HINDU AMERICAN WAY OF FATHER'S DAY CELEBRATION
(PITRU DEVO BHAVA)
(I-DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, JUNE 2012)
With few exceptions behind every great dad there is a great kid. All said and done all societies in the world remain patriarchy, even Kerala except for Nair community in India. In Hinduism mother occupies first place in all worships but not in social life. Men who take the fatherhood seriously, who participate in their children's lives and who stand up and put their children first, need recognition. Dad's selflessness needs consideration and love. In America there are many fathers who raise their kids as single parent with or without the help of others while separated from their spouses. I wonder why USA insists on Mother's maiden name for identification often instead of father's name, and also why Hindus should not carry mother's surname if father is placed in the second slot (Matru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Acharya devo bhava….)! I am sure you know the reason!
Lord Brahma is the first patriarch. He is called Pitaamaha. Unfortunately there are no temples or worship for him except in the lone temple at Pushkar in Rajasthan in India. But Brahma is invoked in many Vedic Mantras in our religious worship because of his first appearance in Vedas for worship. Prusha-sookta says "Virajo adhi poorushah" conveying, first creator came into being referring to Brahma. Taittareeya Upanishad in its convocation address gives its directive "Pitru devo bhava"—pay respect to your father considering him to be God after giving the first slot to Mother and the third to Guru. Later with the development of Bhaktimarga (Devotional Schools), Siva and Parvati occupied the position of universal parents as celebrated in hymns "Jagatah pitarau", in all worships. Among the Brahmin community it is the father who imparts Brahmopadesam and Gayatri Mantra during Upanayana Ceremony and so leads all gurus.
It is worth recalling in this context what our Puranas say about creation and the leading role of fathers. Brahma started the work of creation in consonance with what had prevailed in the previous Kalpa (yathaapoorvam akalpayat) having been endowed with the power of creation by the Supreme Principle. Brahma alone created four mind-born off-springs—the sages Sanaka, Sananda, Sanaatana and Santkumaara. These sages while ordered to carry on the work of creation further refused to pro-create as their minds were already immersed in meditation in devotion to the Supreme Principle. Brahma then created eleven Rudras and several sages progressively to carry on the task but still things did not proceed in an orderly fashion. He then gave up his exclusive patriarchal role of creation and split himself into male and female—Manu Svayambhuva and Sataroopa. Then on creation progressed and creatures multiplied in orderly fashion by the co-operation of male and female. Vedas also gave honored position then on to mother as the first god (matru devo bhava) and then to father (pitru devo bahava).You also learn from the Puranas that the most beautiful woman Urvasi was the creation of Narayana while his meditation with Nara was disturbed by Indra. When devas approached Siva for a commander for the divine army Subrahmanya was born exclusively from Siva alone denying Parvati the privilege of bringing forth her own womb born child. To this day no other beauty created by the union of man and woman matches that beauty of Urvasi in all the three worlds or the intelligence of Lord Subrahmanya who even defeated his father in the debate and became Guruguha. Thus the male's non-challenging role has been established when occasion demands by Puranas. This privilege to create children by will has been withdrawn for all animates in this world.
Brahma is called Pitaamaha (paternal grand-father) and not Maataamaha (maternal grand-father). We also hear only of "Father of the Nation" but not "Mother of the Nation" though we call the land as Motherland. No religion has ever been started other than by a male as we see in leading religions of the world—Christianity, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Jainism, Sikhism etc. Strangely, the priesthood of all religions in the world in temples, churches and mosques seems to be the exclusive privilege of males or male dominated only. Thus Male member or father assumes the leading role in the creation and management of the society though he cannot manage it without the cooperation of his counter-part. Therefore Sastras say no Yajna will be fruitful to a performer without the participation of his wife. Christians talk about Holy Father and Holy Son only, but call Mary as Mother Mary who evidently is not venerated at the same level.
Being Hindu migrants we would like to respect the local culture and traditions in the land of our adoption. The social fabric of Hindu Americans is so knitted born out of the tradition from the country of their origin that no human activity is segregated from the divine inspiration. Hindu temples do not lag behind churches that celebrate Father's Day with special services. As you all know initially Father's day was celebrated in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South till 1922 when it was torn down. Then on, it is being celebrated in the United Methodist Church. So Hindu Americans also conduct special worships (poojas) on this day honoring the fathers thanking the almighty for the selfless service rendered by parents towards their children in shaping their life to be useful citizens in the service of mankind. It is also pleasing and welcome to couples who are united in inter-racial matrimony solemnized by both Hindu rituals and church services who wish to dedicate their services to Holy Father and Holy Son and to their chosen Hindu Deity.
