A Great Guru and a Greater Shishya
GURUR DEVO MAHESHWARAH
GURUR SAAKSHAAT PARA-BRAHMA,
TASMAI SHRI GURUVE NAMAH.
(The Guru is Brahma (The God of Creation)
The Guru is Vishnu (The God of Sustenance)
The Guru is Shiva (The God of Annihilation)
My Salutation to such a Guru, who is verily the Supreme God)
Guru or the teacher is revered in Indian traditions and culture as he imparts that knowledge which cannot otherwise be gained by merely reading books.
Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu are said to be the first teachers while Veda Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata, is said to be the first human teacher. This is the reason his birth day is celebrated in remembrance of Gurus (Vyasa Purnima is called Guru Purnima).
The Guru-Shishya Parampara (Guru-Disciple tradition) is the very soul of the oral tradition of India, and embodies the living and learning relationship between master and pupil. Evolving from the era of the great Indian seers, the tradition signifies the complete emotional, intellectual and spiritual surrender of the ardent shishya (disciple) to the Guru.
In modern times, one such relationship was the one the father of modern Indian dance Uday Shankar shared with his Guru Thottam Shankaran Namboodiripad, one of the greatest Kathakali performers the country has produced.
The encounter between the two changed the lives of both and heralded the entry of regional dance forms into the national mainstream. Overwhelmed by the Guru’s performance at the palace of the Travancore King in 1934, Uday Shankar fell at his feet and requested him to be his Guru. They took a great liking for each other, which deepened and intensified further with time. The Guru accompanied Shankar to Kolkata in the same year to teach him and his troupe and toured across Northern India in 1936.
With the inception of the Uday Shankar India Culture Centre at Almora, in 1938, the Guru moved to the Himalayan resort and was appointed Chief Instructor. He taught Kathakali and expressions to Group members and students for eight months and spent the winter with his family in Kerala.
The Guru’s love and affection for his pupil was legendary. In fact, when the orthodox Brahmins in Malabar tried to dissuade him from traveling so far, the Guru is reported to have said, “If Shankar calls me even in the middle of the sea, I will unhesitatingly go to him.” He kept this promise till the last, dying in the arms of his famous disciple while performing to nobles and royalties.
A well-known art critic had described the 63-year old Guru’s final exit from the world stage on August 7, 1943 thus:
“The death that overtook the great master was as sudden as glorious. Five minutes before he had acted the scene of ‘Dussasana Vadham’, which was performed with the vigour and strength of youth, when the actor reached the very acme of perfection in the portrayal of the ‘Raudra’ aspect. The work done, the Guru went and sat in the auditorium and watched an item by the girl students. Just before ‘Indra’ was to begin, he relaxed in his seat and lolled over.
“He was taken in the fresh air when Dada (Uday Shankar) dressed up as Indra, ready to begin his dance, rushed out and caught hold of his Guru in his arms. Guru breathed his last, with a quiet, contented smile on his lips, body still moist with perspiration from his dance, surrounded by his pupils. It was unbelievable, monstrous. Yet, it was glorious, magnificent. He loved to dance and teach. He danced as he lived and he died dancing, at his best, every inch an artiste, dignified, straight and active even at 63…”
A shocked Uday Shankar, who regarded the Guru as the symbol of the Centre, said, “I cannot believe it, he looks so peaceful and happy. He has not only been a Guru and a father to me but much more. I feel bewildered but I know he is not gone. Fathers and Gurus never die, they are immortal. I have not been able in this life to get even a fraction of his art but I pray that when I die, I might at least follow him and depart suddenly, working and enjoying my work till the very last minute.”
In this era of commercialized education, teaching shops, tuitions, coaching centres and students stabbing teachers, let such examples inspire both our students and teachers to imbibe the spirit and values of our age-old Guru-Shishya Parampara (tradition).