THANKSGIVING DAY CELEBRATION IN HINDU TEMPLES OF AMERICA
(DISCOURES BY N. R. SRINIVASAN—NOVEMBER 2011)
"Maanavajanma balu doddadu, idanu haanimaadalu-bedi hucchaapaagalira" says a famous song in Kannada by a great devotee of the Lord-- Human life is the greatest, don't waste it! Hindu scriptures also say "Narajanmam durlabham"--to be born as human is a unique opportunity. Humans are the most perfect among living beings in Intelligence Creation by the Supreme Spirit. It is the stepping stone for final Liberation (Moksha) through spiritual evolution. Humans alone are provided with three types of bodies called gross body, subtle body and casual body presided over by Self (Aatman) as you have learnt in Vedanta. It is therefore logical that immigrant Hindus celebrate Thanksgiving Day in tune with the National Spirit of their adopted land but in their own spiritual way of thinking. Migrant Hindus celebrate Thanksgiving Day in Temples as the day to express their gratitude to the Lord for this rare opportunity.
Hindus begin every prayer in rituals with an expression of gratitude and obeisance to parents and teachers (guruparampara)--"Asmadaachaarya paryantaam vande guruparamparaam". Thanksgiving in Sanskrit means "Kritajnataa". It is therefore appropriate and logical to make this day ear-marked to the great sages who have provided the knowledge by way of Srutis (vedas) and Smritis (Geeta etc.) which are the fountain-heads of the knowledge for spiritual evolution to reach the Supreme for final Liberation.
Expression of Gratitude is a positive emotion. It is foremost among humanity's powerful emotions. Expressing thanks is a potent emotion that feeds on itself almost the equivalent of being victorious. It does make people happier. It is that incredible feeling. One of the reasons why it works so well is that it connects with others. Gratitude really changes our attitude and our on-look on life. Thanksgiving can give a big boost to our outlook. Grateful people are less likely to experience envy, anger, resentment, regret and other unpleasant states that produce stress. It is a stress buffer.
Lot of research is going on in brain chemistry and hormones in the blood and neurotransmitters in the brain that are connected to feelings of gratitude by McCullough and others in USA. The left fore-frontal cortex of the brain which is also associated with positive emotions like love, compassion etc., seems to be a key-spot of study in humans, based on a study made on Buddhist monks who are always engaged in meditation. In whatever way it works in the brain, there is little doubt it works, says Doctor Robert Emmons, psychology professor at Davis Medical center in California.
Thanksgiving Day falls on the24th of November in 2011, being the last Thursday of November. All migrant Hindus in USA are well aware of the significance of this important American National Holiday which needs no elaborate explanation. Founding-fathers of Hindu Temples in America have decided to conveniently celebrate this on Friday, November 25th, so also our temple in Nashville. Sunday may not be the convenient day though it is the last day of the long week-end after having missed the actual Thanksgiving Day which may not attract the crowd to get the customary financial support for this special Pooja if conducted on Sunday. Here we follow the American pattern to observe holidays as per convenience rather than significance making it symbolic. Most of the parents of Sunday school children of Temples who attend Vedic Heritage Classes in USA have travel plans during this long week-end. But why at all we celebrate Thanksgiving Day with religious rituals like Abhishekam or celebrate it as a festival in Hindu Temples in America? Of course Hindu worship is very flexible and authorities may say every Friday is an auspicious day and a great day for this special celebration on a long holiday week end! We can make the Thanksgiving week-end Friday worship more significant if we contemplate on Upanishadic Mantras.
Thanksgiving Day in America is a day to express gratitude (kritajnyata) and thank the Natives, Red Indians for having accommodated European Migrants in the days of yore in their rich and prosperous land. They have not only accommodated migrants with a large heart but also withdrawn themselves to small sanctuaries called Reservations where they could lead their lives independently without disturbing the migrant majority. Poor Columbus missed the chance for National Celebration! Of course Migrants may say we made this Country Great! So these Natives deserve a special day ear-marked for expressing gratitude and thank them. This day is celebrated with special cooking of Turkey by majority of Americans and special prayers at the dinner table by some people to Lord Jesus before enjoying the dinner. Probably Hindu crowd in America may not like to prepare Turkey dinner at home on this day. The President of America while pardoning a chosen turkey on this day enjoys sumptuous dinner of several turkeys with special invitees and the Nation.
