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Guru Vandana in America: Observing the Hindu Tradition of Honoring Teachers and Promoting Universal Values

Guru Vandana in America: Observing the Hindu Tradition of Honoring Teachers and Promoting Universal Values

  • This year alone, over 2,000 educators were honored in 22 states by the diaspora. Teachers from all backgrounds ‚ÄĒ Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian ‚ÄĒ attended these events.

India celebrates Teachers‚Äô Day on September 5th each year to mark the birth anniversary of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a scholar, philosopher, and former President of India. My school would hold a special assembly, invite and honor teachers on stage, and distribute snacks and sweets to all. In the classroom, we would pay tributes and present gifts to our class teacher. Teachers of various subjects would make rounds and give away candies. After a few short, festive hours, the school would end – earlier than usual and we would enjoy the remainder of the ‚Äėholiday.‚Äô This tradition seems to be a distant memory for many, who now call the United States their home. However, a fairly new tradition has been taking root over the years in the country ‚ÄĒ Guru Vandana celebrated around Teacher Appreciation Week in the first week of May.

Meaning of Vandana

Guru Vandana, which means “reverence for the teacher,” epitomizes the respect and gratitude that students owe to their teachers. It not only acknowledges the transfer of knowledge but also honors the role of teachers in shaping their students‚Äô moral and spiritual lives. The guru is seen as an embodiment of the divine, a person who dispels the darkness of ignorance and leads the disciple toward enlightenment. The below shloka (verse) captures the essence of honoring the teacher – 

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Saakshaat Para Brahma
Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha
.

This verse equates the guru with Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer), highlighting the comprehensive role of a teacher in a student’s life.

Celebrations and Their Significance

Guru Vandana has found resonance within the Indian diaspora around the country. The Hindu Education Foundation and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh in the United States organize Guru Vandana events to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week in May. These events bring together students, parents, and teachers in a celebration that includes cultural performances, recitations of Sanskrit shlokas, and personal testimonials from students expressing their gratitude‚Äč‚Äč. 

One such event at West Windsor in New Jersey highlighted how teachers are pivotal in both academic and personal development. The celebration featured cultural showcases that illustrated the richness of Hindu culture and its emphasis on revering educators. It also provided a platform for students to articulate the profound impact their teachers have had on their lives, fostering a sense of community and mutual respect‚Äč.

No wonder, Guru Vandana celebrations are becoming popular nationwide. This year alone, over 2,000 educators were honored in 22 states by the diaspora. Teachers from all backgrounds ‚ÄĒ Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian ‚ÄĒ attended these events. Many expressed gratitude for the invitation and gifts they received, and also for the cultural education on Indian traditions.

Beyond the Classroom

The principles of Guru Vandana have universal applicability. The respect for teachers, the acknowledgment of their role in personal development, and the celebration of the transformative power of education are values that transcend cultural and religious boundaries. Honoring elders for their wisdom and the divine service they provide for the next generations are values that resonate across nations and communities.

See Also

In an era where education is often commodified and the bond between teacher and student reduced to transactions, Guru Vandana stands as a profound reminder of the deeper, more spiritual dimensions of learning. Rooted in the ancient Hindu tradition of Guru-Shishya Parampara, this celebration transcends mere academic appreciation, elevating the teacher to the status of a revered guide, mentor, and even a spiritual beacon.

Reflection

Guru Vandana is more than a cultural practice; it is a timeless celebration of the noble profession of teaching. By honoring our teachers, we acknowledge the light they bring into our lives and their essential role in guiding us toward a brighter, more enlightened future. This tradition encourages us to foster deep respect and gratitude for those who dedicate their lives to education, reminding us that the true essence of learning lies in the reverence for knowledge and those who impart it.

The Guru Vandana tradition holds valuable lessons for contemporary society. It reminds us to look beyond the utilitarian lens of education and appreciate the intrinsic value of the teacher-student relationship based on respect and divinity. It calls us to recognize and honor our educators, not just as transmitters of knowledge, but as mentors and guides who shape our values, character, and aspirations.


Anil Kothari is an Oklahoma City-based mechanical engineer, yoga practitioner, and yoga teacher.

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