Friday, September 13, 2013

HINDU AMERICAN THOUGHTS ON GRAND PARENTS' DAY



HINDU AMERICAN’S THOUGHTS ON GRAND PARENTS DAY

(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, BRENTWOOD, TN, USA, SEPTEMBER 2013)

Though not as popular as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, National Grand Parent’s Day is a secular holiday celebrated in USA since 1976 pioneered by Marian McQuade of Oak Hill, West Virginia. It is celebrated on the first Sunday in September after the Labor Day. President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation to this effect on August 3, 1978. The proclamation is to honor grandparents to give an opportunity to show love for their grandchildren and to help them become aware of strength, information and guidance older people can offer in addition to what the parents do out of love and obligation. As a noble gesture it is an American culture for all elementary schools to invite grandparents on this day for a special break-fast meet with their grandkids studying at school and spend some time with them as mostly they lead a separate life unless warranted,  unlike in India. I am sure churches should also be conducting special mass worship on this day honoring grandparents!
Many grandparents have become the every-day every-hour caregivers for their grandchildren. These grandparents have become their grandchildren’s parents. In India Grandparent’s Day concept is still in its nascent stage as mostly grandparents like to live with their sons or at least with their eldest after retirement.  Normally kids of daughters miss grandparents’ company and guidance and also kids of other sons who have moved out. There is a general   turn of events that carrier oriented and ambitious sons too move away from parents as it happened in my case. I did not live even with my parents at the age of eight.  I was raised by my grandparents then, voluntarily with love and affection. But soon Grandparents day will become popular in India too as it always looks at America for its social activities and is a copy-cat. I am not sure whether it will have any religious focus as for mothers and fathers. But in Hindu culture lot of respect is given to grandparents and invitations for religious ceremonies like Upanayanam, Wedding etc. are printed in grandfather’s name if he is alive just to recognize his position as head of the family and to show respect even if he lives separate from grandparents. My brother’s kid’s Upanayanam ceremony card was printed in my name as a gesture of respect   as my brother is no more and even though I have hardly seen the kid living in USA.
In Tennessee, 9.4 percent of children live in homes headed by a grandparent. These grandparents are true heroes by providing the stability and love that these vulnerable children need. Often they give up their long-awaited retirement plans to take in their grandchildren when the parents are not able to provide care. Some have even had to move out of retirement communities or other senior housing. Some are still working and now have to consider child care, pediatric appointments and school schedules. Raising additional children in USA is not easy. It is a great financial strain for most, especially living on fixed income. Then there are legal issues and battles whether trying to get legal custody or simply to enroll the child in school.
They have to handle the changing situation like feeding new born, new car seat regulations, new social media, computer usage to oversee etc. The most important is the emotional effect that this new situation has on the grandparents and the grandchildren too. Grandchildren do not come to live with grandparents when everything is working well with their own parents. In some cases, the child has been abandoned or neglected by the parents. In others, the parent has died, has addiction problems or is in prison. Lucky are the grandchildren who have grandparents willing to take them and bring up with love and care more than their parents. Hindu Americans who have their children married to other cultures, if they are already not themselves, have many additional problems in bringing up their grandchildren if warranted needing adjustments between  cultures and traditions of their own as well of those imbibed from the parents by the grandchildren.
Grandparents provide the stability, discipline and love that the grandchildren miss. But these special grandparents need recognition, day-today support—financial, physical and emotional. They are often alone in facing the challenges of raising infants, toddlers, school-age children and teens. I understand some of these problems as I was raised as a teen by my grandparents. The Council of Aging of Greater Nashville is engaged in studying all the problems connected with the raising of kids by grandparents and providing council. India has not yet planned such councils.
The social fabric of Hindu Americans is so knitted that no human activity is   segregated from the divine be it a new house, new car, new computer, any Samskara (sacrament)  like naming ceremony, wedding etc., or even a celebration   of  National Day like Mother’s  or Father’s  Day or Thanksgiving. Hindus run to the temple to participate in a mass worship. Such worships are focused on the worship of a deity like Goddess of Learning, Sarasvati,   for Graduation Day Celebration.  

If ever Hindu American Hindu Temples wish to celebrate Grandparent’s Day it would be fitting and proper to dedicate this day to Lord Brahma, the Creator. He is hailed in Puraanas as PItaamaha, Paternal Grandfather.  In fact, pitru in Sanskrit is a general term and Pitru devo Bhava and Maatru devo bhava, Vedic dictums cover   grandparents and grandmothers too. All said and done, all nations in the world are patriarchal.  So it is no wonder there is no mention of any Maataamaha or maternal grandfather in Hindu mythology though Devi worship is a unique feature of Hinduism.  In American context grandparents would mean both paternal and maternal.  Probably Brahma is both because he himself split into male and female and united to start creation. It is strange that there are no temples dedicated exclusively to Brahma, the one at Pushkar in Rajasthan being the solitary exception. The reason for this loss of Brahma’s prestige is due to the crude reasons given in some of the Puraanas.  The Brahma tradition was predominant in Vedic period and was superseded or suppressed by the later Siva-Vishnu Traditions. Siva, Vishnu and Sakta Aagamas control worship in all Hindu temples and Brahma will never be restored to his prestigious position of Vedic days.

