RAKSA BANDHAN FESTIVAL
The Hindu tradition is marked by several celebratory festivals; some are celebrated throughout all of India, while others are celebrated only regionally. Of the most significant to brothers and sisters is the festival of Raksa Bandhan. The festival is important to Indian families because it re-affirms and strengthens the unique bond between brother and sister. This bond is paramount within Indian family dynamics, chiefly because the relationship between brother and sister is second to the mother and son relationship (Upadhyaya 197). Raksa Bandhan takes place on the first full moon day of Sravana (July –August), the dates of all Hindu festivals correspond directly with the Hindu lunar calendar (Singhal 10). According to some scholars, certain days are thought to have a special mystical connection in which the God or Gods being worshiped are closer than ever to the Hindu world (Hinduism Today 59). Festivals are planned meticulously around astrological inauspicious times [For more in depth explanation of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness see Rodrigues (2006)]. Festivals and rituals are an important part of the Hindu tradition, and can be traced back thousands of years; indeed some of the great Indian epics make reference to festivals still celebrated today.
The term Raksa means “safety” and Bandhan means “bond’, therefore the term Raksa Bandhan means safety bond (Colon 11). In the days leading up to Raksa Bandhan festival, sisters make or buy a rikhi, (a coloured bracelet or thread) that is tied around her brothers right wrist (Hinduism Today 57). In ancient times sisters made silk or cotton bracelets that were dyed with turmeric (Lannom 31). Turmeric has been used for centuries throughout India for medicinal purposes, food preparation and fabric dyeing; it is yellow in color and is indigenous to Asia. Today, rikhi have become more decorative and elaborate with different coloured string, charms, and pompons attached to them. Rikhi can be purchased at the local market place or in speciality shops which only sell rikhi. The day before the festival begins, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters prepare special foods to be consumed on the day of Raksa Bandhan. Almost more important than the rikhi are the sweet treats the sisters present to their brothers, this is often referred to as “making the mouth sweet” (Lannom 31). On the morning of Raksa Bandhan, brothers and sisters dress in their best clothing and pray to the family deity. Next, a small tray is prepared by the mother of the household with sweets, rice for ceremony purposes, and a red powder made from kumkum (red turmeric powder). Kumkum is used by the sisters to draw a vertical mark on the brother’s forehead, also known as tilak-the mark of auspiciousness (Singhal 10). The highlight of Raksa Bandhan festival is when the sister ties the rikhi around her brother’s right wrist. By accepting the rikhi, brothers vow to always honour and protect their sisters (Bezbaruan 52). The sister in turn prays for protection and good fortune for her brother in the upcoming year. At this time, brothers present their sisters with a special gift of money or jewellery; thus demonstrating their love, appreciation and devotion to their sister.
During Raksa Bandhan, if a sister has no brother, she may use a cousin, relative or close family friend. From that moment on, they will refer to each other as “rikhi brother and rikhi sister” (Lannom 31). The role of a “rikhi brother” is taken with great seriousness; it is considered a bond the brother and sister will share for a lifetime. The bracelet tying ceremony is not limited to age or geographical location; in fact, grownups including grandmothers continue to celebrate Raksa Bandhan with their brothers. Brothers living abroad will receive a rikhi in the mail along with a letter wishing good health, safety, and success for the upcoming year. Often the wife or female relative of the brother will take the place of the sister and tie the rikhi to his wrist (Lannom 31).
The history of Raksa Bandhan can be traced back to ancient times. It is not entirely clear when Raksa Bandhan entered into the Hindu tradition, however scholars will agree it holds an important place in Hindu practice. Evidently, the custom of giving rikhi is foretold in the Great Indian Epic Mahabharata (Lannom 31). According to Klostermaier (2007) legend states, “Indra was saved from the demon Bali through the magical armlet that his wife had tied for him” (Klostermaier 280). This may signify a sister tying a rikhi to her brother’s wrist as protection for her him. Similarly, Bhojpuri folk songs emphasize the sister- brother relationship and their special bond of affection. Yet, the relationship of mother and son remains chief (Upadhyaya 197). Nevertheless, brother and sister relationships are much more unique than brother to brother. First, sisters are taught from a very young age by their elders to always honour and respect their brothers. Second, brothers do not see sisters as a challenge to their authority (Upadhyaya 197). Finally, an important value in Indian society is the duty of men to be leaders. As a result, Indian men take on the role of protector and assume responsibility for the females in their family (Ishwaran 34). By celebrating Raksa Bandhan, brothers renew the responsibly for taking care of their sisters, and sisters offer prayer and well wishes for their brothers.
Raksa Bandhan is an important festival in the Hindu tradition. It signifies the unique bond between brother and sister. It re-affirms the love and devotion between brother and sister, and serves as protection throughout the year. The sister promises to pray for the safety and well-being of her brother throughout the year, while the brother promises to protect and love his sister always. The festival has evolved from a simple tradition, to a great festival celebrated throughout India with rikhi becoming more elaborate and decorative. Raksa Bandhan is an important part of the Hindu tradition.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Bezbaruan, M.P. (2003) Fairs and Festivals of India.Volume Three. New Delhi: Gyan
Colon, Connie (2006) “It Starts with a Thread.” Skipping Stones.18(5), 10-11.
Holy Festivals. (2007) Hinduism Today, 29(1), 54-59.
Ishwaran, K (1968) Shivapur A South Indian Village. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
Klostermaier, Klaus (2007) A Survey of Hinduism.Albany: New York Press.
Lannom, Gloria (2007) “Honor you Siblings.” Faces. 24(2), 31.
Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook an online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.
Singhal, Neelima (2005) “Celebrating Raksha Bandhan.” Highlights for Children. 60(8), 10-11.
Upadhyaya, Hari “Family Structure Depicted in Bhojpuri Folk-Songs.” Folklore 78(2), 197.
RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION
Hindu lunar calendar
Bhojpuri folk songs
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Article written by: Jodie Flamand (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.