Sunday, August 30, 2015

Raksha Bandhan .....New Traditions

Rakhsha Bandhan…..New Traditions

Yesterday,  Hindus all over the world celebrated the holiday called Rakhsha Bandhan.   Sisters everywhere tied the ceremonial rakhi (a small bracelet made of threads and  adorned with beads)  on their brother's wrists, did puja,  and prayed to God to give their brothers a long, healthy, prosperous life.   The sisters, in return, received a token gift or money, and a vow from the brother that they would always be there to protect and take care of them. 

Many believe that the Raksha Bandhan holiday tradition originated from the great Hindu epic scriptures called the Mahabharta.  In one story,  Princess Draupadi is said to have torn a piece of her own sari to bandage the bleeding wrist of Lord Krishna.  Krishna is so touched by this gesture that he proclaims her as his sister and promises to always protect Draupadi.  Later when Draupadi is being insulted in front of a court of men,  Krishna comes to her aid.  When one of  the men try to disrobe her by forcefully pulling off her sari at one end,  Krishna divinely replenishes her sari so she does not lose her dignity or honor  in this room full of men. 

Raksha Bandhan, in Sanskrit,  literally means “bond or tie of protection”.  Tying a rakhi symbolizes solidification of a bond of love and protection between a brother and sister.  Many people will have  “rakhi brother” or “rakhi sister”,  a cousin, neighbor or relative that takes on the platonic relationship of a surrogate sibling.   

Whether it be Christmas,  Thanksgiving,  Diwali or Raksha Bandhan,  holiday traditions have to have meaning for them to be carried on.  Sometimes they need to be tweeked or modified.  If we look at Christmas and Thanksgiving,  the traditional ways in which these holidays have been celebrated over hundreds of years have evolved and changed.  In bygones days, the turkey wasn’t a symbol of Thanksgiving.  And Macy’s Day Parade certainly didn’t exist.  Christmas didn’t entail having a perfectly lit tree decorated with glass ornaments and presents piled high next to it, around it and under it!!   As the world changed, people changed and so did “traditional” customs. 

Somehow it seems that many ancient cultures and traditions are more difficult to change.   As beautiful as the Raksha Bandhan holiday is, I see a time for change. Raksha Bandhan needs to be brought into the modern times.  In following this holiday in it’s most traditional form, it assumes that women still need being taken care of and  protected, and it places the male in the dominant role of the “protector.”  Educated women are doing puja to a brother, regardless of what age he may be.  The brother could be 10 years younger and  being raised by the older sister but on this day, he is elevated to  the position of  a “protector.”  There is a certain irony in this scenario….but it does exist.

In a country that is still working towards recognizing women as competent, powerful beings, equal to men, this holiday only perpetuates and underscores the gender inequalities in india.   Karva Chauth is another tradition that comes to mind.  Women fast from sunrise to moonrise to ensure the health, well being and long life of their husbands.  Only after seeing the moon and having done puja to their husbands do they take their first bite of food.  Again the males need a long, healthy life so they can protect and take care of the females. 

Many Indians will say that since I grew up in the US,  I do not know what I am talking about.  Understandably, the educated Indians comprehend the symbolic meaning behind these traditions; brothers and sisters need to have a strong, life-long bonds, and that  in love, sacrifice is sometimes necessary.  However, I worry about the uneducated masses in India who takes these traditions at face value and perceive females to have the  subservient, dutiful, passive roles.  From their understanding, if  it is so in the Mahabharata, then  it MUST be so in life.

I too sent a rakhi to my brother this year.  I hope he lives a long, prosperous healthy life.  However, starting next year, I am going to send a rakhi to my sister too because I wish the same good for her also.  This year I decided my sons would tie a rakhi on each other.   They are blood brothers and I want them to be there for each other in good times and in bad times.  They don’t have a sister but they have each other! They need to look after each other.   As families get smaller, sometimes oceans apart, we need to cherish the sibling we have.  Raksha Bandhan doesn’t have to be just about the brother-sister bond.  Like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, let this day be a day to show all brothers…. and sisters too….how much we love them.  Let this be Sibling’s Day.

Raksha bandhan is a beautiful tradition.  But traditions need to change. Change is good.  Change leads to progress and equality…….

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