HINDU AMERICAN WAY OF LABOR DAY CELEBRATION
(Discourse by N.R. Srinivasan)
USA has adopted first Monday of September as Labor Day in place of May Day (International Labor Day) celebrated as workers day all over the world. This was initiated by the Central Labor Union Of New York in 1882 which later became a National Holiday approved by the congress. It is also popularly enjoyed as labor weekend or long holiday week end. Majority of Americans being Christians, attend special mass worships in all churches conducted on Sunday of the Labor week. Hindu Americans do not lag behind. They go out of the way to keep the Temple open on Labor Day Monday, all day long and also observe it as a special religious day of observance and conduct special pujas. Hinduism is a religion of conveniences and compromises as we all know. One justification for holding such special poojas on non-religious Hindu days seems to be, the holiday weekend attracts crowds from neighboring towns and so temple should be kept open for longer hours. It is a good idea to keep the temple open on all days so because not all the people who attend temples are working people. By and large in Hindu families only one of the parents is working, there are unemployed (who feel the importance to visit temple as the proverb goes when in trouble dial Venkateswara) and retired people too. They attend temple at their convenience as we have seen. But why to give it a color of special religious observance day is not understandable? Other major religions do not act that way interfering with their faith or accommodating other faiths. The other reason seems to be to accommodate the feelings and sentiments of Hindu Americans married to someone from the major religion of the country. At present this happens to be Christian community. It is to welcome and attract Interfaith married couples to Hindu Temples and allow them to participate in Hindu religious worship,and impress upon the public of the broad outlook of Hindu community. Unfortunately such worships are not possible in India if Interfaith couples reveal or expose their identity as they enter a Hindu temple. On the other hand Christians and Jews welcome the same wherever they are because Bible says; "My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all peoples" (Isiah 56:7). No such open declaration and practice is seen in Hindu worship as temple worships are of recent origin and are regimental as decided by the religious and temple authorities. Muslim countries give no scope for this even though there are isolated Hindus who are married to Muslim community which is rather insignificant. Migrant Hindus therefore do not have to observe Ramadan as a special fasting Vrata Day. May Day is a National Holiday in India but has not entered the portals of Hindu Temples in India for any kind of celebration like Independence Day and others.
Worship pattern in Hindu Temples in migrant countries by and large depends on major contributors, founding fathers and chosen management and not necessarily oriented to the needs or feelings of the community drawn from different Traditions or logic. Therefore let us leave this matter to the wisdom of temple authorities. They often work as Private Institutions though take public help a lot and need their participation. It is however true we owe an obligation to our country of adoption and also want to blend with the local culture. It is also true the social fabric of Hindus wherever they are settled is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine. That is the reason why Hindu temples rush to celebrate every National Holiday with a divine fervor unlike other faiths. It would have been proper to leave some of them to their original intent like Independence Day, Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving Day, Halloween, Christmas etc.
Major faith and culture of America blends some of these National Holidays with itsreligious faith. They do not however invite people on Laborday Monday to hold a special mass worship. How can we as Hindu Americans then adopt Labor Day to suit our religious practices? Every such worship need not end up with Abhishekam or Homam to the Main deity or on the same day as Labor Day, taking the clue from the major faith of the land. Other faiths do not react like us. Hindu temples in migrant countries are temple complexes and should be appealing to all Sampradayas among Hindus for active participation. It should also reflect the importance of the day like Saraswati Puja Day. It should be appealing to Interfaith families to participate. Here it is important to stress the importance and value of Labor. As we know all over the North in India Viswakarma Day is observed as a religious day of great importance, particularly in Bengal, Orissa, Jharkand, U.P., Madhya Pradesh and others. Usually this is celebrated on September 17 or 18. Bengal observes on 18th this year. I do not know whether America drew inspiration from India to have Labor Day in September? Some States observe Viswakarma Day on the Sankranti day prior to Ganesha Chaturthi. Some other States observe on the day next to Diwali. There is a good following among Hindus who call themselves as Viswakarma Community. I need not stress the importance of Viswakarma Pooja who is popular with all Hindus and venerated. Even south Indians keep one day exclusive for Ayudha Puja during Navaratri (eighth day) and in turn pay obeisance to Viswakarama indirectly, who is the son of Brahma who helped him in his task of Creation and building the Universe and townships. He was a product of Milky Ocean like Lakshmi. Let us therefore dedicate this day to the great Architecht of Industrial development for Humanity and make it more significant to our children to stress the value of Labor and hard work! Fortunately even among Hindus in India there is no particular day ear-marked for Viswakarma. It is a National Holiday in some States when observed. Viswakarma puja should be appealing to all the Hindu Americans drawn from different traditions of Hindus from India and there can't be any other day better suited than Labor Day. It should also be appealing to specialists migrants who are by and large engineers or specialists from India and who are in large numbers. Incidentally Hindu Temple worship in migrant countries is also Puranic based and traditon oriented as in India and not spiritually motivated to avoid all confusions. No doubt Puraanic following keeps the temple running economically viable than spiritually driven worship which is dry and philosophical!