Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Festival of Raksha Bandhan

A few weeks ago the festival of Raksha Bandhan was observed in India. This unique celebration is dedicated to the love and affection shared between a brother and sister. The country over girls and women pray for a long life for their brothers and tie a symbolic rakhi bracelet around their wrists, symbolizing the strong emotional bond between siblings.  In response, brothers promise to protect their sisters, and often give them small gifts of sweets or jewelry.

The origins of Raksha Bandhan are not well known.  One early example of rakhi-giving is described in the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic poem from ancient India, in which the princess Draupadi tied a cloth around the god Krishna's wrist where he had been hurt by a thorn.  In exchange, Krishna promised to protect her.  

In my Jaipur household the actual giving of the rakhis was a solemn event. The women quietly moved among their brothers and sons, tying on rakhi amulets made of string, glitter and plastic jewels and blessing them by applying a tilaka mark to their foreheads.  The men in turn gave the women some small item of costume jewelry (I really liked mine - dangly earnings made of wire and glass beads). After the serious ceremony the mood lightened as the boys compared their rakhi bracelets, the women gossiped, and everyone ate Raksha Bandhan sweets like rasagoola and ladoo.

Some of the members of my extended host family showing off their rakhis

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