There can be many definitions of as to who, what, in which situation or how, any person constitute or can be called as "Father - Pitā ( पिता )"
The more common term one might encounter used for father, is Pitṛ (पितृ) - but that is not just limited in terms of meaning to the sense of "father".
Therefore, I have tried to compile a more generic list of "definition & qualities" from major canonical texts.
Definition 1: From the Vedanga based ‘Nirukta' by Yāskācārya
Yāska basically gives two definitions or etymology for the word in the Nirukta:
1. Nirukta 4.21 & 6.15:
" पिता पाता वा पालयिता वा; नि पिता-गोपिता "
" pitā pātā vā pālayitā vā; ni pitā-gopitā -
The one who sustains, nourishes and protects is thus known as Pitā (father).
2. Alternative definition from Shabda-Kalpa-Druma Sanskrit Dictionary:
Pitā is derived from the root " ‘pā rakṣaṇe' (पा रक्षणे)".
Therefore, the etymology thus derived as:
"yaḥ pāti sa pitā - यः पाति स पिता" (or)
"pāti rakṣati iti pitā - पाति रक्षति इति पिता" (or)
" pāti rakṣatyapayaṃ yaḥ sa pitā - पाति रक्षत्यपयं यः स पिता ।"
i.e., The one who 'protects' is known as Pitā (father).
1. According to the Nirukta - a father (Pitā) is someone Who Protects, Sustains & Nourishes.
Definition 2: From the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa
In the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Book IV: Kiṣkindhā Kāṇḍa - The Empire of Holy Monkeys:
Śhrī Rāma himself explains to Vāli - who is to be called as a "Father - Pitā
ज्येष्ठो भ्राता पिता चैव यः च विद्याम् प्रयच्छति |
त्रयः ते पितरो ज्ञेया धर्मे च पथि वर्तिनः || ४-१८-१३ ||
jyeṣṭho bhrātā pitā caiva yaḥ ca vidyām prayacchati |
trayaḥ te pitaro jñeyā dharme ca pathi vartinaḥ || 4-18-13 ||
"It is to be known by him who treads the way of righteousness that he has three fatherly personages, namely his own father, his elder brother, and the one who accords education to him. [4-18-13]
यवीयान् आत्मनः पुत्रः शिष्यः च अपि गुणोदितः |
पुत्रवत् ते त्रयः चिंत्या धर्मः चैव अत्र कारणम् || ४-१८-१४ ||
yavīyān ātmanaḥ putraḥ śiṣyaḥ ca api guṇoditaḥ |
putravat te trayaḥ ciṃtyā dharmaḥ caiva atra kāraṇam || 4-18-14 ||
"An younger brother, a son, and a disciple with good characteristics, these three are to be deemed as one's own sons, for such matters take base on rectitude alone. [4-18-14]
2. Therefore according to the Rāmāyaṇa, reconciling the above two verses - 13 & 14, conclusions are reached, scripturally: the Elder brother, the Biological father & the teacher (Ācārya) for a person are all to be equivalent to Pitā (पिता).
Definition 3: From the Mahābhārata
In the Adi Parva (1.93.25) of the Mahābhārata, we again get three types of people qualified to be called Pitā, as per Ṛṣi Kaṇva:
शरीरकृत् प्राणदाता यस्य चान्नानि भुंजते ।
क्रमेणैते त्रयोऽप्युक्ताः पितरो धर्मशासने ।। २५ ।।
śarīrakṛt prāṇadātā yasya cānnāni bhuṃjate ।
krameṇaite trayo'pyuktāḥ pitaro dharmaśāsane ।। 25 ।।
First, the one who contributes to our body be conceived via the garbhādhāna saṃskāra, Second, the one who has saved our lives or protect us (abhayadānam), and Third, the one who provides for our food and necessities - all these three as designated to be called as Father - Pitā.
