“The Guru is the Brahma, Vishnu, and the Maheshwara, the Guru is God”, says a popular Hindu chant. The role of the preceptor, the teacher in shaping our lives cannot be undermined. With Teachers’ Day (5 September) just around the corner, let us take a look at the teachers who have greatly influenced Indian thought and society.
The eminent philosopher and educationist, Dr. S Radhakrishnan, was also the second President of India. It is Dr. Radhakrishnan’s birthday that is celebrated as Teacher’s Day across the country. Having earned his Master’s degree in Philosophy from the Madras Christian College he went on to research and teach about the various schools of Indian philosophy, the Advaita Vedanta in particular. His academic career took him to the University of Mysore, the University of Calcutta and Oxford University where he was appointed as the Professor of Philosophy/ Eastern Religions at various times. His passion for education and teaching is honored by commemorating his birthday each year.
Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the well-known Hindu mystic, and seer are not what we may consider a traditional teacher. His fame as a Guru, however, comes from his infinite wisdom and from his ability to inspire Swami Vivekananda himself. Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s deep influence in the development of thought and society through the greater part of the 1800s cannot be denied. While Swami Vivekananda went on to establish the Ramakrishna Mission which still remains a stronghold of philosophical learning, his other disciples such as Rakhal Chandra Ghosh, Sarat Chandra Chakravarty, and Keshab Chandra Sen, became great thinkers and social reformers.
Swami Vivekananda, the renowned Hindu monk was the prime disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa but the path he treads was far from devotional mysticism. Vivekananda played a central role in introducing Hinduism, Indian philosophy and theology, and Yoga to the western world. His speech in Chicago at the Parliament of the World’s Religions set the precedence for numerous lectures and discourses that he delivered across the world. Swami Vivekananda’s teachings showcased the elevated ideals of Hindu philosophy.
“Gurudev” Rabindranath Tagore achieved a great deal of his fame for his literary works and for the music he composed which is now known as Rabindra Sangeet. It is his achievements as a writer, playwright, and composer that earned him his Nobel Prize too. Rabindranath Tagore’s passion for education and learning, however, have inspired generations of academicians and thinkers in India. He established the Visva Bharati University – a center of education that follows the traditional Indian system of education by dispensing learning through the Gurukul system in the verdant natural settings of Shantiniketan. Tagore’s philosophy has also permeated eastern Indian thought and social philosophy in an unprecedented fashion.
Savitri Bai Phule
Breaking several gender stereotypes of the 19th century, Savitribai Phule went on to become one of the best-known lady teachers of modern India. So much so that biographers have credited her with inspiring modern Indian women’s education to her efforts. Savitribai Phule championed women’s empowerment and pioneered women’s rights centers at a time when women were forbidden from stepping outside the threshold of their homes. The University of Pune was renamed Savitribai Phule Pune University in her honor and she is often called the Mother of modern girls’ education.
APJ Abdul Kalam
One of the greatest thinkers of modern India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was also one of the most loved Presidents of the country. He wore many hats – from being a pioneering scientist to being the father of the Indian nuclear program, from being a dynamic President to being a great administrator, Kalam is a name that shall be remembered forever. The role that he shall be remembered best for, however, is that of a teacher. In 2010, his birth anniversary (15 October) was declared World Students’ Day by the United Nations. He has left behind a legacy of scientific thought and radical progress.
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