The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Pilgrims and Hindus for Thanksgiving

By: for on Nov. 27, 2010
Thanksgiving cup cakes
What do Diwali, Holi, Shiva Ratri, and Thanksgiving all have in common? Give up? They're all originally Hindu holidays, of course!

Really? Well, sort of.

At least this is the hypothesis put forth by Richard Salva -- a minister, yoga student, and self-acclaimed reincarnation expert -- in his book Soul Journey: From Lincoln to Lindbergh. Salva bases the work on a statement by Hindu teacher Paramahamsa Yogananda that Lincoln was, in a previous life, a yogi in the
Himalayas, then took birth as Abraham Lincoln, and later reincarnated as aviator Charles Lindbergh.

(Interesting tangent: Some believe that yogi/Lincoln has reincarnated yet again, as... wait for it .... President Barack Obama. Salva, though, is skeptical of this claim.)

So what does any of this have to do with Thanksgiving? Hindu blogger Subhamoy Das explores the subtle connection in a piece on Salva and the Thanksgiving-has-Hindu-roots claim:

Lincoln delivered a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as an American holiday in 1863. Research sheds light on a possible Hindu origin for the American celebration of Thanksgiving.

"During my search for signs of a past-life yoga practice," Salva said, "I noticed that President Lincoln repeatedly chose Thursdays as national days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving. This was interesting, because Thursday is considered a holy day - a day for prayer, fasting, and spiritual reflection - among Hindus, who call it 'guru day.'"

With due respects to both Das and Salva, I am a bit underwhelmed by the claim. For starters, the logic seems cyclical: Lincoln was a a reincarnated yogi, so he favored Thursdays; one of the signs of Lincoln's past-life yoga practice was that he favored Thursdays. Hmmm. In addition, the idea that Thursday is somehow considered the holiest day of the week for Hindus is an exaggeration at best; every day of the week is dedicated to different deities or planets, with prayer, fasting, and spiritual reflection. And, of course, even if we accept the "yogi Lincoln favors Thursdays" idea, it is a jump (and we're talking the Hanuman-jumping-to-Lanka variety of jumps) to go from there to the fact that Lincoln's 1863 proclamation "established Thanksgiving as an American holiday" on Thursdays to Thanksgiving having Hindu roots.

(Lincoln's proclamation didn't establish the holiday as much as it did articulate it as an annual celebration and standardize the date to be "the last Thursday of November", noting that this should be marked as "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.")

As much of a stretch as the Lincoln-Thursday connection might be, though, Salva's hypothesis does illustrate a need that some Hindus feel to connect with mainstream holidays and national observances like Thanksgiving. Nothing remedies the feeling of being left-out of a holiday, quite like the knowledge that your people created said holiday. "Thanksgiving? Yeah, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Heck, we invented it."

Other Hindu writers, though, have used less esoteric means to connect the Thanksgiving holiday with their faith. Taking Thanksgiving to represent a day to express gratitude towards one's parents, Dr. Pradeep Kapoor muses on how the holiday resonates with one of Hindu lore's heroes, the devoted son Shravan Kumar. In her blog piece for the San Francisco Examiner, Sohoni Das writes along the same lines -- if Thanksgiving is a day defined by showing gratitude to one's family and friends, well then its about as Hindu as can be.

Meanwhile, writing a Thanksgiving piece for our very own Beliefnet, Shoba Narayan takes a different track altogether. After confessing to having "inflicted her Hindu sensibility and vegetarian sensitivity on her American friends" in years past, Narayan resolves to "Hindu-ize" the holiday:

This year, it will be different. This year, I will decline all invitations that gracious friends extend to me in an effort to include me in this holiday. This year, I will set my own Thanksgiving table, complete with vegetarian dishes, and invite all my Hindu friends and relatives to share in the celebration.

Narayan's tounge-in-vegetarian-cheek article also includes a handful of yummy vegetarian recipes.

And me? Well, I don't really think Lincoln was chanelling his Himayalan Hindu roots in proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving for the nation. And I'm not going to take this opportunity to send my parents a "Happy Shravan Kumar Day" card this year. But I do think that Thanksgiving can be relevant and meaningful for Hindus. Hinduism does champion gratitude and appreciation, feasting and feeding others, and gathering around a common table.

Although, truthfully, at least on this one day a year, I'd rather eat more like a Pilgrim than an Indian. So I'll skip the alu methi and raita and fill up on cranberries, yams, mashed potatoes, and a Hinduism-approved, 100% cruelty-free Ahimsa-certified tofurky.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Read more:
[ thanksgiving ]