Bhīṣma gives Yudhiṣṭhira the exact same definition as above in the Anuśāsana Parva: Chapter 69:
यश्चैवमुत्पादयते यश्चैनं त्रायते भयात ।
यश्चास्य कुरूते वृत्तिं सर्वे ते पितरस्त्रय: ।। १८ ।।
yaścaivamutpādayate yaścainaṃ trāyate bhayāta ।
yaścāsya kurūte vṛttiṃ sarve te pitarastraya: ।। 18 ।।
He who procreates a person, he who rescues a person, and he who assign a means of livelihood to a person, are considered as the three fathers.
3. Thus, according to the Mahābhārata - one's own biological progenitor, the one who Protects, and the one who Sustains - these three are to be called Pitā.
Definition 4: From the Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa
In the Chapter 10: Jāti-Sambandhaṃ-Nirṇayo from the Section I: Brahma Khaṇḍa in the the Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa, we get another definition on the above similar lines:
श्यालीपतिस्तु भ्राता च श्वशुरैकत्वहेतुना ।
श्वशुरस्तु पिता ज्ञेयोजन्मदातुः समो मुने ॥ १५२ ॥
śyālīpatistu bhrātā ca śvaśuraikatvahetunā ।
śvaśurastu pitā jñeyo janmadātuḥ samo mune ॥ 152 ॥
The father-in-Law of one's own sister and that of one's
Sister-in-Law - both are equivalent to be treated as one's own
अन्नदाता भयत्राता पत्नीतातस्तथैव च ।
विद्यादाता जन्मदाता पञ्चैते पितरो नृणाम् ॥ १५३ ॥
annadātā bhayatrātā patnītātastathaiva ca ।
vidyādātā janmadātā pañcaite pitaro nṛṇām ॥ 153 ॥
The one who gives birth (biological father), the one who
provides food (Sustains), the one who releives from danger (gives Protection), one's Wife's Father, and the one who imparts
knowledge (Guru or Ācārya) - each one amongst the five of these
is worthy of being called a father - (*Pitā/Pitṛ)".
4. According to Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa - one's biological father, the Sustainer-Nourisher, the Protector, ones' Teacher, the father of Wife, the Father-in-Law of both sister and sister-in-law are to be accorded the status of a "father (Pitā)".
Definition 5: From the Manusmṛti
Manusmṛti [ Verse 2.146 ], gives a more situation-based "exhaustive" definition for the word - Pitā (पिता), especially in reference to a dvija:
उत्पादकब्रह्मदात्रोर्गरीयान् ब्रह्मदः पिता ।
ब्रह्मजन्म हि विप्रस्य प्रेत्य चैह च शाश्वतम् ॥ १४६ ॥
utpādakabrahmadātrorgarīyān brahmadaḥ pitā |
brahmajanma hi viprasya pretya caiha ca śāśvatam || 146 ||
Between the progenitor and the imparter of the veda, the imparter op the veda is the more venerable father; for the brāhmaṇa’s “birth” is the veda, eternally,—here as well as after death.—(146)
Thus, both the biological father and the imparter of the knowledge of the Veda (one's ‘Āchārya’) are to be referred to and considered as Pitā (पिता). However, the situation varies, as Medhātithi explains in his Manubhāṣya:
Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):
‘Progenitor’—is one who gives natural birth; ‘Imparter of the Veda’ is one who teaches;—both these are ‘fathers’; and between these two ‘fathers,’ that Father is ‘more venerable’ who imparts the Veda. So that when the Father and the Preceptor are both present, the Preceptor should be saluted first.
The text adds a valedictory statement in support of what has been said—‘The Brāhmaṇa’s birth is the Veda’; i.e., is for the purpose of learning the Veda;
According to the Manusmṛti:
5(a). Thus, the one who's responsible for our physical birth is to be taken in the material sense of being as a Pitā, i.e, a progenitor who gives a Natural birth is the 'Bhautika or Sāṃsārika Pitā'.
