HINDU AMERICAN PERCEPTION OF MOTHER'S DAY CELEBRATION
(DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, MAY 2012)
In the hoary past, worship of divine principle as Mother–Goddess was prevalent in all Faiths of the World. They all have become history of the past except in Hinduism. Hinduism visualized today is built on sound spiritual principles of Sanatana Dharma. Therefore, it is becoming stronger everyday in its concept of Divine Principle as Mother, unlike other Faiths who are trying to forget the past.
In the past several Faiths of the world worshipped Divine Principle as Mother-Goddess. They are briefly recalled her. Detailed descriptions are available in various mythological legends and histories of the past. These are:
- The emperor of Japan claims spiritual descent from Amaterau (Matera), the Sun-Goddess of Shinto Religion.
- In the Orient Bodhisattva who was identified with mother's love was worshipped as a woman called Kwan-Yen.
- Two thousand years before the birth of Christ, the cult of Mother-Goddess Ishtar dominated in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Palestine)
- Iris, the Queen Mother of Nile valley was the divine queen and was venerated and worshipped in ancient Egypt.
- Greek mythology mentions of three goddesses—Hera, the goddess of household; Athena; Goddess of Wisdom; and, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.
- Magna Mater (probably from matru in Sanskrit) was the great Goddess of Universe according to Roman belief. Some called her Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom, some called her, Demeter, the Corn-Goddess and some others, Diana, the Virgin-Huntress.
- Golden haired Freya was the favorite goddess of every Viking warrior in Scandinavia.
- Hine-nui-te-po was the Goddess of Life and Death in Oceania on the islands of Polynesia.
- Sadna was the Mother of sea-creatures in Arctic Circle.
Of course, we all are familiar with Eve of Jews, Mary of Christendom and Shekinah of Gnosticism.
The above Goddesses in foreign lands are no longer worshiped or remembered. In India Maother Goddess worship is so strong that more and more woman saints have come into limelight to be venerated and one day they may even be elevated to the status of goddesses like Aandal in the South. During independence struggle in India Bankim Chandra Chatterjee created the image of Bharatmata in every Indian's mind to arouse the national spirit and to-day there exists a temple for Bharatmata in the holy city of Haridwar where she is worshiped as in other Devi temples.
The greatest glory of Hindu woman is the motherhood, which is celebrated on a grand scale with participation of friends and relatives. Hindus regard mother as God and motherland as heaven. The epic Mahabharata says while father is superior to ten Vedic scholars, mother is superior to ten such fathers, or the entire world. Upanishads say Mother Earth is mother of all living beings such as gods, gandharvas, human beings, pitrus or manes quoting the sage Vasishta. Her greatness is so vast that it is hard to describe adequately.
Blessings of both mother and father are sought by children to succeed in life. Mother's love is the most unselfish love. When a mother takes care of the baby that entire she wants is the well-being of the baby without any expectation in return. Mother's love is unique compared to other forms of worldly love. Mother is the very embodiment of chastity, purity and selfless love for her children in Hindu society. Hindu society will never tolerate an insult done to a mother or sister. It I may be interesting to know that among the Nair Community of Kerala in India women are head of the family and have property rites. In that community, mother is always the head of the family. It is also customary to address God as Sitarama, Lashminaraayana, Radhkrishna, Gaurishankar and so on where the first respect goes to Mother Goddess.
Taittareeya Upanishad in its convocation address (Bhriguvalli) introduces to us the Mantra "Matru devoe Bhava"—Regard your mother as goddess, heading the pantheon of divines. Sage Markendeya Puraana in Durga Saptasatee while singing the glory of Mother-Goddess, introduces us to the Mantra: "Yaa devee sarvabhooteshu matru-roopena samsthitaa, namas taasyai, namas tasyai namastasyai namoe namah"—Obeisance to
Devi who resides in every living-being in the form of Mother"
America celebrates Mother's Day and Valentine's Day respecting Motherhood based on human values. Commercial organizations have exploited the sentiments of mother-hood and do a good business in USA on this day. It is around 18.56 billion dollars business to-day. Christians all over the world on beatification honor their nuns as Mother after Mary, mother of Lord Jesus. Hindus honor their woman saints as "Maa" or "Amma", like Saint Karunaamayi. Santoshi Maa is venerated all over North India and in South India too. It is also customary to address women saints as sister. Saint Meera is affectionately called as Meerabahen or Meeraabai.
