Home News Reports On Guru Purnima: Thirty-four meanings of the word 'Guru'

On Guru Purnima: Thirty-four meanings of the word ‘Guru’

Today is Guru Purnima, a festival celebrated by the Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains in honour of the guru-s. Among Hindus, the festival is also called Vyasa Purnima, for it is believed that Veda Vyasa was born on this day. The Sikhs also have a festival Guru Parb, but that is celebrated on a different day.

As per the Concise Oxford English dictionary, the English word guru has three meanings: (1) a Hindu spiritual teacher, (2) each of the ten first leaders of the Sikh religion, and (3) an influential teacher or expert, for example “a management guru”.

As one can guess from the first and second meanings, the word guru in English comes from Hindi and Punjabi. In turn, the word guru and Hindi and Punjabi comes from the Sanskrit word guru.

- Ad - - article resumes -

The Online Etymology Dictionary traces the Sanskrit guru to Proto-Indo European (PIE) *gwere in the sense of “heavy”. The Latin word gravis meaning “heavy” is also believed to derive from PIE *gwere. English words related to gravis are grave (meaning weighty, as in “a grave matter”), gravitate, gravimeter, and gravity.

Interestingly, the word for the scientific concept of gravity is gurutvakarshana in many Indian languages including Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, and Gujarati. The first part of this word is gurutva, which means the quality of being guru or heavy.

“Heavy” is one of the primary meanings of guru in Sanskrit also. However, the word is customarily used in many other meanings in Sanskrit. Here is a list of thirty-four meanings of the word guru based on the citations in the nineteenth century lexicons Shabda-kalpa-druma and Vachaspatya.

(1) “one who swallows ignorance”. Indian etymologists in the first millennium BCE derived guru from the root gri (“to swallow”). The same root gives the Sanskrit word nigarana (“swallowing”), from which comes the Hindi word nigalna (“to swallow”).

(2) “one who teaches dharma and scriptures”. The root gri also means “to speak” or “to instruct” in Sanskrit. The meaning is from this sense of the root.

(3) “one who is praised by gods, gandharva‑s, humans, etc”. This comes from the passive sense of gri (“to speak”).

(4) “one who destroys darkness (=gu) with brilliance (=ru)”. This meaning is as per the Guru Gita, which is a part of the Skanda Purana. In the latter half of twentieth century, the Guru Gita was popularized in the West by Swami Muktananda of the Siddha Yoga movement.

(5) “one by whom darkness (=gu) is destroyed (=ru)”. This meaning is also from the Guru Gita.

(6) “one by whom the disease of worldly existence (=gu) is removed (=ru)”. This meaning is also from the Guru Gita.

(7) “one who is beyond qualities (=gu, standing for gunatita) and beyond form (=ru, standing for rupatita). This meaning is also from the Guru Gita.

(8) “one by whom the bondage of maya (=gu) is released (=ru)”. This meaning is also from the Guru Gita.

(9) “Brahma (the creator)”. Brahma is called guru in the Kashi-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

(10) “Vishnu”. Vishnu is called both guru and gurutama (“the most superior guru”) in the Vishnu Sahasranama of the Mahabharata.

(11) “Shiva”. Shiva is called guru in the Shiva Sahasranama, also in the Mahabharata.

(12) “The Supreme Brahman”. Towards the end of George Harrison’s single My Sweet Lord (1971), which was top of the charts globally, the chorus sang the famous Guru Gita verse listing the meanings (9) to (12): gurur-brahma gurur-vishnuh gurur-devo maheshvarah, guruh sakshat para-brahma tasmai shri-gurave namah.

(13) “Brihaspati, the teacher of the gods”. This is why Thursday, named after Jupiter, is called both guru-vaar and brihaspati-vaar in Hindi.

(14) “Prabhakara, the teacher of Mimamsa philosophy”. Mimamsa is one of the six orthodox schools of philosophy in Hinduism.

(15) “Dronacharya, the teacher of the Pandava‑s and Kaurava‑s”. Dronacharya, after whom the Dronacharya Award is named, is often called Guru Dronacharya or simply Guru Drona.

(16) “one who performs nisheka rituals”. The nisheka rituals are Hindu ceremonies like garbhadhana, etc.)”

(17) “one who gives a mantra”. This is why many mantra-s are referred to as guru-mantra.

(18) “the father”. The feminine form of guru is gurvi, one of whose meaning is “the mother”.

(19) “any of the eleven male elders”. The eleven male elders consist of the teacher, the father, elder brothers, maternal uncles, paternal uncles, maternal grandfathers, paternal grandfathers, father-in-law, protectors, king, and community elders.

(20) “any elder in general”. This group is called guru-varga and includes not only teachers, parents, elder siblings, uncles/aunts, parents-in-law, and grandparents, but also any protectors, the midwife, and the king.

(21) “one who is great”.

(22) “one who is ageless”.

(23) “one who is large”.

