Once a year in the Hindu tradition, brothers and sisters celebrate their relationship and reaffirm what they mean to each other with the festival of Raksha Bandhan – literally translated to the bond of protection. A ceremonial thread that the sister ties on her brother’s wrist seals this deal. The sister expresses her affection, the brother affirms his responsibility to protect his sister’s honour and take care of her. It is not very prevalent in South India where I hail from, but growing up in Bombay which was a melting pot of every culture of India, we too adopted and celebrated this festival.
It is beautiful, touching and life-affirming all at once. Growing up with five sisters, we had brothers in the form of family friends and every year we would tie the rakhi to our two brothers and in doing so, created a bond between two families that remains strong to this day.
It never occurred to me during my formative years to celebrate the protection that my elder sisters offered me as the youngest of the family, or the secure cocoon of love and trust in which I always found myself enveloped. I don’t have sisters, I have four tigresses who are fiercely protective and caring. Not once in my life have I regretted the lack of a male sibling, or wondered what if. With sisters like these, who needs brothers?
After marriage, I witnessed the nuances of a brother-sister relation in the form of my husband and his elder sister. Every year my sister-in-law would mail a rakhi to her brother, usually accompanied by his favourite sweets. I would hear stories of their childhood when we all met and went down memory lane and over the years, I developed a deep understanding of the bond they shared.
This year though, things changed. With one gesture, my sister-in-law included me into this special bond of protection. She recently became aware of a tradition among the Marwadi community where women tied rakhis not only to their brothers but to their sister-in-laws too, a way to recognise that the sister-in-law was part of the brother’s life, part of the family, and also part of the ring of protection that surrounded brother and sister. And they don’t stop there. Elder Marwadi women like aunts tie rakhis to the younger girls of their family, reaffirming this bond of protection.
In a society that can be so misogynistic in so many ways, my sister-in-law discovered a tradition that not only included women as protectors, it celebrated it with a special type of rakhi, the lumba rakhi, which was tied in a special way as well typically to the bangle and left suspended from the bangle. On learning of this tradition, she immediately decided to send me a lumba rakhi too.
So this year, I too became a part of this immutable bond. And I am touched by the gesture and what it means. To protect and to feel protected all at the same time… that in essence is what family is about.
This old tradition that we have newly discovered has also served to remind me of my own sisters, and the way they are all so supportive and protective of me. And though I didn’t get around to sending an actual rakhi to my sisters this year, I know it goes without saying they’re always there for me. All I want to do… is love and protect them right back.
The featured image of six rakhis are handmade rakhis made by Sana Kukreja, a std IX student with help from her aunt Anjali Saigal.