In Hinduism, the role of a mother is highly revered and considered sacred. This respect and veneration can be seen both in the familial and cosmic contexts.
- Familial Context: A mother, or ‘Mata’ in Hindi, is seen as the first teacher (‘Adi Guru’) and guide. She is considered responsible for the moral, cultural, and spiritual upbringing of her children. Hindu scriptures and traditions have always emphasized the high regard for mothers and the importance of their role in the household and the society. It is often said that “Matru Devo Bhava” which translates to “Revere your mother as God”. This sentiment reflects the significant role and respect a mother holds within the family structure.
- Cosmic Context: The concept of the mother also extends to the cosmic level in Hinduism. The earth is often referred to as ‘Mother Earth’ or ‘Bhumi Mata’, reflecting the nurturing aspect of the planet. Similarly, rivers are considered mothers, like Ganga Mata or Yamuna Mata, as they are life-giving and sustaining.
- Divine Feminine: Hinduism also has a strong tradition of worshipping the divine in female form – the Goddess or Devi. Different forms of the goddess represent different aspects of life and the universe. For example, Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, and Durga/Kali is the goddess of power and destruction of evil.
- Shakti: In Hindu philosophy, Shakti, the divine feminine power, is considered the source of all creation. She is the energy that drives the universe. Shakti is often personified as a goddess and worshipped in that form.
- Mother Goddess Cult: There has been a tradition of Mother Goddess worship in India dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization. This tradition continues in many forms in Hinduism today.
So, in Hinduism, the mother is given utmost importance and respect. She is seen as a guide, nurturer, and the embodiment of love and self-sacrifice. This reverence is reflected in both the earthly role of a mother and the divine feminine in the cosmic context.
The Vedas, which are the earliest Hindu scriptures, lay the foundation for many Hindu beliefs and practices, including the respect and reverence for motherhood. Here are some examples:
- Rig Veda: In the Rig Veda, one of the oldest of the four Vedas, several hymns acknowledge the importance of women and mothers. For example, hymn 10.85 is a marriage hymn that highlights the role of the woman as the heart of the family. There is also reference to the goddess Ushas, who is the goddess of dawn and is often invoked in maternal terms.
- Atharva Veda: In the Atharva Veda, there are several references to the mother. For instance, in Book 7, Hymn 2, it says, “Honour to children sprung from thee, honour be, O Earth, to thy surface, honour to thy divine waters! Thereby may this man thrive and prosper through thee!” This reflects the veneration for ‘Mother Earth’ or ‘Bhumi Mata’.
- Yajur Veda: The Yajur Veda includes many rituals and ceremonies, and it places a significant emphasis on the home and family life, where the mother plays a central role. It includes prayers for domestic happiness and prosperity.
It should be noted that while the Vedas are foundational to Hindu thought, many of the specific practices and beliefs related to the worship of the divine feminine (such as the different forms of the Goddess) are more explicitly developed in later texts, such as the Puranas and the Tantras. For instance, the concept of Shakti and detailed narratives of goddesses like Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, and Saraswati are extensively found in these later texts.
Moreover, the ‘Matru Devo Bhava’ phrase, which signifies “Mother is equivalent to God,” is from the Taittiriya Upanishad, which is part of the Yajur Veda. This phrase encapsulates the high esteem in which a mother is held in Hindu culture and religion.