(24) “one who is powerful”

(25) “one who is honourable”. The abstract noun derived from guru is garima which has meanings corresponding to (21) to (25), i.e. greatness, largeness, honour/dignity, etc.

(26) “one whose speech has profound meaning”.

(27) “heavy”. It is this sense of guru from which modern words gurutva or gurutvakarshana meaning gravity are derived.

(28) “one who grants siddhi-s (=gu), burns sins (=r), and is same as Shiva (=u)”. This meaning is as per Agamasara, a Tantra work.

(29) “one who for the sake of attainment of jnana (=gu) illuminates the truth (=r) and bestows oneness with Shiva (=r)”. This meaning is also as per Agamasara.

(30) “abundance”. The first verse of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (“the cloud messenger”) uses the word guru in this sense.

(31) “a long syllable”. This is the meaning of guru in the context of Indian prosody, a field where the concepts and/or examples of Fibonacci sequence, Pascal’s triangle, and de Bruijn’s sequence were known much before Leonardo Fibonacci, Blaise Pascal, and Nicolaas Govert de Bruijn lived.

(32) “the Pushya constellation”. Pushya is one of the 27 constellations in Indian astronomy.

(33) “the velvet bean creeper (Mucuna pruritus)”.

(34) “the foxtail millet grass (Panicum italicum)”. Coincidentally, millets are called mote anaj (“fat grains”) in Hindi, and Sanskrit guru also means large (23) and heavy (27).

Thus, the word guru, which means “heavy”, is indeed heavy for it is pregnant with so many meanings in Sanskrit. When one considers this fact, the word can be considered an autological word, defined by Wikipedia as “a word that expresses a property that it also possesses.”

With that, I wish you a very Happy Guru Purnima 2017.

Help Opindia Reach Every Indian. Share This Post
We need your support to survive in the media industry. Please consider paying us for the content we produce:

To know more about these payments, please click here.


Big Story

The National Commission for Women (NCW) has taken cognisance of the complaint of sexual harassment that was made by one Himanshi Gupta against a senior producer of Kapil Sibal backed Tiranga TV.

2019 World Cup Is Here!

Catch the latest on Cricket World Cup as it unfolds, special coverage by Opindia

Proud to be a brand - Made in India?
Now, Advertise on Opindia

Mangalore: Mohammad Ansari rapes a cow by tying its limbs, villagers catch him in the act, arrested

The villagers also made Ansari touch cow’s feet and ask for forgiveness for raping her. However, when Ansari approached the calf, the animal freaked out and started running.

Abusive actor Ajaz Khan arrested by Mumbai Police for instigating violence through social media

Mumbai Police arrests small-time actor Ajaz Khan after he mocked the police on TikTok

Revisiting Sainbari, a blot on Indian Democracy: When Communists made a mother eat rice with her dead sons’ blood

The Sainbari incident remains the most horrific instance of political violence in the country.

Mangaluru villagers caught Mohammad Ansari raping a calf, police arrests villagers for ‘hurting religious beliefs’

In the Kunjathbail village in Mangaluru, Mohammad Ansari was caught red-handed by the villagers while he was raping a calf.

Here are 15 famous quotes from Harsha Bhogle during his commentary stint

The famous Indian commentator, Harsha Bhogle, born on July 19 in Hyderabad is celebrating his 58th birthday today.

Live updates Karnataka Trust Vote: House adjourned, floor test now expected on Monday

JDS-Congress government of Karnataka is facing their second floor test after assembly elections were held in May last year.
Tamil media on dead tiger

Tiger dies after eating a Sambar Deer, Tamil Media reports how it died after consuming ‘Sambhar Rice’

On Sunday evening, a tiger was found dead soon after it had eaten a sambar deer. The carcass was found in the Parsons Valley reservoir in the Nilgiris district.
Salma Ansari's temple plan receives AMU's objection

AMU administration’s jolt to Mrs Ansari’s secularism pitch, says no to temple plan inside ‘Chacha Nehru Madarsa’

Salma Ansari, the wife of former vice president Hamid Ansari, had announced recently that she will have a temple built inside the 'Chacha Nehru Madarsa' that she runs in AMU campus.
Donald Trump took to Twitter to praise Pakistan for Hafiz Saeed' arrest

Hafiz Saeed was living freely in Pakistan, so hold your applause: US Committee gives Donald Trump a reality check

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee had to remind Donald Trump that Hafiz Saeed did not need any searching or finding so he should rather hold his applause.
Shashi Tharoor supports Sanjiv Bhatt

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor extends support to disgraced cop Sanjiv Bhatt sentenced to life in custodial death case

Shashi Tharoor had tweeted today that he had met with the family of disgraced cop Sanjiv Bhatt
Subscribe to Day's Top Stories
- Advertisment -

Latest articles

Connect with us

173,665FansLike
159,120FollowersFollow
74,863SubscribersSubscribe
Help Opindia Reach Every Indian. Share This Post