Sunday, 29 July 2012

Fragile threads that are stronger than iron chains!

Yes, this is the belief in India and can be witnessed on Rakhi, the 2nd of Aug 2012.

Rakhi is an extremely popular & probably the most emotional festival in India. It celebrates the relationship between brother & sister or should I say it’s a smart way for sisters to make some money! Read on & you’ll know exactly what I mean.

The ceremony. The sister ties a sacred thread (rakhi) on her brother’s wrist. This symbolises the sister’s love for her brother & in turn the brother promises to protect her forever. The sister gives a sweet (mithai) to the brother and he gives her a gift (primarily money!!). And this is why girls LOVE this festival! I’m kidding… there’s actually a lot of emotional bonding, a day when families get together, it’s a tear-jerker event for sure.

Other names. This festival is also called ‘Raksha Bandhan’ which means ‘bond of protection’.

Preparation. The groundwork for Rakhi starts much earlier than the day it falls. The bazaars are overflowing with colorful Rakhis in a variety of designs. A special tray (thaali) on which the Rakhi is placed is prepared the night before with a diya (candle), red powder & rice and sweets (though the sweets on my thaali usually finish before I reach my brother’s house). For sisters who are unable to meet their brothers on this day, send Rakhi by post or send e-cards. Offices, schools & colleges are all shut on this day. 

The brother. The girl not only ties Rakhi to her real brother, but also to all her cousin brothers. Of late, tying Rakhi to a guy whom you consider like a brother is also common – this relationship is termed as ‘muh bola bhai’ i.e. regarded as brother, but not related by blood.

The younger lots compete to see who has the maximum number of Rakhis/ sisters. It’s actually a pleasure walking down the road in the afternoon where you catch boys & grown up men showing off their Rakhis. It’s a rather sweet sight. Though in schools you’ll usually find boys staying away or literally running away from the girls as they don’t want to be made their brothers!!

It’s customary for the guys to keep the Rakhi on till it falls off by itself, so sometimes they have it on for a year. Though most bend the rules now!

The Rakhi. The Rakhi has evolved over the years from being just a simple red thread to expensive gold bands. Moreover, there are special Rakhis for kids that come in the form of various known cartoon characters, action figures (Batman, Spiderman, Pokemon, cool cars etc).

Origins. There are several stories related to this festival and its origins, here are a few:

The Aryans. Like all other Indian festivals, Raksha Bandhan too has a long historical background. Its history goes back to the early days of the arrival of the Aryans in India. The Aryans performed Yajnas (ritual of sacrifice/ prayers) before going to wars to invoke the blessings of the Gods. Before the men departed for the battlefield, their womenfolk tied sacred threads or amulets to protect them and also to uphold the honor of their tribe. This is how the custom of Raksha Bandhan seems to have originated.

Alexander, the great. It is said that when Alexander invaded India in 326 B.C., his wife Roxxanne, fearing Alexander's safety, sent a sacred thread to the King Porus (an Indian king), requesting him not to hurt her husband during the battle. Keeping the oath, Porus restrained from delivering the final blow to Alexander and personally kept him out of harm's way.

Mughal Emperor Humayun. Hindu queens sent Rakhis even to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, have offered help and protection to their Rakhi-sisters at critical moments and honoured the fraternal bond. Some say that Rakhi became popular again when Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of Chittor, sent a Rakhi to the Mughal emperor Humayun when she required his help (making good use of the sacred thread)!!

A simple fragile thread that creates strong emotional bonds! Here’s a thought, may be husbands & wives and presidents of different nations can try it out as well. Divorce rates may come down & nations may genuinely start protecting each other.

1 comment:

  1. Its a beautifully written article. No where in the world, such symbolic sanctity is given to the relationship between a brother and a sister. I may also mention here that India with its diverse traditions, still upholds celebrating this relationship surpassing castes, communities, religions and languages. Rakhi is "punjabi" is "rakhdi".