In a country where मातृ देवो भव, पितृ देवो भव, एवं आचार्य देवो भव have been the norms, designating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may sound like a demotion of mothers and fathers. Instead, it is considered as a much needed appreciation of them in the western world.
There are several peculiarities surrounding the origin and establishment of Father’s Day here in the United States, where it is an official holiday. Interestingly, efforts to establish both Mother’s and Father’s Days were led by daughters, not sons, and both were in fact initiated by the Church (Mother May or Mothering Church for Mother’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day for Father’s Day). While Father’s Day was established over 50 years after the Mother’s Day was already an official holiday, (in fact, after many more failed attempts at establishment than Mother’s Day) both holidays were in fact initially rejected by the US Congress: they jokingly extrapolated a future need of a “Mother-in-Law’s Day”. Eventually, both holidays were proclaimed by presidential orders. However, the more sincere criticism from congress was that establishing appreciation for parents as holidays would lead to commercialization of these occasions, reducing a heart-to-heart moment to a hand-to-hand exchange of gifts.
During debates over the establishment of Father’s Day, it was common to argue that one parent (mother) cannot be recognized while the other (father) is not. The division of parents into distinct categories like “matriarchal” and “patriarchal” can be seen more as a lens perpetuated in my opinion by some modern social scientists than actual truth. Even in the animal kingdom, where the complexities of human society, tradition, culture, and philosophy do not exist, a child is often cared by both mother and father. The social interpretation of the culture (sanskriti), traditions (parampara), and philosophy (darshan) needs narrational perspective and an integrative approach. Matri sattatmak (matriarchal) and Pitre sattatmak (patriarchal) societies inherently mean the motherhood and fatherhood, not simply woman and man as is generally implicated by social activists. Therein lies the narrative problem.
Indian cultures exhort raising of woman to the motherhood in perspective (not necessarily giving birth, although that reinforces it automatically). In India the nation is called motherland whereas in the West it is fatherland. Ancestors are referred to as पूर्वज in India whereas forefathers in America in a social context. Wikipedia lists 60 countries which call their native country as fatherland. Ancient Greek, Patris, fatherland, led to Latin Patrios, and finally into Patriotism. Thus father figure is a dominant cultural ethos of the western world.
In India it is, of course, Mother India or भारत माता, that is the war cry for the land. I had heard from a Swami ji (but could not find myself in any literature) that in Indian culture a child is most fortunate whose father is a dharmatma and whose mother is a pativrata. This is far cry from the competing dominance portrayed by the reference such a society as matriarchal vs. patriarchal, which Indian intellectual class apes it.
The combined differences between how Eastern and Western cultures view and treat motherhood and fatherhood indicate clearly that there is no simple mapping of words or cultural concepts from one onto the other. When comparing the two, one needs to understand the context in which terms, language, and celebrations are framed. Learning from other cultures is good, but doing so without an understanding of the differing perspectives, and without an appreciation for our own way of seeing the world, is counter-productive.
There is a book written with the title of ‘Dharti Mata aur Pita Akash’ by Pushpa Sinha, and of course the favorite Hindi song, Dharti meri mata pita Akash from Geet Gata Chal Hindi movie (1975) shows the complementarity of parents for appropriate care and growth of a child. Nevertheless, Indian culture is matriarchal right from the pauranic concept of Adya as the origin of tridevas and tridevis. Even in modern times at least 500 years ago in Tulsi Ramayana, there is a clear mention that mother holds higher position than the father – जौ केवल पितु आयसु ताता, तौ जिन जाउ जानि बड़ि माता -as stated by Ram’s mother, Kaushalya. So, while Kerala tradition may be matriarchal (or maybe ladyarchal to be more appropriate). The matriarchal tradition of India as per Ramayana standards is widespread in the culture.
Once that narrative is accepted, it is then possible to integrate with the famous Manusmriti idea of ‘यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता…’, which needs to be interpreted as, where women reach the status or level of being worshiped (implying only motherhood) even gods frequent that place for pleasure.
There is much to learn from Indian philosophy as to what a mother is to be – life giver, guru, teacher, god, etc., which is what elevates her to the level of worship, not those who hire maids to take care of their children or those who do not have education, training, knowledge, and resources.
A father is a gyan guru, and is expected to give diksha to the son, and perhaps daughter by the time of the upanayana sanskar (there are instances where daughters undergo upanayana sanskar). In this ritual, the father utters some secret mantra (usually Gayatri mantra) in the ears of the child at the ceremony. This indicates the conclusion of education from father and commencement of the education from Guru. In the story of the Ganesha his father Shiva cuts off Ganesha’s head, eventually replacing it with the head of an elephant at the behest of Ganesha’s mourning mother Parvati. Instead of taking only the story’s literal meaning, we can instead see symbolically Shiva playing his true role as a father: removing Ganesha’s ignorance, as symbolized by the head he was born with, and replacing it with a much larger head of an elephant, symbolizing his newly gained wisdom.
(Image : Prof. Singh and his son)
In my own personal life, living in America, I try to emphasize on Father’s Day what a father is supposed to do on a regular basis: I normally cook breakfast for the family showing my cooking ability and skills (all three children learned formal cooking from me rather than their mother who is obviously more skillful at cooking than I am); I then make sure to mow the lawn, which I do despite my wife’s advice of hiring landscaper (quite common in United States); we spend time relishing some father-child memories; finally, I give some fatherly advice (lecture!!) to my children. I do not like to be pampered by any special treatment or gifts from children, as that encourages commercialization (the original concern of US lawmakers in opposing declaring Father’s Day an official holiday), and reduces the idea to materialism, which is quite different from what I consider my children as संतानाः, as in सम्यक तान्यते ते संतानाः those who reflect not only my material body but also my subtle body (ethereal, astral, mental, and spiritual) and spiritualism. May all of us have a Father’s Day by becoming and having संतानाः!
– Prof. Bal Ram Singh, Director, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA