On a full moon day in July/August Hindus celebrate the festival of Ráksha Bándan which celebrates the love and loyalty which brothers owe to their sisters. Ashutosh Vardhana describes the customs of the festival and the philosophy underlying it.
A festival which serves to cement family relations and to honour women is Ráksha Bándan, the festival for brothers and sisters. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Shrávana, which was 22 August this year. On this day brothers visit their sisters to bring them presents, which may be of material value or merely symbolic.
These show that they care for them and that it is their duty to protect them (ráksha = protection). In exchange, the sister ties a coloured thread (bándan = band) around the right wrist of her brother while saying a prayer (mantra) which calls God's blessing upon him and thereby is to protect him from misfortunes. The thread also symbolises the tie between brother and sister.
Brothers are important to sisters especially when these do not have the help and protection of parents or husbands. The sisters need at least one person on whom they can unconditionally rely if ever they get into trouble.
Nowadays brothers are admonished not to think that women are feeble and helpless. They must not see their duty to help them as a right to control them. Women can make their own decisions, and it is the duty of the men in their lives (e.g. brothers) to help them realise their ambitions.
Most festivals are related to an ancient story. In olden days, Índra, the king of the gods, had been defeated in a battle with the demons. His wife (!) Sáchi tied a 'bándan' round Índra's wrist with the appropriate mantra and Índra became so strong that he defeated the demons in the next battle.
If a woman feels in need of a loyal male friend or wants to honour such a friend, she can also go to a man who is not her genetic brother and make him into her rákhi brother by tying the rákhi thread. From then on this man is no longer eligible to marry her and has the same duties as 'real' brothers. This ruse has been used by women to turn a would-be lover (suitor) into a loyal friend.
Non-Hindus should remember that Hindus believe in one GOD, the Absolute, who has no name, cannot be depicted and about whom nothing can be said. This one GOD manifests in many different forms of greater or lesser power and some of these manifestations are the 'gods' which are depicted in temples and homes, and about which so many stories are told.
Sáchi was not Índra's sister, but old stories are seldom strictly logical.
© Ashutosh Vardhana 2002