‘A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart’.
Reverence for teachers is a universal emotion. Everywhere in the world every generation is aware of the importance of a teacher. Teachers play a pivotal role in the development of a child and the influence of the teacher can be far and wide.
Many nations celebrate Teacher’s Day on different days in different ways, however, the first ever Teacher’s Day was celebrated in India in 1967 on the birthday of President Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. A renowned and loved teacher himself, when his young students requested to celebrate his birthday, Dr. Radhakrishnan replied saying it would be a ‘proud privilege’ if instead of celebrating his birthday alone the day would be marked and celebrated in honor of all teachers of the nation. And hence, on 5th September was born Teacher’s Day defined by much fervor, frolic and respect on the Indian school calendar.
Ancient History of learning
It is no surprise that India started celebrating Teacher’s Day much before many other nations of the world, since historically the subcontinent has always been associated with a beautiful relationship between a teacher and his students. The Guru Shishya relation is described as early as in the Mahabharatha where Eklavya idolizes his Guru Drona’s symbolic statue and self learns the art of archery. In spite of learning the skill himself, he maintains that the Guru Drona is his true teacher and cuts off this right thumb as Guru Dakshina. The idea that the image of a true teacher in one’s heart inspires and guides a student onto the path of learning has long been the crux of education. Because in the Indian culture, acquiring knowledge is given utmost importance and the teacher who imparts that knowledge is no lesser than the divine. The respect regarded to the giver of knowledge and education is hence of the highest accord, sometimes also surpassing that of parents.
The renowned and earliest universities of the world at Taxila and Nalanda also believed in Guru Dakshina. Students who could not afford education were also taught by the teachers yet each of the students had to as a mark of respect offer the Guru some form of ‘dakshina’ or ‘offering’ for the priceless accumulation of an education.
Modern history of learning
Though modern educational centers do not follow any form of Guru Dakshina as such, the reverence for teachers has managed to stay at an exalted position. Even today students rise up from their seats and wish the teacher when he or she enters the classroom. It is considered good manners to greet a teacher if he or she is met outside the classroom environment. In many schools and tuitions, children bend down and touch the feet of the masters as a sign of respect. And interestingly, the scope of teaching is not limited to studies or books alone. A teacher is anyone who imparts knowledge and skill on any aspect of life and hence, a dance teacher, a karate teacher, a language teacher and also a religious teacher are all bracketed together with the same reverence and humbleness.
Teacher’s Day is hence celebrated in all schools and by all children as a reminder to nurture these sentiments towards their teachers. Most of the times, the celebrations are the usual, a song or dance or skit performed by the kids, classrooms decorated, teachers offered gifts or flowers and so on. However, the outward manifestation may be limited to a few standard ways of celebration, but the impact and importance of valuing the relation between a teacher and student is reinforced with added enthusiasm on this day. And thus, Dr. Radhakrishnan needs to be heart fully thanked for teaching his students even in the advent of a personal celebration, to incorporate the larger group of the profession of teachers and pay their respect. The day though just a single day in the calendar year, is looked upon with excitement by both students and teachers who may have lost the meaning of true teaching and learning in the daily grind of a competitive fast moving world.
Of course with changing times and the commercialization of education, the art of teaching has relegated considerably and so has the quality of the students. In the race to make money and have a career, education has along the way become more of a tool to learn facts rather than become a way of life as seen in the ancient Indian times. And it is hard to imagine another Eklavya being born in our modern times, who would happily forgo of his greatest asset on the command of his Guru, as much as it is hard to find a guru who would dedicate his entire life selflessly for the genuine growth of his pupils.
One would argue that great teachers make great students and in many ways the dedication of Eklavya probably outshone and overshadowed that of his guru. He became a beacon of the ideal student.
But modern India has also been lucky to witness some of its finest teachers in public life, such as, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Chanakya, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and Savitri bai Phule. More recently, and though less famous, India has seen some of the finest amongst them who have taken upon themselves to educate the lesser fortunate, such as, Aditya Kumar also called ‘cycle guruji’ who rides a bicycle for kilometers every day to teach the children living in the slums of Lucknow, or Babar Ali who has been teaching in his make shift school since the age of 9, or Rajesh Kumar Sharma who runs a school under the Delhi Metro Bridge, the 80 year Vimla Kaul or the young Roshini Mukherjee who runs an online educational platform are only a few teachers who in their most unconventional ways are trying to bring true the right of universal education for all Indians.
But there are those countless teachers that have along our lives inspired us in school and college. Those few teachers that have remained in our memory long after school is over are the ones that we silently thank for in our prayers.
In the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan, ‘Teachers should be the best minds in the country.’ Wishing the best of our minds a Happy Teacher’s Day and hoping that they help fulfill the real definition of education, which is “the end product of education should be a free creative man, who can battle against historical circumstances and adversities of nature.”