Hindu scriptures assert that more valuable than gold, and far more rare, is a guru, a knower of spiritual truths, also called a satguru. A guru is the devotee's best friend, a father and a mother, a trusted confidant and a demanding mentor and guide on the path to God. The guru embodies all that the spiritual seeker aspires to be; in the guru, one sees his own infinite potential. Hindus honor these rare leaders on Guru Purnima, the full moon day in June/July, the Hindu month of Ashada.
Guru Purnima is the annual festival which honors spiritual teachers, preceptors and mentors who dispel the darkness of ignorance by bringing forth wisdom and illumination. Purnima is the Sanskrit word for full moon.
On this special day all of one's thoughts are focused on the holy preceptor, tuning into his mind, meditating on his teachings and expressing gratitude for his blessings and guidance. In ashrams, monasteries, halls and home shrines, Hindus gather to venerate the guru of their lineage. The day's primary activity is a formal ritual, called puja, in which his holy feet or a pair of his sandals are honored. At the guru's major centers, the puja is a grand event, preceded by a festive procession. It is especially auspicious to pilgrimage to the guru's ashram or monastery on this day.
In India, this day marks the start of the four-month monsoon season. Traditionally, mendicant saints do not wander during this inclement time, but settle in temporary camps where devotees gather to partake of their wisdom. The first day of learning was dedicated to honoring the preceptor, and it is believed this custom became established as Guru Purnima. The full moon is also known as a propitious time for attaining fulfillment, completeness and spiritual advancement, and for beginning all new endeavors.
According to tradition, God's presence can be most clearly and completely felt in the illumined satguru. To sit at his feet is to be close to God and our own deepest Self. All nerve currents terminate in the feet. Vital energy points relating to every organ of his physical and inner bodies--astral, mental and soul--are there. Touch the feet and we touch the spiritual master. Venerating the feet of the guru is also an acknowledgement of our deep respect and our knowledge that by following his footsteps we will attain spiritual perfection.
A few Hindu denominations worship their gurus as the embodiment of God, and may even revere him as an avatar. But most Hindus see their guru as a great illumined soul in whom God's presence is most powerfully apparent.