tried to understand the darkness and learned quit a bit about Teacher, Guru, Teachers Day, World Teachers Day, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Guru Purnima. I am sharing the same.

Sanskrit has got four words Sikshak, Adhyapak, Acharya and Guru which are often used as synonym. Each of these words can be broadly understood as:

  • Teacher being equivalent to Sikshak
  • Professor being equivalent to Adhyapak
  • Principle being equivalent to Acharya
  • Guru doesn’t have an equivalent word in English. Hence it is used as Guru in all the languages.

Teacher gives the basic education.

Guru is a word much bigger than Teacher. As a noun the word means the imparter of knowledge. As an adjective, it means ‘heavy,’ or ‘weighty,’ in the sense of “heavy with spiritual wisdom”. Guru is one’s spiritual guide on earth. One is considered ‘orphan’ without a Guru.

In fact a Tamil saying describes the word “Guru” beautifully:
Guru illaakru vidhaiyum illai, mudhal illaarku labamum illai” i.e. This saying in Tamil means The Person who has no guru has no skill; just like a business without principle makes no profit.

Teachers’ day is celebrated in many countries but date varies from country to country.
World Teachers’ Day is distinct from Teachers’ days, and is officially celebrated across the world on October 5.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday, is celebrated as Teachers Day on 5th September from 1962 in India. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born in a Telugu family at a village near Thiruttani , in Tamil Nadu near the border of Andhra Pradesh. His thesis for the M.A. degree was “The Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions”. His philosophy professor, Dr. Alfred George Hogg commended that Radhakrishnan has done most excellent work. Radhakrishnan’s thesis was published when he was only 20.

According to Radhakrishnan himself, the criticism by Hogg and other Christian teachers of Indian culture “disturbed my faith and shook the traditional props on which I leaned.” Radhakrishnan himself describes how, as a student, “The challenge of Christian critics impelled me to make a study of Hinduism and find out what is living and what is dead in it. My pride as a Hindu, roused by the enterprise and eloquence of Swami Vivekananda, was deeply hurt by the treatment accorded to Hinduism in missionary institutions.” This led him to his critical study of Indian philosophy and religion, and a lifelong defence of Hinduism against “uninformed Western criticism”.

For his services to education he was knighted by George V in 1931. He stopped use of the title after India became independent. He preferred to use his academic title of ‘Doctor’. In 1939 Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya invited him to succeed him as the Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). He served as its Vice-Chancellor till January 1948. His political career started after BHU.

Radhakrishnan did not have a background in the Congress Party. His motivation lay in his pride of Hindu culture, and according to Brown, “He had always defended Hindu culture against uninformed Western criticism and had symbolized the pride of Indians in their own intellectual traditions.”

Gurupurnima falls on the day of, Purnima (full moon), in the month of Ashadh (June–July) of the Shaka Samvat (Gregorian calendar). Gurupurnima is as old as civilisation and is celebrated by all spiritual religions of India. Indian from all the fields, ranging from music to dance, academic to sports etc. celebrate this day by thanking their teachers as well as remembering past teachers and scholars.

Looking at above facts, it makes perfect sense to observe Radhakrishnan’s birthday as Guruutsav rather than as Teachers Day. Radhakrishnan was beyond “direction or language” division. Infact efforts should be made to celebrate his birthday as International Guruutsav Day. The world will be happy to accept it.

Paul Artur Schillp has said “….nor would it be possible to find a more excellent example of a living “bridge” between the East and the West than Professor Radhakrishnan.” While Michael Hawley said “Radhakrishnan’s concern for experience and his extensive knowledge of the Western philosophical and literary traditions has earned him the reputation of being a bridge-builder between India and the West.”

Last but not the least, Modern English, which includes the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible, is generally dated from about 1550. And only after the United Kingdom became a colonial power, English spread outside England. To top it more than 65% of English words are actually taken from other languages including from India. It will also be important to mention that the word Guru is more English than the modern day apologists of English and as old as English itself. The word Guru was first used in English in the year 1613.