Today is Rakhi, Or Raksha bandhan. India is a land of festivals. We have one for every day of the year and then some to spare. But that’s what makes India such a wonderful place to grow up in. Here we celebrate everything – harvesting cycles, seasons, God‘s birthdays ( Honestly!!!) , relationships! Raksha bandhan is the festival for brothers and sisters.
For the benefit of those not familiar with India and its customs. On this day sisters tie their brothers a “Rakhi” – something like a friendship band , seeking their protection. The brothers give them a gift as a token of their love and affection and promise to look after them and protect them always. In the traditional Indian context this practice made a lot of sense. Women did not have access to power – economic, physical or social and needed a male to protect their interest. Kingdoms were broken or made on the threads of a ‘rakhi’. One did not have to be born of the same parents to be tied in this platonic bond. A girl could tie a ‘rakhi’ to any man they thought worthy to be their brother. Once the bond was made, it was honoured forever. Indian mythology and history is studded with shining examples of the strength of the bond between such brothers and sisters.
As a child, I was a great fan of Rakhi. It meant being with cousins, delicious food, and tons of gifts. A large part of Rakhi was the process of making them. A month or more before rakhi, the girls hostel where I studied would come alive. The softest silk threads in impossibly beautiful colors were bought. Rakhi cords were made with these. There were complex techniques and every year even more intricate designs were discovered. Everywhere one looked , girls in twos or alone braiding/ plaiting/ beating, or working their magic on these silkenthreads. Embellishments for the ‘rakhis’ – Beads, dried leaves, feathers, shells, ribbons would be bought, collected,exchanged, stuck upon and opinions sought. Making ‘rakhis’ was not only an art but a religion.
With time though like other festivals, ‘rakhi’ too got commercialized. The feelings were the same but the personal touch was lost. These days ‘rakhi’ means going to the market and selecting a ‘rakhi’ that fits one’s budget and aesthetic sense. Very much like buying a dress! Most ‘rakhis’ in fact come from China! I can only imagine what the Chinese men/ women making those ‘rakhis’ think about them. Definitely not the happy thought we thought about our brothers while making ours.
1 This rakhi instead of going to the market and purchasing the latest fad driven’ rakhi’ of “doremon” or some other similar Chinese cartoon. We decided to get creative and make our own ‘ rakhis’. Sadly the silken threads are no longer available. Driven out from the market by (you guessed it) the plastic lit up ‘rakhis’ with ‘made in china’ tags. So we improvised. Using pop up stickers, satin ribbons, cut outs from old cards and beads etc. from old ‘rakhis’. We created our own ‘rakhis’. A little puppy ‘rakhi’ for the four year old brother who loves puppies, a beaded bracelet for the seven year cousin who loves dressing up. My daughter indulged her creativity and we got some beautiful personalized ‘rakhis’ and two beaming proud kids.
2. Traditionally ‘Rakhi’ was tied by a sister to a brother seeking protection and care. The brother promised protection and also as the “giver” bestowed gifts on her. In changed circumstances of our home where we attempt to raise both our daughter and son similarly we have changed the rules. They both tie ‘rakhis’ to each other and they both give and recieve gifts. I hope my daughter will grow up to be as able to look after her brother. And that they will both provide protection, love and care to each other.
3. This year we encouraged our children to fund their own gifts. M, our daughter has just turned eight and K our son is six. A good time we figured to teach the lesson of finance. The piggy bank was brought out and broken. Treasures divided equally so each child could buy the other a gift, with their own money. The kids were dazzled that all the coins they had carelessly fling into such a handsome sum and that it was theirs to spend. A better lesson in the habit of small saving could not be given.
We also let them decide what they would get for each other. They chose two toy shops they wished to go to, to pick their gifts. I ferried them around. And was pleasantly surprised with the remarkable thoughtfulness and restrain they displayed. For the first time, M didn’t head directly towards the dolls and k spent long enough time looking at novels! That his sister simply adores. I was proud at the maturity with which they conducted themselves. Carefully checking labels for prices, doing the maths. Trying to make up their minds what the other would enjoy more. When K came to me To ask for an extra thirty rupees so his sister could also have the skipping rope she wanted . I was only too ready to oblige my little ‘magi’.
4. In our home My sister in laws had started this lovely practice of making the dessert for ‘rakhi’ themselves. No Indian festival is complete without a sweet. We’ve decided to adopt this beautiful gesture. Today both K and M are cooking little surprises for each other. I hope to raise not only a daughter who can protect and provide but a son who can cook and feed.
Its easy to shun a festival for being steeped in chauvinism and smack of gender bias. But its infinitely more satisfying to adapt the festival to suit newer values , modern scenarios and create something awesome and new. So that while our children don’t miss out on all the fun of festivals they also don’t fall prey to old “messages” about gender rules and acceptable social roles
What is your favorite festival? Have you adapted any old customs to better suit your own modern views. What was your experience?
In case you are wondering why this post has got links to wikipedia pages on god, silken, chinese cartoon etc. ? I wish to clarify the links were unintended. I just don’t know how to deactivate them. Some silly wordpress issue that I cant seem to get my head around. Bear with me till I figure it out!