Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Raksha Bandhan- A day of celebration, joy, unity, and hope for many Hindus around the world. For those of you who don't know, Raksha Bandhan translated to "a knot of protection" is an auspicious day for brothers and sisters in India. Traditionally, the sister ties a rakhi (decorated thread) around her brother's wrist and prays for his prosperous future. In return, the brother promises to protect, guard, and guide his sister for the rest of her life and, although a little less traditional, gives her some sort of gift. Oh, and before we continue to most Indians 'brother' and 'sister' also includes cousins (so if you are the only girl in a family of boys, then let the tower of gifts commence.)
There are many myths connected to the day, but the most prominent surrounds that of Rani Karnavati, a widowed queen of King Chittor. The story goes that Bahadur Shah, Sultan of Gujarat, attacked Chittor, and realizing her doomed fate, Rani sent a rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun as a plea for help. It is said that the moment Hamayaun received the rakhi, he became overwhelmed by emotion, so he gathered his best troops and marched valiantly to save the queen - but he was too late. By the time they reached Chittor, Rani, and all the women in her fortress had committed Jauhar (mass suicide). Angry, Humayun fought Bahadur Shah's army and banished them from the city, ultimately leaving Chittor under the watch of Rani's son, Vikramjeet Singh. From that day on, a sister tying rakhi for her brother signifies his oath of lifelong protection.
This year because of our good friend Rona', I was able to celebrate rakhi with a few more family members than usual. I ate a lot of good food, drank mimosas (as all Sindhi behvras do), and watched the newest little man in the family squirm in a milk daze as we tied the thinnest rakhis I'd ever seen onto his tiny little wrists. It was even cuter than it sounds. This year, however, my 6-year-old cousin had the chance to tie rakhi on my brother, and as she did, she announced that SHE would protect him forever. A little confused-but very proud, I went to ask her mother where she had learned that. She explained that as her daughter was an only child, she had always insisted that both she and her husband tied rakhi for their little girl- because, at the end of the day, they protected her just as much as any brother could have. Yet as she grew up, she realized that yes, although rakhi is a day designed to better the bond of siblings, it also implies that the sister can only be a protectee, not a protector, and that's not something they wanted their headstrong six-year-old to believe. Instead, they taught her that protection goes both ways, and the rakhi is a symbol of equal strength and love between her siblings/cousins.
As Indians, many of us still conform to a very patriarchal society. Many women are still taught that they are fragile creatures incapable of fending for themselves. Yet even for those of us that grew up being told we were strong, the concept is so deep-rooted in our culture that even the most beautiful and positive traditions have sexist tendencies, which in turn affects us. That's why I truly believe my aunt is on the right path, and although I love Raksha Bandhan and what it stands for, traditions like this need to be adapted in order to equalize men and women for the better. As an older sister, my parents always instilled in me that it was my job always to protect my little brother, and as he began to grow up, he began to do the same. We are equals in all ways. Yet how can we truly be equals when our traditions say otherwise.
To be clear, im not saying we should boycott our traditions because they are part of history and who we are, but instead, we should change them to suit the needs of society today. So this Raksha Bandhan lets teach our cousins, siblings, children, and friends that the need for protection goes both ways and make the bond between siblings that much stronger.