Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan

Rakhi (pronounced like rakhrdi in Punjabi) is an ancient Indian tradition known as Raksha Bandhan in Hindi. It is a gesture of sisterly affection between a girl to a guy she considers a brother, whether blood-related or not. It is performed on the day of the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar, usually toward the end of August.

A girl ties a thread or ribbon, called a rakhri (rakhi in Hindi), around her brother's wrist. The modern ribbon comes with decorations and sometimes in different colors, but is traditionally red and unadorned. She usually sweetens the event by feeding him confectioneries and the brother usually returns the gesture by forcing some money into her hand.

The red string represents a bond between brother and sister, for her love the brother promises always to protect her. This tradition is exemplified in several Indian stories from ancient times. One of the classic examples, and maybe the origin story, is from the epic Mahabarat. When Krishna cuts his hand, Draupadi lovingly binds it with a strip she rips from her sari. Krishna then finds himself bound by her affection and swears to repay her kindness. He does so when her husbands (yes, husbands!) lose her in a bet to rival kings who proceed to strip her. Draupadi prays for Krishna to rescue her, he makes his presence known by extending her sari infinitely until her attacker gives up for fear of the god's vengeance.

This year, the occasion fell on Tuesday the 24th. I took my nani (maternal grandmother) to visit her brother in Folsom. They're both over 70 and still try to keep the tradition up! When distances are greater a call suffices, but when they were younger my granny would snail mail the thread. I was absolutely smitten watching them hug and get straight to tying the band, sweets included. Babaji, her brother, told a news story he heard that day, a brother and sister who were fighting because the woman had decided her brother hadn't given her enough money. Then he laughingly handed my nani a couple bills.

My cousin came down a little while later and as he was rushing out the door I tied a rakhi around his wrist. He was surprised to see me there. I fed him a sweet with my own hand, we took pictures and argued over the amount of money he was giving me. What struck me afterward was how affectionate my usually gruff cousin was. He doesn't have any sisters and I suppose he missed out on all the constant teasing, barbie doll obsessions, pink and frilly things in general, nagging about toilet seats and other sanitary issues that come up from living with girls in the house. My little brother has never had a lack of it, so I guess we all take it for granted. This is a sweet tradition and I think it means more for those that don't have a sister's constant presence around. I hope everyone had a great one!

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