Raksha Bandhan is a traditionally Hindu festival that is observed once a year to celebrate the union of brothers and sisters. The ritual most tied to this celebration is the thread that a sister often ties on their brother’s wrist. This might not always be a biological brother as it can often be your cousin, or someone that’s not even related to you that you consider akin to brother due to their closeness. It can also be the ultimate way of friend-zoning or ‘bro-zoning’.
The rakhi (thread) is said to protect the men against evil or negative influences, and the act of tying it is like a prayer or well wishes for their long life and happiness. The tying of the rakhi is usually accompanied by pressing some vermillion (that red stuff that’s a nightmare to remove) and uncooked rise on their forehead and feeding them something sweet like a sacker (sugar sweet), Indian sweet or a nut/raisin as a healthier alternative. In return, they usually give a gift, typically money, which signifies the promise that they will protect their sisters from any harm.
When is it celebrated?
Unlike the western world, Hindu’s follows a calendar based on astrology. This means that raksha bandhan has no fixed date in the Gregorian calendar, but it usually falls sometime in August. It is on the last day of shravana month, when it is a full moon. This is a holy month for Hindu’s for Hindu’s. Christians refrain from certain things during Lent, Muslims during Ramadan and Hindu’s during shravana (although it is not always adhered to within the diaspora’s or even well known about).
Who celebrates it?
Although traditionally a Hindu festival, it has become widely celebrated in Sikhism, Jainism and by Buddhists. It has become synonymous with North India as it is less celebrated in the south. It is also celebrated in Nepal. As it is celebrated so widely, there are many regional variations. People in different regions offer prayers to different Gods, with the coastal, largely fisherman Koli community in Maharashtra invoking blessings from Lord Varuna, the Hindu God of the Sea. People in West Bengal and Odisha offer prayers to Lord Krishna and Radha. In the region of Jammu, they fly kites with great splendour that you can barely see the sky!
Sometimes women who have left home after come a week or two ahead of the day and spend quality time with their families. This is more common in India as women tend to move in with their husbands family. Across the UK, USA, and anywhere else that may have Indians, the day may be celebrated with a text filled with well wishes or an extravagant dinner with your relatives. It is not on the same scale as India of course so the same pomp may not accompany it, but the sentiment remains the same across the globe.
There are many stories regarding the celebrations origins. Some feature Lord Krishna, others involve Alexander the Great, and you can read about them here. Below is the most popular one that is cited as the origin of Raksha Bandhan, taken from The Better India.
‘After the death of her husband Rana Sangha, queen Karnavati, became the official of Mewar and ruled it in the name of her elder son Vikramjeet. When Bahadur Shah of Gujarat attacked Mewar for the second time, the queen began looking for support from other kingdoms. Karnavati at the time wrote to Mughal Humayun for help, sending him a rakhi and sought protection. Despite Humayun’s father, Babur, defeating Rana Sanga in 1527, and the Mughal emperor himself being in the middle of another military campaign, he abandoned everything to pay his attention to Mewar to help Karnavati.
The Mughal emperor was heartbroken when he couldn’t make it on time. The Rajput army was defeated in Chittor, and Rani Karnavati had immolated herself in the Rajput custom of Jauhar. But later, Humayun restored the kingdom to Karnavati’s son, Vikramjit’.
Is it archaic?
The whole idea of the basis for this festival is pray for protection for the brothers and in turn they will protect their sisters. As a feminist (I’m sure some of you will switch off now), I believe we are equal and it has never made sense to me that we cannot pray for the sisters protection in the same way. Traditions can evolve with society, so I think the progressive way forward with raksha bandhan would be to tie a rakhi for each other, so that we are both protected from negative influences (after all, who doesn’t need that in 2020) and then we are equally equipped to protect each other.
After all, it makes no sense for a strong independent woman to need protection from her 6 year old cousin just because he is male. This might also mean we as the women would have to give gifts to our broski’s but that’s the price of equality right? I bet they’d love the feminist nature of this stance here! I think the sentiment of the sibling bond and wanting each other to be protected is beautiful, but I think we can do better and bring raksha bandhan into the 21st century.