Sakta Concept is based on each of the gods Siva and Vishnu is having his Sakti or Power as his consort. Creation proceeds out of the combination of the god and his Sakti. This has made Brahma superfluous. But the same Aaagamas also insist   every temple, be it Siva or Vishnu must have a niche in the northern wall for Brahma, and his image must receive worship every day since he is an important attendant of the Chief-deity (Parivaara devata). Therefore there is no saastric injunction not to follow the example of Rajasthan and dedicate Grandparent’s Day to Pitaamaha that is Brahma.   Brahma is also a single parent. The great sages, Mareechi, Atri, Aangeeras and others are his Mind-born children (Maanasika Putras). Manu is the Adam of the Aryan race or the first man-creation. He is his great-grandson. So he is the only god hailed as Pitaamaha or grandparent, while 
Siva and Vishnu are hailed as a parent.

Brahma is God the Supreme in the creative aspect and is an equally important member of the Hindu Trinity. He therefore needs special worships and obeisance which we have to pay any how on each day of our worship indirectly. Why not then give an open recognition to our act? The most suited days for his special worship like Maha Sivaratri  for Siva or Vaikuntha Ekadasi for Vishnu are Labor Day, Grandparents Day and Viswakarma Day. Peculiarly and precisely they all fall in September—Labor Day on first Monday of September; Grandparents day, Next Sunday after Labor Day; Viswakarma day on September 17.  September is a transitional month   for American Hindus during the year opening its gates for great many religious festivals and celebrations.

Labor Day signals the end of summer. Autumn and Fall are in the air. It is a time of the year getting ready for the beautiful changing of colors of the foliage on trees. To me this serves as a strong reminder and example of the awesome and incomprehensible power of God (Satyam) through his creation and order of universe (Ritam) and this Mother Earth (Bhoodevi) we inhabit.  Supreme Principle is hailed in Upanishads as “ritagam satyam parabrahma”. That Creator is   called by the name Brahma by Hindus to whom they do not fail to pay obeisance in their daily worship, though not like to build temples for some strange reasons. If you look at Vedas Brahman, the Creator was addressed as Brahma to start with. When Puranas came on the scene with their concept of division of labor and Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, a distinction was made between Brahman, the Supreme Principle or the Over-Lord and Brahma, the Creator. “Brahmametumaam” – Let Brahmam attain me! Brahmaa devanaam padveeh—Amidst gods He is Brahma.—(MNU). Brahma was born out of his golden egg produced in the boundless casual waters. His consort Vach or Sarasvati was manifested out of Him. From their union were born all the creatures of the world. If Brahma is the grandfather it follows Saraswati is divine grand-mother. Brahma represents Vedas and Saraswati their spirit and meaning. Hence, all knowledge, sacred and secular, has proceeded from Brahma. We owe a lot to our grandparents for our wisdom and knowledge more often than not.  I owe my scriptural and Sanskrit knowledge to my scholarly grandfather.

It is customary for Hindu children to prostrate before the chosen deity daily and also before parents and grandparents and elders daily. In North India Charan Spars when they meet elders is considered Hindu culture and etiquette.  Such customs are fast vanishing from Hindu American culture and felt a sign of inferiority or even slavery.  Such acts are only an expression of love and gratitude, and respect for the knowledge and wisdom of elders. There is a feeling that children should be given full freedom to do what other kids from major culture do and also sit equal with their parents and elders.  Both have their plus points. Days like Mother’s Day,   Father’s Day, Teacher’s Day and Grandparents Day bring  home  periodically at least the great sacrifices  made by them in shaping the lives of their children for a better and brighter future with lot of personal sacrifices.

All parents may be Grandparents too one day. They were once grandchildren too. For National Grandparents’ Day let us honor all grandparents for their great contributions in shaping the society particularly honoring those for whom raising their grandchildren with love and affection at an advanced age after retirement is a full-time commitment. I am sure our Temples will soon recognize their contribution to their families and the society and consider it a Day for Special Religious Events like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It is also a day to remember our Creator and Pitaamaha on this special day and worship and be recipients of his blessings for the brighter and better future of our children, though Hindu religion has somehow pushed him to the back by some ill-conceived Puraanic stories!


Vidhartaaram havaamahey  vasoeh kuvidvaanaati nah |
Savitaaram nrichakshasam ||

We invoke the Creator of the Universe
Who sustains the creation in many ways and
Who witnesses the thoughts and deeds of men
May He grant us plenty of excellent wealth!

--Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad

REFERENCES:
1.     Maribeth Farringer, The Tennessean, Sunday September 8, 2013.
2.     Swami Bhaskarananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
3.     Swami Bhaskarananda, Hindi Pilgrimage Centers, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Bengaluru, India.
4.     Swami Vimalananda, Mahaanaaraayan Upanishad, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
5.     Wikipedia, Internet.



