As a child, I remember always loving rakhi for a very specific reason: getting a gift from my brother. But, there was also something else besides getting the loot that made it special- it celebrates the often unspoken bond between siblings and allows a moment to express how important they are to you and how much you value them. Even though I was never good at expressing it to my brother in words, the simple act of tying a thread around his wrist allows me to express what I feel in my heart.
Raksha (protection) Bandhan (to tie) literally means “tie of protection”. Today, this is also known as Rakhi, in reference to the thread that is used to represent the tie of protection. The holiday is a celebration of the bond between brothers and sisters. Traditionally, the sister ties a rakhi around her brother’s wrist as a way to express her love for him, wishing him health, happiness an protection from death. After tying the rakhi, she feeds him something sweet which symbolizes the sweetness in life. The brother may also feed his sister sweets and then promise to always take care of her by showering her with gifts. If the brother and sister are apart, the sister can mail the rakhi to the brother and he can tie it on himself (and of course, mail his sister a gift!).
Rakhi, or Raksha Bandhan, is not a secular or religious holiday, but purely of a cultural origin. And it’s message is universal- expressing the value of the bond between brother and sister. Its reach is cross cultural and goes beyond genes, as Rakhis can be sent not just to siblings, but also to close friends to let them know just how much you love and care for them. And while traditionally, rakhis are sent from sisters to brothers, there is no reason why you can’t change things up a bit and send one to your sister!
Check out these links to help you celebrate Raksha Bandhan!
The history of the origins of Raksha Bandhan are unclear. Stories have been attached to the celebration as an afterthought to help explain something that has existed since ancient times when saints and sages would tie a thread around the wrist for protection. How this practice translated into a holiday centered around brothers and sisters is unclear.
Below is one of the many stories that accompany the celebration of Raksha Bandhan. These stories are myths and over time there have been several interpretations and variations. The story of Yama and Yamuna was one of my favorites as a child. I remember asking my dad to tell it to me every year. However, as it often happens in oral tradition, there are many details and motivations left out. What you read below, is an abridged version of my interpretation of the story of Yama and Yamuna, as it makes sense to me and how I tell it to my own children.
Yama and Yamuna
Yama and Yamuna were twins, whose parents were the Sun and Conciousnesss. The twins loved each other dearly and were linked, as twins often are, in their hearts and their souls. They were inseparable. One day, Yama, the brother discovered himself to be the god of death. He realized that he must leave in order to fulfill what he was born to. Yamuna, his sister and also the spirit of the Yamina River, was distraught at the thought of losing her brother, her other half, and not being there when he was in trouble or alone. She tied a thread, or Rakhi, around his wrist to show him that they were forever tied together and to wish him immortality. Yama was so touched by her gesture that he declared that whoever got a rakhi from his sister and promised to protect her would never need to fear death.