I’ve never really taken Raksha Bandhan seriously, despite having celebrated it for the most part of my life. That is, I’ve never really taken my brother seriously when he’s made that promise to protect me. Maybe that’s because he is younger than I am, and I’ve always considered myself as the “big sister” whose role it is to guide, advise and warn my siblings against what’s to come as they get older.
These watered-down feelings probably existed because my brother and I spent much of our childhood practising WWF moves on each other (or rather him on me) and Raksha Bandhan was a just once-a-year event where we knew we had to get serious, listen to our parents and behave (or else…).
Nevertheless, it has always been a fun festival to celebrate. At first, it was the sweets and money and a Diwali-like feeling. As we got older, my cousins and I would take the time to spend the evening together, which reminded me of our shared childhood and that there were 10 others who were like me in one way or another.
And that feels about right. As I was scrolling through Instagram today (#rakshabandhan), I saw photos of sisters celebrating the festival, without a male in the frame. Growing up, I knew pairs of sisters who would appoint a brother through the action of tying a rakhi on him. There would be a hint of sadness linked with the gesture, such as “we don’t have a brother, so please can we adopt you as ours”… which really throws a light on the perceived effectiveness of a brother over a sister as a sibling.
Historically speaking, rakhis served as a bond that would protect men from harm as they set out on wars and there are many stories in Hinduism which have fortified the role of Raksha Bandhan in its original brother-protector / sister-well wisher context. But the role of the rakhi and Raksha Bandhan has been evolving. Be it through Rabindranath Tagore, who used the rakhi to strengthen Hindu-Muslim bonds in 1909, or women in Himachal Pradesh using rakhis to protect trees from deforestation. In Marwadi and Rajasthani culture, women also tie rakhis to the wives of their brothers, be it that the move is seen for the well-being of the brother.
Of course, there’s also the idea about whether a woman needs protection. We can blame patriarchy for this, but in Indian society males have had to play the role of protector and provider of sisters, even if it is only other males that women need protection from.
I came across this advert that Dainik Bhaskar brought out for Raksha Bandhan. I recognise the good spirit of the message but this may explain one of the reasons why the feminist movement has such bad rep in India.
Women may feel the need to shed Raksha Bandhan in our new climate of feminism and woman empowerment but on a personal level, I feel this does injustice to the males in our lives who have played this ‘protector’ role and well. And yet, we need to see beyond the idea of ‘brother-protector / sister-protectee’ if we want to move on from a male-dominated society. Muscles aside, women can and do play protector well.
If we must, let us have rakhis tied to us by our younger siblings, male or female. Feeling protective of your younger brother or sister is a more natural emotion, and one that is gender-neutral. This also leaves in tact the well-wishes and feelings of goodwill towards your brothers and sisters, which is what I feel more genuinely on Raksha Bandhan.