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India: Celebrating Raksha Bandhan

Yesterday, on 24th August 2010, India celebrated Raksha Bandhan – a festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters.

Blogger Neha Kapur Grover at mumbaikar.com, summarizes the essence of this joyous and auspicious occasion. She writes:

The festival of Raksha-bandhan celebrates the blessed relationship of brothers and sisters…Raksha-bandhan, also known as Rakhi is celebrated every year on the full moon day of the Shravana month. Sisters tie a beautified holy thread, called ‘rakhi’ on their brothers’ wrist which symbolizes a ‘knot of security & protection’. They pray for their brothers’ well-being and the brothers promise to protect their sisters. Families come together, feast on special dishes, gifts, and rejoice together.

Tying a Rakhi

Image by Flickr user  Yogesh Kumar Jaiswal, used under a CC By NC-SA license.

Tweets expressed the sisters’ sentiments associated with the occasion.

parishna – it was so lovely to tie #Rakhi for all my bro's and to just spend time with them!

anikaforever – had a fantastic rakhi…….. love my bro!!!

The ritual of tying a rakhi is not limited to a blood-brother/ male cousin only. As Amrita Puri points out:

This bond does not have to be between blood relatives – a girl might adopt a boy as her brother through the tying of a Rakhi. This ritual not only strengthens the bond of love, but also transcends the boundaries of the family. When a Rakhi is tied on the wrists of close friends and neighbors, it underscores the need for a harmonious social life. This helps to broaden ones’ vision beyond the borders of ones own family to the entire earth (vasudha) as one family

Since any male can be “adopted” as a brother by tying a rakhi on the person, girls often use this occasion as a means of telling a guy that she is not interested in him romantically.  In a lighter vein, some of the tweets commented on this aspect of the festival and the anxiety it created in the hearts of young men.

iMagesh – Had a busy day.. And yay escaped.. No girl tied me a rakhi :-P

aaroo4 – @iMagesh haha.. Used to b a game watching guys dodge rakhi in school

bharat_bansal – Rembrng school days whn we used to be hell scared to go to the school a day before or after Rakhi. Was crazy ;)

strangetimes87 – @nuanse …Hope the girl you like didn't call you bhaiyya (brother) ;)

Karthik_Siemens- …Thank god, no one tied me rakhi in the last 2 yrs at IIITB.Escaped from girls calling me bhayya ;)

Luke674 -yesterday was Raksha bandhan day….!! thank god no one excpt my sisters tied rakhi….

zeeontwi – i really don like #rakshabandhan.. u neva no which girl comes to u n ties a # rakhi..wat if u like her??

Sisters whose brother(s) lived far away expressed angst at not being able to celebrate the occasion. For example, Avni tweeted:

_Avni – Living in diff countries is so not good…miss my bro..been 10 yrs hve not tied rakhi to him on this day

Image by Flickr user Vishy-Washy, used under a CC By-NC-ND license.

However, others pointed out that with the advent of Social Media, keeping in touch with a brother living far away is no longer a problem. You may not be able to physically tie the rakhi on your brother's wrist but will be surely be able to compensate to some extent by sending e-cards, or even virtual rakhis. Anish Sadanandan at watblog.com points out some such possibilities:

Now, Cadbury has launched a new Facebook app called Virtual Rakhi which allows siblings to send gifts and rakhis to one another. Through this application, you can not only send virtual rakhis but also virtual gifts which include boxes of chocolates by Cadbury…there are other websites that let you send greetings to your loved ones like rakhi-greetings.com and 123greetings.com. 123greetings even give you the option to send interactive Raksha Bandhan cards.

Other netizens also tweeted about ways in which social media enabled them to take part in this traditional ritual.

TheHumerus – Just too good – cousin in US sent me Rakhi card and wants to wish again on Skype.

NeilNMukesh Had video conferencing rakhi with my sister.

Madhu_tweetme – @smanrokr I dint tie real rakhi to any1 :(((((( but send cards and virtual rakhis to many :))))

Interestingly, compulsivewriter points out that as an elder sister, she was the one who willingly  shouldered the responsibility of standing up for her younger siblings and thus had earned the right to the rakhi in her household. She writes:

I am one of two sisters and the elder one…As the eldest of all the cousins from both maternal and paternal sides, I thought it was my duty to stand up for the younger cousins and fight their battles for them. So, if they had trouble in school, I’d merrily sort it out. If there were mean girls troubling my sister, I went straight to the girls and jhapped (trounced) them. And then, I thought, I offer ‘raksha’ so to speak, why the hell won’t my cousins tie me a rakhi? Why should the brother be the only one to get the honour? My mom bought my theory. From that day on, me and my sister tied a rakhi to each other.

So has the concept of Raksha Bandhan changed over time? Is it still relevant in today's day and age? Yes on both counts, feels compulsivewriter and she elaborates:

…now, all that matters is the promise that the rakhi stands for. The festival is now all about pampering your siblings. And the promise has changed too. My sister is an independent, intelligent woman who lives all by herself in a different country, a different culture. She doesn’t need me to protect her. But I can promise her this. When she needs to rave, I’ll be here.When she wants to rant, I’ll be here. If she needs to splurge, I’ll hand her my credit card. If she needs advice, I’ll do what I can and point her in the right direction. If she wants comfort, I’ll bake for her my coconut cupcakes. If she needs a jolt, I’ll give her the kick on the backside. If she needs encouragement, I’ll be the hand that pushes her. And on a day when nothing makes her laugh, I’ll be the goofy older sister and I’ll do anything to get those dimples to appear on her cheeks.

Long live the promise of rakhi/ raksha bandhan. May the bond never break.

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