I remember when I was a 15 year old, we were the out-going i.e., class Tenth students of the school and we decided to celebrate Teacher’s day in a big way. We felicitated our teachers, organized cultural events. I was proud to be the part of the organizing team. When I told my father, he smiled and told me to do my best.
Years later, in a conversation about teachers, my father asked me “tell me, why should Sarvepalli’s birthday be celebrated as Teacher’s day?”. This question had a ready-made answer “he was a very good teacher and he changed the way Indians look at teachers and teaching”. One can find this answer in probably every school social studies text book. He then asked, “so there was none other to equal him?”. I was dumbstruck. I knew of no other name at that time. Towards the end of the conversation, he posed another question “Why do we celebrate Guru Pournami? Why does it fall on the tithi when Vyasa finished his work on classification of vedas?”. I had no answer.
Today again is 5th of September. Today again, people want to thank all their teachers for teaching them and guiding them in life. The Governments of India felicitate teachers based on nominations as part of the celebrations of this particular date. Very nice indeed.
The question however remains. Why Sarvepalli? Why his birthday? This is not even about Sarvepalli’s last day as teacher or association with Educational institution(s). How do we justify tying a person’s birthday or death day or anniversary to any event? It is not as if teaching started or took a new turn after Sarvepalli was born! It is not also as if Sarvepalli set up anything with respect Education in India. He wasn’t even India’s first Education Minister. It was Abul Kalam Azad. For those who don’t know, Azad’s birthday is also celebrated as National Education Day, as if he invented Education in India! The fallacy of assigning a person’s birth/death to represent an event/phenomenon is that it serves no purpose or in fact devalues the people/event involved!
Not to my surprise, people pounce on me when I raise the above made points – both in virtual world and real world. Several questions are posed, several rebuttals/explanations offered:
- Why do you think respecting Sarvepalli is a bad idea?
- Why do you think such symbolism is wrong? It is after all a symbolic gesture!
- Sarveapalli is a secular figure. Thats why his birthday. (This one is my favorite and takes the cake!)
- Teachers need to be respected. This is a good thing – very much needed.
There are many other weirdo responses I get but these are the weirder of the lot that I get. I find myself generally at the lack of words. Even some Hindus who have a slew of days in their calenders marking events tend to fall for the flawed logic in questions asked or reasoning provided.
Questions Worth Asking
First, I want to ask all Hindus –
- Why is Rama’s or Krishna’s birthday not celebrated as Dharma Dinotsava or some such thing?
- Why is Sankara’s or Ramanuja’s or Madhavacharya’s or any other acharya’s birthday not celebrated as Acharaya Dinotsava? or probably Vedanta Dinotsava?
- Why has there never been a Yoga Dinotsava – say Pathanjali’s birthday? Same for Samskruta Dinotsava – Panini’s birthday?
History is a proof that no such day has ever been marked by Hindus. Why?
These are questions worth asking. These are questions worth pondering over. Every such day – marked for Teacher, Mother, Father, Friend, Mama, Mami, Dada, Dadi etc., – has a profound affect on us – common people. Just look at the frenzy on each of these days. Almost as if this is the day to redeem oneself of all the wrong doing!
Hindu Culture and Importance of Events
On Vyasa Pournami, Vyasa is believed to have finished his seminal work of classifying Vedic knowledge into Chaturvedas. This was an important event. Hindus sought to mark all future calenders to remember and worship Guru who gives Jnana to Sishya through the Vedas as classified by Vyasa. Note this carefully – it is not Vyasa who is being revered but every Guru who teaches Sishya. Every time a Sishya does that, he remembers the event – Vyasa finishing his work in classifying Vedas. Imagine the impact. Imagine the respect it creates for Vyasa, his Sishyas starting with Suka, Shakti Maharshi etc., in the mind of Sishya. Ancient Hindus, one must accept, have been extremely successful in ensuring this tradition remains intact.
Similar reasoning exists for many other days marked in Hindu Calender. This is precisely the reason why Navaratris have nothing to do with Mata’s birthday. This is also the reason why Krishna’s birthday is called Krishna Jayanti or Krishna Ashtami, but not Krishna Leela Day or Krishna Day or Krishna Viratswarupa Day etc. This is also the reason why Vamana’s birthday is just Vamana Jayanti. It is neither Brahmin’s day nor Kerala Brahmin’s day nor Charity Day.
It is not to say Hindus don’t celebrate people. Hindus do. That is why each great person’s birthday is celebrated as a Jayanti. On that day, you learn and re-learn about that person and teachings. This attempt is supposed to take you closer to what that particular person viewed Dharma as.
Differentiate between Events and People
It is necessary for societies to identify events and see the role of the people. Seeing people and events as the same is a huge problem. This problems is sometimes manifested in political sphere. For example, “many people, educated ones too, cannot differentiate between Independence and Congress”. Why? People and Events.
It is not my case that Sarvepalli is not to be celebrated. If you have deduced that, probably I can never have a conversation with you. Sarvepalli is of course a great mind. One of the kind. Sarvepalli is revered in my hometown – Rajahmundry – where he served for sometime as Principal of Govt Arts College. Sarvepalli’s books are a great source of inspiration even for me.
Education is an important part of the human life. Every person needs a teacher who can guide the student in life. When we dumb down teacher’s role to somebody birthday, we are not actually celebrating the teacher-student relationship. We are celebrating what that particular person had done.
September 5th should be celebrated as Sarvepalli Jayanti. Felicitating teachers may be fine but that day shouldn’t really turn into a frenzy of calling up and thanking teachers. If any student wants to really thank his/her teacher, take a Sankalpa on Guru Pournami to respect and serve the teacher in best way possible and take blessings from the teacher. The Guru-Sishya relationship is a very sacred and important one for us as human beings. Let us not get swayed by these western concepts.