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by Geeta Chandran, New Delhi
Jul 2002

This year Guru Purnima falls on 24 July.

The Guru Geeta (70) contains a beautiful shloka describing the qualities of a
Guru (one who leads and shows the light):

Chaitanyam Shashwatham Shantam Vyomaateetam Niranjanam
Nadabindu-Kalateetam Tasmai Shree Guruve Namah

I bow to my teacher who is the supreme spirit, who is eternal and benign;
who is beyond sound, line and art. Salutations to thee!

The Guru is thus vested with incredible responsibilities. As role model and as one who knows, it is up to the Guru to enlighten disciples. The Sanskrit roots of the very word Gu-Ru implies one who chases away darkness! In a world where role models are far and few between, the Guru's importance cannot be overemphasised. The Guru leads the way, shows the path. And most important, awakens in disciples the ability to gauge between right and wrong, between good and bad, and between acceptable norms and eschewable

In our world of globalisation, when material things acquire luminosity and values are at a discount, the teacher who shows the path to eternal values needs to be celebrated.

I have had the good fortune of learning dance from Gurus who were also wonderful and warm human beings. They gave willingly not only of their technical skills in dance, but veritably a part of themselves, their feelings, thoughts, values. I imbibed these at my own pace, fully immersed in their sacred offering.

Values or traditional arts cannot be transmitted through time-bound courses, workshops and syllabi; they can only be transmitted through the best Indian practice of shruti and smriti. Hear and memorise, see and follow; be led only by example. The fascinating process of traditional transmission of art frequently engaged the imagination and strengthened the mind and tempered the character. It was a complex and highly evolved system. There were no external exams, no fixed terms in which to acquire knowledge; each student acquired knowledge and progressed at the individual pace, with only the Guru as arbiter.

Such processes are today extant only in the Indian performing arts; in both dance and music these age-old traditions have continued. Time-tested and true, they are the best proof of our unique system of transmitting knowledge. They enshrine the role of the teacher - one who instigates creativity and original thinking.

The Guru is thus vested with responsibility. The best prayer that a Guru can offer is found in the Devibhagwatham, IX-9, and is dedicated to Saraswati, Goddess of knowledge:

"Jnaanam Dehi Smritim Dehi Vidyaam Vidhyaadhidevathe
Pratishtham Kavitham Dehi Shakti Shishyaprabodhikaam"

O Saraswati, Goddess of learning, grant me knowledge, grant me memory,
grant me learning, reputation and poetry, and the power to enlighten disciples.

Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran is Founder-President of Natya Vriksha. Geeta is currently researching the Haveli Sangeet tradition of Rajasthan under the guidance of traditional musicians in Ajmer and Udaipur. Her research has led her to a deeper understanding of Bhakti in dance.

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