"There is no record of any such Thanksgiving feast by the Pilgrims and Indians in any of the writings of any of the Pilgrims who kept such journals. Although George Washington did set aside some days for a national Thanksgiving, it was not until 1863 that the event we celebrate today was established by President Lincoln to attempt to bolster the morale of the Union in wartime. It was not until the 1890s that the Pilgrims were even mentioned in connection with the event. The First Thanksgiving Myth was most likely lifted from Washington Irving's short story and has since been passed along as fact by the most ignorant people on the planet—textbook authors", says a letters to the editor in Tennessean, dated 26 November 2011. Therefore there is no harm in adopting Thanksgiving Day to Hindu-way of thinking as suggested for we will not be hurting the Western feelings a or ignoring facts. The significant thing is we should somehow express our gratitude for the opportunity provided in a rich and prosperous land.
Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day proclamation reads as follows: "I do invite my fellow-citizens ……to set apart a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficial Father who dwelleth in the heavens. To these bounties (fruitful fields and healthful skies), which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God." We should therefore be grateful to His Universe, particularly Mother Earth which in Hindu concept is the Mother of Universe. Mother is praised profusely as the Vyaahriti (glory) of Brahman in Upanishads. In Christianity there is no concept of Devi worship.
We as migrants do not want to isolate ourselves on this day of National Celebration or Day of Gratitude and therefore resort to temple for special worship which is also a cultural center unlike what it is to-day in Modern India. We also wish to have it in our own style as we celebrate Mother's Day as the day of "Matru Deo Bhava Day" of dedication and Father's Day as "Pitru Devo Bhava Day" of dedication. Mother's day was easy to fit into our philosophy of Devi worship. Father's Day was a bit of a problem but somehow we made it a day dedicated to Lord Siva with special Abhishekam drawing support from the sacred sloka "Jagatah Pitaru Vande Parvatee Parmesvarau". Siva is sometimes worshipped as Ardhanareesvaera and therefore ideally suited as "jagatah pitarau". Luckily there is no word as Matartau in Sanskrit for parents so Parvati is not in the picture. Siva is both father and mother to Kumaara or Lord Subramanya who is Ayonija (born outside the womb).
In India they are celebrating both Teacher's Day and Children's Day making them secular and keeping temple out of the picture. Of late I have seen business activity in India on Mother's Day and Father's Day selling attractive and expensive greeting cards and cakes. None of these celebrations have entered the portals of temple worship as Aagama and Tantric influence is very strong in Hindu temples in India unlike in USA where founding fathers can bend priests to have their way. As far as the worship of father, mother and guests are considered they are there in almost all ritual mantras. God is even treated as a guest in Shodasa Upachaara Pooja (16 steps). India perhaps will not have to worry about celebrating Thanksgiving Day as they have none to thank or too many to thank. Probably they may think of British who redeemed the land from the clutches of Muslims and after enjoying its wealth for long time left it almost in a state of confusion and insolvency without resorting to continued aggression and also left it reluctantly with good-will. At best this could be another secular day celebration as India is Secular Sovereign Democratic Republic. Were they to make it a religious festival they should make it a day ear-marked to honor Bharata who gave the name and fame to the country. But here there is a controversy. Bharata was the son of Rishabha, the Jain Tirthankara after whom the country assumed its name. But later Hindus contradicted and made it the Land of Bharata, son of Dushyanta and Sakuntala. Mother's Day likewise could be dedicated to Bhaaratmaata, a Godess of Creation by Bankim Chaterjee of "Vande Maataram" fame. Perhaps some of you are aware there is a temple for Bhaaratmaata in the holy city of Haridwar. It is very unlikely any of these days will be celebrated with religious bias in India for it may end up in unsolvable disputes and revolts. Probably Father's Day could be dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation without much controversy!
But let us not worry about India. Let us think of migrant Hindus like me who are struggling hard to maintain their tradition and culture and at the same time want to blend with National Culture as active Americans, though essentially Hindus at heart. As migrant Hindus we cannot follow either American pattern or Indian pattern. Americans of European origin have all most lost their original identity though we hear on rare occasions Irish and German festivities being celebrated in isolated pockets (St. Patrick's Day and Bier Festival). We have to give due respect to various traditions of migrant Hindus if we want to preserve our culture and keep temple worship as a unifying force. We can't always run to Siva for help when in trouble and resort to Siva Abhishekam. Of course Siva is easy to please and Abhisheka-priya (loves being bathed) and expects least Prasadams (food offerings) unlike Jagannath of Puri where everyday 32 varieties of food has to be prepared to please the Lord.