Statistics reveal gruesome facts about family life in USA, where children grow up without dads playing positive roles in the lives of their children. Many single working mothers raise children without the support of grand parents whose numbers are growing. Following statistics support the fact that children without fathers are more likely to be involved in negative behavior and are a constant worry to the society:
- A special report 1988 from US Department of Justice states that 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes.
- Seventy-five percent and of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes --Rainbows for all God's Children.
- National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools reports that 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
- Criminal Justice & Behavior, 1978 states that 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes.
- Center for Disease Control reveals 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes.
- Ninety percent of all homeless and run away children are from fatherless homes.
- Psychological studies reveal children without fathers are more likely to be involved in negative behavior.
From the above statistics, it is obvious that dads are the key to changing the family and thus raising moral values of America. Indifferent Fathers should therefore turn their hearts back to children. They should take over the leadership in their homes seriously. This necessarily warrants that they should love the children's mother too and be great husbands. They have to understand their kids and communicate their love to them. They have to affirm their kids. Fathers are the key to changing the family to be healthy and changing the country to be peaceful. Many of us don't know how to be an effective father because we did not have an effective father when we were growing up.
You now understand why our scriptures insist on "Pitru devo bhava"—your father is your God and divine inspiration. The last book of the Old Testament also directs attention of all people to fathers: "His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse"—Malach 4:6.
Perhaps as Hindu Americans, you all might have heard about Sonar Dodd who is remembered and celebrated as "Mother of the Father's Day". Her father raised six kids all by himself after the death of their mother. This was uncommon at that time as many widowers placed their children in the care of others like grandparents or quickly married. She might have been inspired by Anna Jarvis who pushed very hard for Mother's Day celebration in USA in the very same year. Nobody knows the origin of Mother's Day in Europe but everyone knows that the unfathomable love of Sonar to her father started Father's Day in USA by her persistent effort knocking at every door. They say the Mother's Day celebration practices came from Pagan Religions. It owes its origin to the ancient festival of Greek Cyble or Hilana of Rome in the Western culture as some believe. Probably both these might have come from Hinduism to which nobody wants to give credit. It is also not a pagan religion as some quarters think.
No doubt Sonar was motivated by Anna Jarvis. Yet another event might have also influenced her. A memorial service was held on July 5, 1908 for 210 miners who were killed in a mining accident in Monongalia, West Virginia, many among them being fathers also. Sonar Dodd wanted to celebrate her deceased father's birthday on June 5th the same day as the accident. Its first celebration was in Spokane, Washington on June 19th 1910 as preparations got delayed to celebrate it on 5th of June. This was done on the Third Sunday in the month of June. A bill to accord National holiday was introduced in 1919. In 1916 Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to celebrate Fathers' Day and wanted to make it official. It was resisted because of the fear of its becoming commercialized event as it happened to Mother's day by then. Even Anna Jarvis regretted for having started the Mother's Day movement with the help of a popular business man. Several attempts later also failed.
In 1966 Lyndon B Johnson issued first proclamation to honor fathers every third Sunday in June every year. Six years later this day was made National Holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into a law in 1972.
Father's Day is celebrated in many countries of the world on different days and months of the year. It is not observed as national holiday in many countries as in USA. India also observes third Sunday of June as the Father's Day on a modest scale at social level and it is not a National Holiday. I wonder why they do not celebrate Mahatma Gandhi's birthday as Father's Day in India while they venerate him as Father of the Nation!
It may not be out of place to mention here that many countries celebrate International Men's Day on November 19 every year to honor all men and boys. India has its own special religious days to honor brothers (Bhaiduj) and sisters (Rakee) about which we have talked elsewhere.
"Behind every great Dad there is a great Kid; Happy Father's Day!"
"Vaagarthaaviva sampriktau Vaagartha pratipattaye
Jagatah pitarau vande parvatee paramesvarau"
--from Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa
[I bow to Paarvati and Paramesvara, the universal parents, who are united together like the words and their meanings.]
1. Swami Tapsyananda, Narayaneeyam, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
2. Swami Chinmayananda, Taittitiya Upanishad, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
3. Dr. Tolson, How To Be A Great Dad, Nashville Christian Family, June 2012.
4. Srinivasn N.R., E-mail for Father's Day in June in 2015.