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‘Raksha’ ‘Bandhan.’ A bond that protects. One that loves. A bond that safeguards. One to fall back on in difficult times. There she was. My bond for life.
It is that time of the year yet again, when Raksha Bandhan is just around the corner. A traditional Hindu festival, celebrated all over India, it is famous for symbolising the eternal love between a brother and sister.
Not a mere celebration of siblings love though, for the festival in fact is known to be a promise of protection and the fulfilment of brotherly duty. Thus, as with most traditional festivities, behind the veil of gifts, sweets, new clothes and merriment, lies a solemn purpose and learning.
Growing up, I never had a personal association with this festival. We are two sisters and there was simply no thought rendered to a festival that required a brother in the equation.
Every year, friends around me would excitedly discuss gifts. The boys scratching their heads, ruefully pondering on what they could possibly gift their sisters yet another year. And the girls, excited at the prospect of a present coming their way, often hoping their brothers had picked up on the subtle hints they had dropped.
I looked, smiled, offered ideas if asked, but mostly remained a non participant. After all, I had no brother.
Along the way a few ‘muh-bole’ brothers made their way into my life. I wondered if I could now begin to celebrate this festival that had otherwise eluded me. Somehow though that never happened, and rightly so, as those relationships gradually faded away with the passage of time.
When my sister got married, I began sending a rakhi my brother-in-law’s way. Not every year and not diligently though. Simply because neither he nor I had grown up around this festival and didn’t associate an enormous amount of importance to it.
It was probably after my marriage that I truly began to lament on never actually being a part of these celebrations. My husband has two sisters and every year their rakhis would arrive right on time.
Yearly invitations to go celebrate this special day with them were always conveyed with a tireless earnestness and upon missing it, the regret was genuine. It was clearly a day that mattered.
But probably what truly touched me was watching my mother-in-law. Every year no matter where my parents-in-law are, they make sure to travel back to Indore/Ujjain for this day. She meets all her brothers, personally ties them her rakhis and is excited like a little girl to celebrate this day, probably as they did as kids.
I looked at her and felt a pang in my heart, a feeling of something being amiss and of a lost opportunity in this lifetime to celebrate a beautiful relationship.
And then, last year, it all changed. My daughter was five months old, and my sister’s son a five-year-old doted on her. We celebrated their first Raksha Bandhan, just as I was about to return to the UK.
My nephew took his duty very seriously, gave a gift to his little sister and promised to protect her for life. Thinking of her leaving the very same night brought tears to his eyes and suddenly, watching his overflowing love, I understood what this festival truly meant.
I looked past him and at my sister and realised how silly I had been all this time. In my quest for a ‘brother’ to celebrate this day with, I actually ignored the true essence of this festival.
‘Raksha’ ‘Bandhan.’ A bond that protects. One that loves. A bond that safeguards for eternity. One to fall back on in difficult times. A bond to celebrate the good times with. There she was. My bond for life. And I had missed celebrating this bond for 30 years!
And so, now, I celebrate Raksha Bandhan. I still do not have a brother. But then, I don’t need one. For now, I celebrate the biggest Rakshak in my life for the last 30 years, my sister.
As a mother, this realisation has made me take a pledge, to teach my kid and the next generation, the true meaning of this day. Why have we been telling them this is only for brothers and sisters, for the brothers to protect their sisters?
Come to think of it, aren’t we sending the wrong message? What we seem to be saying is that a sister is always under the protection of her brother. Googling this festival throws origin stories mentioning that a girl seeks refuge from her brother after her marriage and leaving her father’s home.
Sisters tie Rakhis to brothers even a decade or more younger. Are we then to presume that the little boy will ‘protect’ his sister simply because he belongs to a gender presumed to be more powerful! Such an understanding is so wrong on so many levels and reduces a beautiful custom such as this to mere patriarchal ritualism.
Raksha Bandhan should be a celebration of sibling love. Why not encourage young boys to tie Rakhis to elder brothers and sisters? And why not encourage young girls to tie Rakhis to their sisters too?
Why not tell siblings that this festival is their promise to always stand by and protect each other all their lives? The beauty of this festival lies in its simplicity, its unfettered celebration of love, free from the shackles of gender, age and social prejudices. Sibling love is a pure, sublime, bond unlike any other. What better way to celebrate that bond, than this?
As a parent, I often think about how I must live to set an example for my child. This is my way of taking a step in the right direction. Think about it, maybe you too could change your perception.
Because in the end, behind all the festivities, what truly matters is the celebration of the essence and the spirit of the day.
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai
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