I realise I haven’t posted much up till now on my enjoyment of several aspects of Indian culture… but the Hindu celebration of Raksha Bandhan gives me the perfect opportunity to do so.
Hang on a sec! Did you just say Hindu, Zest? We thought you were supposed to be a Christian!
Yes of course I am. But that doesn’t make me afraid to learn about other cultures in the world. So if I hear of a tradition that strikes a chord in me without contradicting my beliefs, well – why not branch out a bit and have a little fun? 🙂
My brother and I have always enjoyed watching Bollywood movies, eating Indian food and learning bits of Hindi together, so when I found out about Raksha Bandhan I thought it sounded like the perfect tradition for us to take as our own.
Usually celebrated in August each year, the festival of Raksha Bandhan is the day that Hindus remember the special bond between brothers and sisters.
Isn’t that a lovely idea? We don’t really have anything like that in Western culture: we celebrate romantic relationships on Valentine’s Day and filial relationships on Father’s and Mother’s Day, but we don’t set aside a day to cherish our siblings.
And since I do deeply cherish my sibling, I jumped at the chance to plan something memorable and fun for him. I chose all the non-religious elements of the Hindu celebration and put my own spin on them. Other elements I left out completely.
For example, the thali or plate that is decorated for the occasion usually includes a swastika design (the Hindu symbol for their god Ganesh). I left that out since I obviously don’t wish to pay homage to a foreign god… and anyway, because of my German heritage I think staying away from the swastika is just a good idea in general! Haha 😉
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain the tradition from the beginning.
On Raksha Bandhan, the most important moment is when the sister ties a rakhi thread on her brother’s wrist. These rakhis are something different to the red threads normally worn by Hindus, and they’re usually way more flashy, too.
Thanks to a Hindu friend at work, I was able to source a simple rakhi for my brother, as I knew he would not want to wear a gaudy one for long!
Another feature of Raksha Bandhan is the special thali I mentioned earlier. This is a plate, usually bearing common Hindu items such as a burning candle or camphor, tilak paste, sweetmeats and of course the rakhi thread. It’s then festooned with fresh flowers and other decorations as well.
In my case I’d bought a special set of gorgeous crockery just for the occasion. The plates have a design of bright flowers around the border, which (I think) look Indian enough to pass for a rakhi thali 🙂 What do you think?
Food is a major feature in any Indian festival, but since my brother and I had feasted on a LOT of samoosas and Indian food the day before, I limited our treats on Raksha Bandhan. I put together some small meringues I happened to have on hand, a bit of kaju (cashew) nut brittle and lots of dried aam (mango).
I added a candle to our thali too, even though I know it can symbolise a fire deity to the Hindus. To my brother and I the candle was just to add some festive flair. The same goes for the tilak mark that I put on his forehead (I used eyeshadow on the poor guy, since I didn’t have any proper tilak powder or paste!).
Of course I also took all this as a splendid opportunity to apply some more mehndi (working on Goal #26). I wanted to do designs on my whole arm but I ran out of time, so this is as far as I got:
The words inside my palm are ummid (hope), hrsh (joy) and vishvaas (trust) – three of the biggest blessings in my precious friendship with my brother.
As for the actual tradition itself, I believe it goes something like this:
- First the sister lights the candle on the thali.
- The sister then ties the rakhi on her brother’s wrist.
- After that the sister says a prayer for her brother – for Hindus this may involve an aarti, where the thali is rotated in front of the brother’s face in a ritualistic way. For me it was a simple prayer to the Most High God, thanking Him for the gift of my brother and asking for His grace on my brother’s life.
- Then the sister feeds the brother some sweetmeats by hand. My brother had a field day with this one! He refused to help himself to any treats for the rest of the day, insisting in a playfully imperious way that I feed him by hand. LOL 😀
- After this the sister may put a tilak mark on the brother’s forehead.
- And then the brother gives his sister special gifts and promises to look after her always.
- At the end they will just hug, maybe take some photos and generally have a good time together.
I thoroughly enjoyed celebrating this festival in our own way 🙂 Have you ever celebrated a special day that wasn’t part of your own culture?