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Guru Purnima
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India has so many festivals that even though I have lived here for so long, I am still discovering new ones! Just the other day I was watching a video by Sadhguru where he speaks about the significance of Guru Purnima. This is a festival that is celebrated on the first full moon day after the summer solstice (June 21). The summer solstice marks the beginning of what is known as Dakshinayana in the Indian calendar. This lasts till the winter solstice in December (December 22 to be exact). The other half of the year from December 22 to June 21 is known as Uttarayana. Essentially, astronomically speaking, the sun is moving towards the pole (or northward) in the Earth’s sky, during Uttarayana, while it is moving towards the equator (or southward) during Dakshinayana. This is from the viewpoint of the northern hemisphere.

According to Sadhguru, Dakshinayana is considered a period when spiritual seekers can do sadhana, or strive to prepare themselves for mukti. Uttarayana is considered a period of flowering. This is why Buddha Purnima, when the Buddha attained, is celebrated in Uttarayana. So Guru Purnima, which falls on July 12th this year in the lunar month of Ashada, is considered an important day when a human being can strive to break his limitations. According to yogic lore, this is supposed to be the day when Shiva became a Guru. Shiva is said to be Yogishwara, Lord of Yoga, and the Adiyogi, the First Yogi. His first seven disciples to whom he imparted yoga were the Saptarishis, the seven sages Vasishtha, Agastya, Gautama, Kashyapa, Atri, Angiras and Bhrigu. Shiva began the transmission of yoga to these seven sages on this day. So in terms of nature as well as according to legend, this day is said to be auspicious.

So it was very surprising to me that this day is not considered a holiday. In fact, most people (me included till recently) are unaware of this day, though historically, it was one of the most important days in the calendar for people. I suppose it must be the British influence of 300 years. I do hope to see that Indian holidays more accurately begin to reflect Indian culture, and leave the influence of British occupation behind. It is one of the unalterable facts about India that she has throughout her history, been a resilient nation that absorbed all cultures that came to her, and yet remained unique and distinct in her outlook. Hopefully, this will continue to be so. While globalization and integration with larger humanity is extremely important, it is equally important that ever culture maintains its unique identity.

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