But for Smritis and Srutis, Hinduism would not have survived and would have vanished from the scene like some past religions under constant machinations. We therefore owe a great deal to our ancient sages (Guru-parampara) and Pitrudevatas whom we often invoke in prayers and rituals. At the head of them is Vedavyaasa who compiled all Vedas and Puranas and presented them to us in an assailable format. He is also the author of Brahmasootra, may be even Bhagavadgeeta though he cleverly titled it Songs of the Celestial (Bhagavan--Bhagavaanuvaacha) to make it world famous. His works made the task of later religious scholars easy who brought out Aagamas, Saastras and Tantric text manuals for worship and ritual practices within the frame work of Vedas. Temple is mainly a product and instrument of Puraanic tradition which also took into its folds some folk and tribal form of worship. Thus we have seen Sanskritization and Vernacularization of Hindu worship in Temple worship in India over a long period. As migrant Hindus we are also trying to introduce a third factor Americanization in Hindu worships for Americans of Hindu descent, which need best of both worlds.
It is therefore proper for us to pay our homage and obeisance to great sages on any significant day in a year and dedicate it to the sages for their wisdom thoughts which are helping us to preserve our culture in spite of many diversions and distractions. This could be Thanksgiving Day ear-marked to pay our debt to all divine sages and Pitrus as Devayajna and Pitruyajna which are the constituents of Panch Mahaa Yajnas. At present Brahmin Community among Hindus wherever settled perform Upaakarma through which they do Navakaanda Rishi Tarpanas and Homas (Water oblation and Fire sacrifice) once a year, paying homage to sages. Ear-marking Thanksgiving Day as "Acharya Devobhava Day" could provide an opportunity for all Hindu migrants drawn from different Sampradaayas to participate in a significant and united way to observe the festival of Thanksgiving. We are all quite familiar with the invocation Sloka in Vishnu Sahasranama and other slokas as well which throw light on the importance of prayers to Guru-Parampara (Lineage of learned scholars and teachers). Some of these are:
"Vyaasam Vasishthanaptaaram sakteyh
poutramakalmasham | Parasaraatmajam Vande Sukataatam Taaponidhim ||
This Sloka pays obeisance to Vyaasa, his fore fathers as well as his son who are all descendents of the great sage Vasishtha. Vyaasa is also an Incarnation of Vishnu.
"Sruti-smriti-puraanaanaam aalayam karunaalayam | Namaami bhagavtpaadam sankaram lokasankaram ||
[I pay my obeisance to Lord Sankara, the abode of Sruti (Vedas) and Smriti (Geeta etc) and Puraanas, the one who is a temple of compassion, the one who gives happiness to the world and the one who is respected by all.]
Sankaram Sankaraacharyam Kesavam Baadaraayanam |Sootrabhashyakritau vande bhagavantau punah punah ||
[I pay my obeisance again and again to the great Sankaracharya--who is none other than Lord Siva and Baadarayana (Vedavyaasa), incarnation of Vishnu and the venerable one who wrote Brahmasootra. I also pay my obeisance to Sankara who wrote Bhashyam (commentaries on Vedas and Upanishads and enlightening us to attain spiritual goals).]
Sadaasiva-samaarambhaam sankaraachaarya-madhyamaaam | Asmadaachaarya-paryantaam vande guru-paramparaam||
[I pay my obeisance to the lineage of teachers, beginning with the ever auspicious Lord Siva, linked with Sankaraachaarya in the mid-way and extending up-to my teacher].
These slokas above are self-explanatory as to how our great sages are respect-worthy and deserve special reverence for their invaluable contributions towards spiritual enlightenment of the world. Vedavyaasa as the great compiler and deliverer of Srutis and Smritis is at the top of the list. It will be a fitting tribute to honor them and thank them on a special day like Hindu Thanksgiving Day, ear-marked as "Aachaarya Devo Bhava Day" for special worship.
There is yet another way we could celebrate the Thanksgiving Day in Hindu Temples within the frame work of Aagama Sastras with which we have consecrated the Temples. This day could be dedicated to Mother Earth who has blessed us to settle down in peace and prosperity wherever we want. In India in our Sankalpa we mention about Bharatakanda and Bharatavarsha in our Sankalpas and also pay homage to mother earth by offering our prayers and wearing symbolically particles of earth from the ground on our head. We also chant the Vedic Mantra "Gandhadvaaraam duraadarsham…" in our daily worship which is nothing but the praise of Goddess Mother Earth. The mantra means "I invoke you to come near us, Oh Goddess Earth, who is the ruler of all entities, who is known by odor, who is invincible by sins, who is ever full and who is associated with cow dung and others (to keep the land fertile)". In our Sankalpa we also refer to USA as Krauncha Dweepa or Aindra Khanda. There is also reference that USA was graced by Lord Kapila. Hence it is appropriate to express our gratitude to Her for having accommodated us in this new land to live and prosper by paying obeisance to her. You always see the idol of Lord Vishnu with Sridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhoodevi. It is strange there is no one day exclusively ear-marked for worship and celebration of her in Hindu Temples though she is the consort of Lord Vishnu like Lakshmi. Special worships are offered to Lakshmi on many days in a year in Temples. It is worth recalling here the praise of Mother Earth by sage Vasishta in the Upanishads:
"Aditirdevaa gandharvaa manushyaah pituro_asuras-teshaa(ga)m sarvabhootaanaam maataa medinee mahatee mahee saavitree gaayitree jagatyurvee prithvee bahulaa visvaa bhootaa katamaa kaa yaa saa satyety-amriteti vasishthah ||" (Maha narayana Uo panishad)
Aditi is the mother of all living beings such as gods, gandhrvas, human beings, manes, demons, and she is signified by names such as Medini, Mahati, Mahee, Savitri, Gayatri, Jagati, Urvee, Bahula, Visva, Bhuta, Ka, Ya, Satya, and Amrita. Thus did sage Vasishtha praise Mother Earth.
