The SANSKRIT word guru (“weighty” or “heavy” or “father”) is said to derive from gu (the darkness of ignorance) and ru (driving away)—thus, “the one who drives away the darkness of ignorance.” The notion of the guru began in VEDIC times; a student would live with a master for 12 years to acquire the Vedic learning. He treated the guru as his father and served his household as well. Today, a guru is a person’s spiritual father, who is entitled to special deference, as are his wife and daughter.
   The guru is a spiritual guide. Almost all tra-ditions understand that spiritual progress and liberation from birth and rebirth cannot occur without the aid of a guru. In many contemporary guru 173 J
   Indian traditions he is seen to be God himself and is treated as such; thus, his disciples may often refer to their devotion to the “feet of the guru” or their fealty to the “sandals [paduka]” of the guru. (Touching of the feet in India is a sign of deep respect.) So important is the guru that every year a holiday, Gurupurnima, is celebrated. It takes place on the full Moon in the lunar month of Ashadha (June–July). It was dedicated originally to the sage VYASA, who compiled the VEDAS and the MAHAB-HARATA, but it is observed by worship or honoring of one’s teachers and gurus.
   The SIKH tradition, which was founded by Guru Nanak in the 16th century, honors a line of 10 gurus whose teachings form the core of the tradition. The teachings were eventually gath-ered together along with the teachings of certain Indian saints into the Sikh sacred scripture, the Granth Sahib or Guru Granth. Since then the book has became the true “guru” for the Sikhs, and none other has been recognized.
   Further reading: M. G. Gupta, The Guru in Indian Mys-ticism (Agra: M. G., 1994); Swami Muktananda, The Perfect Relationship: The Guru and the Disciple, 2d ed. (South Fallsburg, N.Y.: SYDA Foundation, 1999).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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