Today is Raksha Bandhan, an important Hindu festival that celebrates brother-sister bonds in India and many South Asian countries. Falling on the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar (which is usually in the month of August), it comprises several rituals involving both the brother and sister. The literal meaning of “Raksha” is protection, while “Bandhan” means bond.
The festival doesn’t just focus on sibling relationships but can be celebrated amongst cousins or even friends that you treat as brothers or sisters.
What’s the history behind Raksha Bandhan?
There are many stories behind Raksha Bandhan, some dating back to a time the festival celebrated relationships that weren’t just between brothers and sisters.
One of the most famous stories behind the festival dates back to the Mahabharata, one of the two Sanskrit epic poems of ancient India explaining the roots of Hinduism. During a great war, Lord Krishna was hurt while defeating king Shishupal. Draupadi - a devotee of the Lord - noticed his bleeding finger, and immediately tore a piece of cloth and tied it around his wrist to stop the bleeding. Krishna was touched by her gesture and promised to repay the favour with protection whenever it was needed.
What kind of rituals does celebrating the festival involve?
Tying a rakhi (a bracelet with a small talisman or amulet) on your brother is the most common ritual during this time of year. Rakhis are generally made of silk with threads of various colours. You could just get them from the market but now they’ve become a product of e-commerce and there are even e-rakhis.
The festival begins with some preparation, as sisters shop in advance for new clothes to wear on the day of the Rakhi. All family members take a bath to purify the mind and body before prayers to Lord Krishna begin.
A special ceremony (also known as a pooja) follows, where the sisters prepare a thali (a synonym for a plate). This plate contains special ingredients required to perform the ceremony such as a red powder called roli, rice and sweets.
After the ceremony, the sister ties the rakhi around the brother’s wrist and the brother promises to protect her. At the same time, the sister prays for good health, happiness, protection and success in her brother’s life.
Other elements of the ceremony putting a tika on the brother, which is an auspicious red powder that a girl uses her ring finger to apply a mark onto her brother’s forehead.
The tradition continues for a lifetime, where a girl can visit her home and tie a rakhi on her brother after marriage. Brothers also give gifts or cash (kharchi) to their sisters as a token of love.
How is this festival celebrated in Hong Kong?
In India, Raksha Bandhan is not a public holiday and employees don’t generally close businesses to celebrate the festival. Hong Kong has a similar case, where a family will often choose to celebrate the event during the weekend closest to the festival's actual date.
Although you may not be living with your siblings, nothing stops Hongkongers from celebrating it. “I always receive my Rakhis via mail, and tie it myself,” says Mahesh Pamnani, who has three sisters around the world.
Anushka Purohit, who is a Young Post junior reporter, shares one of her funny experiences. “Once I wanted to buy a cool rakhi for my brother that said something snazzy, like ‘bro 4 life’. So I ordered it online but when it came in it said “boo 4 life” - which is actually quite the opposite.”
A famous Raksha Bandhan quote captures the importance of brother-sister relationships, “Having you is like having a best friend I cannot get rid of. I know whatever I do, you’ll always be there.”
Happy Raksha Bandhan!