APPENDIX
HINDU REFLECTIONS ON NATIONAL GRANDPARENTS DAY, 2016
President of United States Barack Obama issued to the Nation following Presidential Proclamation in 2016:
DECLARATION BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
A PROCLAMATION
Every day, families and communities across the globe benefit from the too often unheralded wisdom and devotion of dedicated grandparents -- women and men who blazed trails, broke down barriers, and shaped the world we know today. On National Grandparents Day, we honor America's grandparents as the backbone of our communities, and acknowledge the progress they forged so that their children and grandchildren could live out their dreams.
In our grandmothers and grandfathers, we see a reflection of what is possible with hard work, grit, and determination. Their fight for inclusivity and opportunity for all can be seen in board rooms and courthouses across our country, and their efforts helped build the world's largest, most durable economy and strongest middle class. This enduring legacy spans generations and will empower innovators and leaders for years to come.
Some grandparents sacrificed everything, leaving behind all they knew and loved to fight for freedom far from home, or to start a new life and give their families a chance at a brighter tomorrow in America. Millions of grandparents serve as primary caregivers, providing the discipline, guidance, and encouragement needed to thrive. And for so many Americans, our grandparents are our heroes, our confidantes, and our fiercest advocates. As connections to our past and inspirations for our future, grandparents made us who we are today and have paved a path we can aspire to follow.
Today, we pause to reflect not only on the myriad ways our grandparents have enriched our lives with their selfless acts of compassion and kindness, but also on our responsibility to ensure they can retire as they deserve -- with security and dignity. Let us recognize their lasting contributions to their families and communities, and let us express our gratitude for all they have made possible.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 11, 2016, as National Grandparents Day. I call upon all Americans to take the time to honor their own grandparents and those in their community.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this ninth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.
Should American Hindus Rush to Temple on Grandparents’ Day like Mother’s Day?
Hindu life is so interwoven with religion that one cannot think of any celebration or new excitement without converting it to a kind of worship. So we have many pujas like Vahanapuja (vehicle worship), Bhoomipuja (Land worship), Vidyaaramabha etc., for which we rush to the temple.  Hindu Americans ingeniously convert many American holidays to Special Religious Events day to rush to temples on these days irrespective of what other major cultures do. In that category comes Grandparents’ Day.  Grandparents’ Day is inspired by the Hindu Temple Traditions in India.   If you had visited the famous Parthasarathy Temple in Chennai, here you will see Lord Krishna with Rukmini is worsashipped along with their child and Grnad Child Pradyumna and Aniruddha along with brother Balarama and Bosom friend Satyaki all in one sanctum focusing on family values. Similarly in Puri Jagannath, Jagannatha and his siblings Balarama and Subhadra are worshiped which at one time included Lakshmi als who is now confined to a metallic deity near Jagannatha.  Hence honoring and worshiping parents and grandparents is very much there. It is also not surprising that the main deity focused here is Lord Krishna who is thE  family-value oriented person of all other deities. His worship starts as Balakrishna, progresse to Radhakrishna and ends as Viraat Purusha.  Yet another deity worshiped as a child is Bala Ganesha.  Children are exclusively attracted to Bala Ganesha and Bala Krishna and not to other deities during temple visit in Multi-traditional Hindu American Temples. It is exciting to hear th  mythological story of Ganesha by ISKCON devotees who have impressed that Bala Ganapati is none other than Bala Krishna.  So goes the myth.
Grandparents Day is a Government endorsed day created by the US Congress and signed in 1978 by Jimmy Carter to be celebrated as the Sunday after Labor Day as in Sunday, September 11, this year and now proclaimed as National Grandparents Day by President Barrack Obama. Lord Brahma Hindu God of Creation is worshiped as Brahman in all Hindu worships though his icons are not found in Hindu temples in sanctum sanctorum.  Brahma is worshiped as Pitamaha or Grand-father.  Jagannatha sculpture gets its sanctity during Nav Kalevar only when Brahma's spirit as  Brahma-padaartha is inserted inside the wooden icon by  the sacred ceremony.  Hindus are very familiar with the story of Pitamaha (Grandfather) Bhishma who lived for his grand-children and sacrificed his life for them. Hindu scriptures mandate "Gurur devo bhava" pay regards to your Guru as Supreme Spirit. Another sacred hymn says "Gururbrahmah Maheswarah"-- Guru is Brahma and he is Supreme Lord.  In Christianity Supreme Lord is addressed as Holy Father. It is Jesus who addressed Him as Supreme as Father. In turn Christians consider   themselves as Children of Jesus whom they worship as visible God. Hence it implies all Christians too consider Supreme as their Grand Father like Hindus or they worship Holy Father through Holy Son Jesus. Please remember and honor your grand-parents on this day. Please also go through my detailed discourse on the subject.