[Mother Earth is Aditi and she is the mother of all entities inclusive of the stationary entities. Her greatness is so vast that it cannot be adequately described. This Mantra is thus the praise of Mother Earth by Vasishta. Thus we also incidentally pay homage to all elements of nature by this Mantra as she is the Mother of all]
In a way the above worship of Bhoodevi is Saluting America, which is Aindrkhanda, part of Mother Earth. Dedicating to sages Thanksgiving as Aachrya-devo-bhava Day would follow the general pattern we are following like dedicating Mother's day to Devi and dedicating Father' Day to Siva.
When we undertook the oath to become citizens of India we saluted the American Flag and also paid our reverence to the National Anthem. To an American-Hindu flag is a symbol of the country. Saluting the flag signifies paying obeisance to America or Aindrakanda, which is Mother Earth for him. National Anthem is virtually a Mantra glorifying the Land which again means paying obeisance to Mother Earth. Hence a special worship on this day (Friday of the long week-end of Thanksgiving) to Mother Earth in Hindu Temples is the most fitting way of paying our gratitude and obeisance to Mother earth who is supporting us and sustaining us on the American soil making us prosperous, rich and some even famous. Friday is also an auspicious day for Devi worship.
Every Friday is an auspicious day for Lakshmi worship. Many Hindus regularly worship Lakshmi on Friday evenings. So also, the Black Friday nights are auspicious for Devi Worship. Why then not make it a special day of worship for Bhoodevi who is also a consort of Vishnu as Bhoodevi along with Sridevi? I could not find a reason why this particular Friday is called Black Friday in Western culture. For a spiritually inclined Hindu, Black Friday makes a significant day for Bhoodevi who is black. Sometimes Vishnu is also associated with Black color as in Varaaha instead of the usual blue-skinned Vishnu. Lord Jagannath of Puri is black in color as he is identified with Supreme Principle and not Krishna, as an Avataar, by some. The following Mantra on Bhoodevi from Mrittikaa Sooktam is worth referring here:
"Uddhritaaci varaahena krishnena satbaahunaa| bhoomir-dhenu-dharanee loka-dhaarinee ||
You (Bhoomi) were lifted by Krishna with his hundred arms, in the form of Varaaha; You are well known as Bhoomi, Dhenu, Dharanee and the supporter of all worlds. (Krishna generally means black. It could also mean one who delights the earth.) [Mother earth associated with cow dung as fertilizer is always described as black. Black cotton soil is also very fertile soil. I believe Subhadra as Devi is also painted y black in Puri.]
On this year's Thanksgiving Day New York Wall Street Protesters served the needy with 3000 Turkey Dinners and enjoyed dining with them instead of the usual enjoying with 6 or 7 people at home. In fact this is how Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in the past. This gives me an idea why not to celebrate this day also as Annadaanam (Food Charity) Day? Because of our specific food habits we cannot participate in Thanksgiving dinner charity like the New Yorkers but we can donate liberally food cans or donate money to organizations which are engaged in free food distribution to the poor. In India Temples run Annadaanam (food charity) programs on regular basis supported by liberal voluntary donation by devotees.
Will Thanksgiving Day be celebrated as "Aachrya Devo Bhava Day" in America as well as Annadaana Day (free food distribution day), and, Thanksgiving weekend Friday be celebrated as "Day for "Bhoodevi Pooja" in Nashville, it is hard to tell? It is left to the desire of the devotees and the willingness of the founding fathers of the Temple. Ganesha Temple in Nashville is a member of The Hindu Temple Society of North America. It can not only adopt what is more logical to Hindu culture and worship but also persuade other Temples in America to adopt them if it so desires. To me it appeals better to celebrate this as well as New Year's Day suitably on secular basis, which India Association can, to take care of all Indians of different faiths as well inter-racial married couples and their families as well.