Raksha Bandhan: Celebrating love of brothers and sisters, even during a pandemic

Woman at market in front of rows and boxes of colorfu bracelets

A woman browses a marketplace for rakhi. Photo by Vishal Dutta, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, AUGUST 22: Once again in 2021, the Indian celebration of sibling love will be complicated by the COVID pandemic that continues to run rampant across many parts of Asia.

Indian government advisories against unnecessary travel are likely to continue through August. As a helpful adaptation, the government also has announced additional resources for the country’s postal service to deliver a growing number of Raksha Bandhan packages this year. Special counters now are open in many regional post offices to fast-track the process of mailing such holiday gifts.

The popularity of Raksha Bandhan continues to swell across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, including fashionable new wrist ties and bracelets every year. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

The simple gift expresses renewed love between siblings and sometimes between others who share a bond of brotherhood. Typically, today, women present a rakhi to men and, in return, the men promise to protect the women who offer them a bracelet. Although usually associated with Hinduism, Raksha Banhan has now reached a wider cultural status—often celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and even some Muslims across India, Mauritus, parts of Nepal and Pakistan.

What is a rakhi?

A rakhi is a type of bracelet—intricately designed or simple, expensive or handmade—tied onto a brother’s wrist by his sister. The fragile thread of rakhi represents the subtle yet impermeable strength that exists between siblings. The sacred relationship between brother and sister is considered unparalleled, as even when a woman marries, her brother’s duties as protector do not cease. On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.


Throughout August 2021, Indian shops will offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another—if possible—in person and in the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun. Want other culinary options? NDTV’s Food channel also published these 11 suggestions for other delightful holiday dishes. The non-alcoholic Mango Basil Colada sounds especially refreshing!

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

A National Holiday

Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year the entire country seems to be involved in the festival. That represents a major cultural evolution throughout the last century, since the festival originated as a custom associated with northern India. Fueling the nationwide and now worldwide popularity were Bollywood movies that occasionally have focused on the festival—and, since the explosion of the Internet, the global marketing of Indian fashions.

In 2021, both of those cultural influences are coming together in an upcoming Bollywood movie titled simply, Raksha Bandhan. Due to pandemic delays, the movie won’t be released in time for this year’s holiday. IMDB says it won’t debut until at least November 2021. The movie’s tagline captures the ideal theme of this holiday: “A story of the purest relationship ever.”

Holiday shopping now involves far more than the traditional thread-and-bead craft supplies and finished bracelets. Sales of pastries and other sweets now boom at Raksha Bandhan—and fashions, too!

The Times of India recently published a holiday-themed fashion story, advising women: “This year Rakhi will be celebrated on August 22. So what if you cannot step out to mark the festival? You can always dress up and get on a video call with your brothers to celebrate the day together. With Raksha Bandhan just around the corner, it’s time for you to prep for the most memorable day with your siblings and family. Celebrate the festival in style with these celeb-inspired looks to wear this Rakhi.” Care to read more? Here’s that Times story.

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