It is therefore no wonder migrant Hindus in America try to remember and celebrate Valentine's Day and Mother's Day to honor mothers by offering special Poojas to Devi in temples. Struggling hard in a multicultural society predominantly Christian where inter-racial marriages have become more frequent migrant Hindus love to celebrate these significant days in Hindu Temples and as is customary and habit dedicate it to Mother-Goddess with special Poojas. This would no doubt bring in harmony and goodwill to families where such inter-racial marriage has taken place. It gives an opportunity for family get-together and better understanding between married couples, respecting each other's faiths while benefiting from values promoted by these faiths. Of course, the orthodox and conservative few may resent but Hindu Americans site conveniently the Vedic maxims: "Eko viprah bahudaa vadanti" and "Krinvanto Viswamaaryam". (The ONE the wise call many; let us ennoble the whole world).
Mothers Day celebration takes place throughout the world. It is the day earmarked in a year for honoring mothers celebrating motherhood, maternal bonds and the role of mother in society. It owes its origin to the ancient festival of Greek Cyble or Hilana of Rome in the Western culture.
They think Hinduism is a pagan religion and therefore do not think of the Upanishads where Earth is glorified as Universal Mother. Hindu scriptures hail mother as the first living god and she needs to be remembered and venerated every day in their life. Therefore, there is no specific day to be called Mothers Day for a religious Hindu. For him every day is Mother's Day and every ritual needs veneration to her. Many Islamic scholars also think it appropriate to honor mother all the year round. Some even have published Fatwa against single day to honor mother. There is a Hindu religious festival in Nepal called Maataa Teertha Anushi celebrated on New Moon day of Baishakhi, which predates Mothers Day celebrated in the Western World.
Moved and deeply grieved by the mass killings during American Civil war, Julia Howard wrote about Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870. This was a call for women to join the support of disarmament. It did not meet with success. It was Ann Jarvis, who founded Mother's Day Work Clubs to improve sanitary and health conditions. Two years after her mother's death, she held a memorial and began a campaign for earmarking one day in the year as Mother's Day to honor her mother, in 1908. She succeeded in her mission seeking the help of a wealthy Philadelphia merchant Wanamaker. President Woodrow Wilson made Mother's Day an official holiday by passing the Bill in the Congress in 1914. The bill as it came out meant specific mother but later Bills referred to all mothers as Mothers' Day. USA and Canada celebrate Mother's day on the second Sunday, in May every year. Mother's Day draws large church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter masses. Soon florists and Hallmark jumped into the arena and built a successful business.
Mothers' Day is a way to draw attention of maternal mortality, for women who die from issue of pregnancy and childbirth and breast cancer. Christy Torrington Burns has started a campaign in this regard called Every Mother Counts Advocacy Campaign. It is usual for Americans to run to mother with a bouquet of flowers, chocolate and greeting card as a last minute's rush to greet her to show their love. Why not celebrate this day not only as family get-together but also make it a moment of solidarity with many moms and have in those surroundings women to appreciate them? To make this a secular and social event, they may not wish to make it a day of worship praying for her happy life expressing their gratitude for all that she has done with a spirit of self-sacrifice? The social fabric of Hindu Americans is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine inspiration. Therefore, they celebrate it their own way.
In all Vishnu Temples, the processional deity of Vishnu or his Incarnation is always seen with his two consorts Sridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhoodevi (Mother Earth). No Hindu worship begins without paying obeisance to Mother Earth. Yet there are no special days for her worship as there are for Lakshmi nor or her icons consecrated popularly as other deities of Devis. It would be fitting and proper to dedicate Mothers day for her worship as she is the Universal Mother celebrated in Vedas and pay our obeisance chanting Bhusooktam and Mrittika Sooktam.
"Vishnupatneem maheem deveem maadhaveem maadhava-priyaam | Lakshmee priya-sakheem deveem namaam-achyuta-vallabhaam" (From Bhusooktam)