Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Raksha Bundhun

     Today August 20th, is Raskha Bundhun (knot of protection) – a festival celebrated across the whole of India and better known as Rakhi. 

© Rebecca Delekta
     On this auspicious day, sisters tie a red thread bracelet (a rakhi) onto their brother’s right wrist as a symbol of the bond between siblings.  Traditional belief follows that the tying of the rakhi will offer protection and good luck the brother, while also reminding him of his vow to protect his sister from all that is evil.  The historical roots of Raskha Bundhun stem back to the times when India was ruled by kings.  Folklore has it that a queen of a Hindu empire offered a rakhi to the ruler of the Mughals as a peace offering and symbol of friendship. 

     In modern India, Rakhi continues to be celebrated each year during the Hindu month of Shravan. Weeks before the festival, handmade rakhis numbering the tens of millions flood the streets of India’s cities.  Rajasthani families who are well known for owning radiantly colorful little knick-knack shops always maintain the most elaborate displays of rakhis.  Last Rakhi, I remember walking down a street in Koramangala and being drawn to the vibrant presentation of rakhi bracelets that had spilled out of a Rajasthani store and onto the sidewalk.  A makeshift display board with bracelets dangling hung from a large tree, and tables full of rakhis lined the entrance.  All of it so carefully placed out so passersby could quickly buy a bracelet and perhaps be lured to into the colorful and warmly lit store downstairs. 

 © Rebecca Delekta
     While the sisters are responsible for procuring the rakhi and to also provide her brother with sweets, it is customary for brothers to show their dedication to their promise of protection by giving gifts to their sisters.  Sanjeev told me that when he was little, he used to joke with his four sisters that Raksha Bundhun was intended to be about the bond of siblings, but is instead just another festival that grants permission for sisters to loot their brothers for gifts.  Sanjeev and his sisters still maintain their traditional celebration, and over the past week, packages have come from Delhi and Gujarat filled with soan papdi sweets and greeting cards, each one containing a unique rakhi bracelet inside.  Like the year before, I taped each card and its bracelet to the refrigerator.  Last night we were informed that the package to Delhi containing the salwar suit materials for three of his sisters arrived, each one delighted with our choice of design.  In Gujarat, Renu was also pleased with the gift and money for the tailor.  At nine a.m. this morning, after two hours of sleep, Sanjeev is already on the phone with his sisters wishing each one a happy Rakhi.  I wake up to his voice, and find him in the kitchen amongst the cards performing a modified version of the Rakhi ritual in his sisters’ absence.  He takes his shower, dresses, and ties all four Rakhis on his wrist.  I cut off the loose ends while he mixes a tiny rice pack with a pinch of vermillion powder to create the auspicious tilak on his forehead. 

     I have witnessed the celebration of Raskha Bundhun in Bangalore three times in the last four years.  Although the nonexistence of my own brother requires me to only observe Rakhi rituals from the sidelines, Rakhi remains to be one of most interesting, fun, and light-hearted Hindu festivals simply because it is another day that joyously celebrates life and the bonds of family. 

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