Raksha Bandhan: Across India, brothers and sisters exchange rakhis

Hands and arms, tying a threaded bracelet onto another person

Tying a rakhi for Raksha Bandhan. Photo by Joe Athialy, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, AUGUST 10: Today’s festival of Raksha Bandhan—celebrated across India and in Hindu communities worldwide—honors the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters. 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. More than a century ago, the famous Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore suggested that Muslims and Hindus exchange rakhi as signs of peace and unity as Indians.

Typically, today, women present a rakhi to men and, in return, the men promise to protect the women who offer them a bracelet. (Learn more from the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.) Although usually associated with Hinduism, Raksha Banhan has reached a wider cultural status—often celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and even some Muslims across India, Mauritus, parts of Nepal and Pakistan.

A DAY IN THE LIFE:
THE RITUALS OF RAKSHA BANDHAN

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi. Shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. The bracelet may be as plain or as opulent as the woman wishes, although most are adorned with some type of decoration at the middle. 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 in, if possible, 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 promises, in return, to protect his sister under all circumstances—even if she is married—and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family. (Wikipedia has details.) When a brother and sister cannot be together on Raksha Bandhan, they often send each other cards and gifts for the occasion.

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find simple instructions here.

IN THE NEWS:
FROM DESIGNER AND CARTOON RAKHIS
TO ECO-FRIENDLY

Designers from the brand “The Anouk” have created a rakhi collection this year suitable for use year-round, news sources report: Jewels, small messages, golden inlays and crystals adorn the bracelets.

Those in search of something less pricey are turning to the trendy designs bearing Angry Birds, Ben 10 and even the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kids are choosing plastic straps, for practical purposes. Times of India also reports, however, that prices have ballooned 10 to 15 percent this year, as a result of an increased cost of labor.

Environmentally minded individuals can now choose an “Eco Rakhi,” from organic lifestyle brand Omved. These pieces are hand woven, and decorated with seeds and beads.