Daughter

Rakshabandhan

12:38 PM

As stated on my Facebook page for those who follow me there, I intended to write about the Rakshabandhan festival yesterday, but it was a school holiday, which meant my priorities were all sorted out, and a short night of sleep meant that by the evening I just didn’t feel like writing. So I’ll do it today instead.
The festival in question took place yesterday, for those not familiar with it, it is traditionally a festival that bonds siblings and during which sisters tie a thread around their brother’s wrist in exchange for protection, the brother in return give her a gift too.
Ishita having no sibling, should in theory send some rakhi (the name of the thread bracelet) to her cousin in Delhi and Lucknow as in India first cousins are assimilated to brothers and sisters. But we never do it, mostly because we always forget to plan enough in advance, and then because we see said cousins about once a year and the bond they share is not a strong one, if we were living closer we probably would do it.
I have another reason not to be very hot about doing it, and it has to do with the feminist streak in me. I, like many of my friends here in Mumbai (Indian friends by the way) tend to feel the festival as it is should envolve, we for the most part are mother of girls, and we don’t feel the message Rakshabandhan in it’s traditional form is a very nice one. It basically tells that girls need to ask protection for their MALE siblings, and enforce from an early age that a woman needs a man to fend for her and that this world isn’t meant for lonely woman. In the sight of the skewed perception of women in India, the rise of crime against women, we all feel we don’t really want our daughter to feel they need a brother for protection. We also discussed how the protection aspect became a bit ridiculous when the sister is much older and tie a rakhi to her baby brother who can’t even walk yet.
One of my friend commented that as a child she always felt very left out of it all having only one sister as a sibling, so they used to tie rakhi to one another to celebrate a mutual sibling bond. A version of the festival that is more and more gaining popularity in today’s India it seems. The other aspect that my friends do find more and more bothersome is the commercial aspect, a brother receiving a rakhi has to give a gift back, in the past it used to be money, a box of chocolate, but nowadays the stake a raising, it’s clothes, jewellery, designer gear, and even electronics such as mobile phone and tablets that are marketed as the perfect gift to give your sister.
The simple rakhi thread that was costing a few rupees a piece has now turned into a massive commercial affair with costlier designs, some encrusted with precious stones, some with cartoon characters (my friend ended up buying Angry Bird rakhi for a school function). I saw some battery operated ones with the cartoon character twinkling when you press a button. The whole thing leading me to think that if the sister did go buying a pricey rakhi, the return gift’s value should match it…not a very nice message either. Beside call me a party pooper, but I think sibling bond is something that should be celebrated everyday, and yes I think the same about Mother’s day, Father’s day and Valentines, all three Western world festivals I really don’t like at all, for the same obligation to gift and celebrate something that should be celebrated quietly all year round through thoughtful little mutual gestures.

To make sure no kid is really left out of the festival, and to teach them about their cultural heritage, schools usually have festivities a day before the actual day (which is a school holiday). it always seem to involve sending the kids dressed in or ethnic wear or party wear to school. Last year the teachers made rakhi with the kids and they paired a girl and a boy together, tying rakhi to one another and ate chocolate. This year I was told to send Ishi in ethnic wear, along with two rakhi, boy were told to bring two chocolates. The girls tied rakhi to two boys, they got chocolate in return. Ishita told me about how boys were brothers and girls sisters. And how exited she was to have gotten some chocolate. I think I would get exited about chocolate more than a rakhi tied on my wrist myself too, and since Ishita only got one chocolate in her backpack I have a feeling the boys did  want to eat some too.

What is clear to me is that the day we give Ishita a sibling, if it happens, I will want them to celebrate the festival as a mutual sibling bond regardless of their gender, and certainly not the “women need protection from men” aspect of it.

2 comments

  1. apple4:40 PM

    With the tying of Rakhi, a man vows to protect the women and the women prays for his well being. It works both ways. I think people have emphasized the protection of women part a little more and screwed the festival. It happens with most Indian festivals when the real meaning is lost and only rituals remain. It is beautiful that with a thread we establish a sacred relationship even with those who are strangers. Rakhi does not need to be with blood relatives. Historically, many battles were prevented between mughals and rajputs when rakhis were send. It simply means a goodwill gesture between men and women, between communities, between religious groups. It transcends genders and its message is peace and upholding of moral values.

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  2. The original tradtion you are telling me about is one one or two of my friend do go by, one added that in her family the brother ties a rakhi to his sister as well. I also have a few friends that celebrate rakshabandhan with siblings of the same gender because otherwise would be left out of it entirely which is not a nice feeling.

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