5(b). However, for a "Dvija", i.e., the twice-born, it's the ‘Āchārya’ who initiates them into the knowledge of Vedas, which is what actually constitutes their "second-birth". Therefore, in the Spiritual & Metaphysical perspective, an ‘Āchārya’ is the pita i.e, ‘Imparter of the Veda’ i.e., one's ‘Āchārya’ - may be called as the 'Ādhyātmika or Brahmavid Pitā'.
Definition 6: From the Chāṇakya Nīti
As per Chāṇakya Nīti:
जनिता चोपनेता च, यस्तु विद्यां प्रयच्छति ||
अन्नदाता भयत्राता, पंचैते पितरः स्मृताः || ०५-२२ ||
janitā copanetā ca, yastu vidyāṃ prayacchati ||
annadātā bhayatrātā, paṃcaite pitaraḥ smṛtāḥ || 05-22 ||
These five have been ordained to be called as Pitā - the biological father, the one who initiates into the Vedas, the one who imparts Education, the one who provides food and necessities, and the one who Protects i.e, 'Pālanahāra ( पालनहार )'.
6. One's biological progenitor, Vedic rites initiator, Teacher (Guru), and the Sustainer and the Protector - these five are designated as the status of Pitā ( पिता ).
Definition 7: From the "Historical" Etymological Perspective:
The occurrence of the word 'Pitā' is rare in the Vedic literature, however, the word Pitṛ is encountered several times, albeit with myriad etymological connotations.
In their work: Vedic Index of Names and Subjects
[by Macdonell, Arthur Anthony, 1854-1930; Keith, Arthur Berriedale, 1879-1944], the authors have given the following analysis, noting the following (wrt. words based on 'pa -Pitṛ' roots):
Pita-putra, 'father and son,' is a compound of rare occurrence.
Pita-putriya ('relating to father and son'),
Pita-maha, beside Tatamaha, denotes from the Atharvaveda onwards the 'paternal grandfather,' apparently as a ' father in a
higher sense.' The great-grandfather is Prapitamaha and
It is significant that there are no corresponding Vedic words for maternal grandparents, and that the words used in the latter
language, such as Matamaha, are imitations of the terms for paternal
In one passage of the Rigveda Delbriick suggests that make pitre means ' grandfather,'
The grandmother (Pitamahi) is not mentioned in the extant Vedic literature.
Pitu in the Rigveda 1 and later 2 has the general sense of nutriment,' whether food or drink.
common from the Rigveda onwards, denotes 'father,' not so much as the ' begetter ' (janitr/janitā), but rather as the protector of the child, this being probably also the etymological sense of the word.
The father in the Rigveda stands for all that is good and kind. Hence Agni is compared with a father, while Indra is even dearer than a father.
'Pitā = janitā (जनिता)' - is used of gods in the Rigveda e.g., iv. 17, 12.
(An etymological classification for janitā can also be accessed from here)
As derived from 'pa' - 'प' = 'protect.'
But, as Bohtlingk and Roth, St.Peters- burg Dictionary, s.v. Matar, footnote, suggest, 'pa' and 'ma' were probably the much
older original onomatopoetic names for 'father ' and ' mother,'
which in a later reflective age influenced the formation of 'pitr'
7. Thus in the Vedic literature, there doesn't seem to be much "definition" given for Pitā. The word used mostly is Pitṛ, which changes connotations as per convenience. The basic definition for Pitā might be eschewed as - The Protector, the dearest of all (or Gods), the Nourisher/Sustainer.
Thus, basis the above discussion we conclude that for a person, anyone from the below list is worthy of being referred to as a "Father - Pitā ( पिता )":
- One's biological procreator.
- The one who initiates into Vedas via Upanayana (for a "dvija").
- One's Teacher/Ācārya/Guru - Spiritual Father.
- One's Elder Brother i.e., the Jyeṣṭha.
- Wife's father - ones' Father-in-Law.
- The one who gives Protection or gives Abhayadāna.
- The one who saved one's life.
- The one who Sustains & Nourishes.
- The Father-in-law of both - one's own Sister & the Sister-in-Law.