The full moon of July is traditionally celebrated as Guru Purnima, a day of remembrance and giving thanks for all of the blessings received from one’s spiritual teacher. Formerly known as Vyasa Purnima, Guru Purnima was originally a celebration of the birth of one of the towering figures of Indian spirituality and literature, Veda Vyasa (literally, the “divider of the Vedas)—great grandson of Vasishta and grandfather of the Pandavas, as well as the author of the Mahabharata, the 18 Puranas, the Brahma Sutras, and the Srimad Bhagavattam. Vyasa’s father, Parashara, a highly respected sage and astrologer had a brief but significant encounter with Matsyaa, a beautiful, but humble fisherman’s daughter, that resulted in the birth of a brilliant son, Krishna Dwaipayana (the “dark one born on an island). Parashara was a wandering sage and left his son under the care of his mother, but would return on the full moon of July every year to celebrate his birthday. Matsyaa’s father despaired of her ever being able to find a husband with a child in tow, and convinced Parashara to take Krishna Dwaipayana away with him on his sixth birthday. Krishna Dwaipayana worshipped his father and was more than happy to go away with him and begin his training as a rishi. Parashara, who could see into the future, told Matsyaa’s father that she would marry well and be very happy. Indeed, Matsyaa—who later came to be known as Satyavati—eventually married King Shantanu and became the Queen of Hastinapura. Many years later, when both of her sons had died childless, Satyavati summoned Krishna Dwaipayana (Veda Vyasa) to produce heirs with the widows of her sons through the ancient rite known as Niyoga. Veda Vyasa arrived in Hastinapura from his jungle ashram, clad in tree bark, with matted hair coiled atop his head, a long unkempt beard, and eyes blazing with the radiance of his tapas. The first princess took one look at Vyasa and then closed her eyes tightly the whole time they were together. As a result, her son Dhritarashtra was born blind. The second princess was a bit braver and managed to keep her eyes open, but was pale with fright and gave birth to an albino child named Pandu (the “pale one”). Dhritarashtra later sired the one hundred Kaurava brothers. Pandu was under a curse that prevented him from begetting children, but his two wives, Kunti and Madri, used special mantras to invoke different gods for the purpose of producing children. The five sons born of Kunti and Madri were the Pandavas, who later went to war with their cousins, the Kauravas, in the epic battle described by Vyasa in the Mahabharata.
On the full moon of July in 1915, another important guru was born, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, affectionately known to his students as “Guruji”. Guruji began his study of yoga at the tender age of 12 with the venerable Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. For 25 years Guruji practiced under the stern, exacting, and brilliant gaze of Krishnamacharya. In 1937 Guruji was offered a teaching position by the Maharaja of Mysore at the Sanskrit College. Guruji taught at the Sanskrit College until his retirement in 1973, when he began teaching yoga full time out of his home in Lakshmipuram. It was right around this time that the first Americans starting showing up at Guruji’s door, eager to learn yoga. Guruji’s teaching career spanned 70 years and he left an indelible stamp on the yoga world. He trained hundreds of teachers and thousands of students throughout the world in his challenging but deeply rewarding methodology of practice. I had the great privilege of being Guruji’s student for thirty years and had the honor of hosting him a dozen times when he taught in Encinitas. Through many trips to Mysore over the years and the opportunity to assist him on many occasions during his U.S. tours, I came to know Guruji pretty well. Guruji always impressed with his great passion and love for teaching, and the obvious joy he took in it. He was very generous with his energy and knowledge--which was immense—and taught with a ferocity that was tempered by humor and kindness and a deeply grounded spirituality. During Guruji’s last visit to Encinitas in 2005 I asked him how he kept himself going as he approached his 90th birthday. Guruji said simply, “My mind is very strong--every day reading Gita, thinking God.” Thank you Guruji for all the teaching, all the inspiration, and for all the love. I can’t imagine where I would be today without you.