Rakhi, the Brother-Sister Festival

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Raksha bandhan

Raksha bandhan

 

Raksha Bandhan – The Bond of Protection

One of the most anticipated festivals in the Hindu calendar is Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan, the Festival of Threads. This is the day when brothers and sisters renew their bonds and sisters receive money and gifts from their brothers. Now which little girl can argue with that? Lucky are the sisters who have several brothers!

Indeed, if you are Hindu and have a brother, no matter where you are, you will try to meet up with him on Raksha Bandhan which falls this year on August 7.  This is an ancient Hindu festival which occurs in the month of shravan on the full moon. Sisters pray for their brothers health and well-being, tying the sacred Rakhi thread on their wrists,  and brothers pledge to protect their sisters.

 

Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan.

Rakhi: A Lifelong Bond

It is said that Lord Krishna formed this brotherly bond with  Draupadi when she tore off a piece of her saree to bandage his cut finger, and he was always there for her when she called for help. In the Mahabharata epic, one learns that when she was being disrespected by the Kaurava princes who were trying to disrobe her, Lord Krishna saw to it that her saree was unending, thus honoring her modesty.

On Rakhi, sisters prepare a tray with  ceremonial items and sweets and pray for the welfare of the brother, placing a tikka on his forehead and tying a bracelet of silken threads on his wrist.  The sister feeds him sweets and the brother gives her a gift of money, clothes or jewelry, pledging to be there for her always. Families continue the tradition through the years and often you see brothers and sisters, in their 70’s, observing this ritual and renewing the lifelong bonds.

Rakhi Bandhan has been a part of many Bollywood movies – here are some sentimental scenes

Rakhi, the Shining Talismans

Indeed weeks before the festivals, the bazaars in India are ablaze with the colorful   bracelets of silken threads, bonbons and sequins,  and rakhi shopping is a must, along  with sweets for the occasion.   From London to New York,  the Indian markets in ethnic neighborhoods bloom with  rakhis, jeweled bracelets of tinsel and sequins. Indian migrants have brought this tradition  to the countries they migrated to and many 2nd and 3rd generation Hindu children also  observe this tradition in spite of having grown up in foreign lands. Earlier migrants recall  that they had to be creative and craft their own rakhis but now the Indian stores in many American cities are bursting with these shining talismans.

In today’s day and age, online stores have sprouted up and rakhis can be ordered online too and yes, there are electronic rakhis or e-rakhis sent by thousands of sisters to brothers across the world.  Many years ago, brothers and sisters parted by many miles would use the postal system, pushing the rakhis into an envelope and sending it half way across the world to a loved one. Now it’s been replaced by all these different versions – but the sentiment remains the same.

 

Celebrating the festival of Rakhi

Celebrating the festival of Rakhi

 

A Pledge of Caring

The rakhi has also become a symbol of caring for those who are not in the sibling relationship. Women will often tie a rakhi on males with whom they have a platonic relationship, making them their ‘rakhi brother’.  Children  and workers also tie it on older people and authority figures –  often schoolchildren  descend on the prime minister’s office to tie rakhis on the Indian prime minister – till his entire arm is festooned with these festive bracelets!

The sentiment of Rakhi – that of caring, great love and a pledge of protection –  remains unchanged and even strengthens over the years. Bollywood songs often refer to this pledge between brothers and sisters with many tear-jerking songs and there’s even an entire film devoted to these sentiments titled ‘Rakhi’.

Each year a fresh group of children get initiated into this brother-sister bond.  One wonders, will the sentiments change over the years? As gender roles change, will both sisters and brothers tie the rakhi on each other and give gifts to each other?  I recall one independent little girl saying she didn’t need protection or gifts. After all, in a perfect world,  both males and females have the power to love, protect and pray for each other!

(C) Lavina Melwani

Photos – credit Creative Commons

This article first appeared in Beliefnet.com

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Happy Raksha Bandhan! Here are 10 quick #desserts that will impress your brother or sister: http://goo.gl/03gn8b

Raksha Bandhan desserts

Raksha Bandhan desserts

 

 

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

4 Comments

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  2. I know many of my Facebook friends have questioned the underlying patriarchial sentiment of this tradition. I feel sad that many want it to stop! I don’t think such a drastic measure needs to be taken. As you mention, why not just have both brother and sister pledge to love and support each other?!

  3. Hi Roshni, I don’t think we should end this tradition – it’s such a wonderful way of reaffirming brotherly-sisterly ties. However, this idea of protecting sisters is outdated – both brothers and sisters should protect and pray for each other. Give gifts to each other! It’s almost a gender bias here. In fact, brothers should tie rakhis on each other, and sisters should too. It should be a celebration of siblings – because that bond is special.