Last Saturday passersby would have noticed a flurry of activities along the sidewalk and the sound of music dedicated to brothers in front of Skakti Saree and Spiritual store at 124-15 Liberty Avenue as women shopped for the right design of ‘Rakhi’ at Shakti’s store which carries the largest selection of the ‘sacred threads.’
A Hindu’s life is full of celebration and festivities. There is an occasion to observe almost everyday in the year, such as the changes in seasons, harvest time, and dedication to hundreds of demi-gods associated with Hinduism. Just take a look at a Hindu calendar and you’ll see every day is accounted for. Worship of these events can be performed at home or in the temple.
Celebration is a time for family and friends to gather from near and far to join together in marking an occassion. And last Saturday was no exception as Hindu sisters celebrated a special day for their brothers called ‘Raksha Bhandan’ or ‘Rakhi.’ Honoring brothers on a special day is on full moon day usually in the month of August because being a cosmic religion, timing is of utmost importance in all religious matters and very little human input is required.
Even though love and respect is supposedly interwined in a family relationship from the time of birth, this day is special because it renews this love with a ritual. It is signified by the tying of a ‘sacred red thread’ on the right wrist of the brother, or other respected male family members and sometimes even on friends and neighbors. The ‘sacred red thread’ tied on neighbors underscore the need for harmonious relationships, where everyone can live peacefully as brothers and sisters and commit to protect each other.
Raksha Bhandan was commemorated in India some six thousand years ago in the Indus region. And today it is an elaborate festival in India. Before tying of the Rakhi, a diya (earthen lamp) is lit or candle, before the ‘sacred thread’ is tied. It is then followed by a prayer after which the brother is fed sweet treats, then they embrace. The brother reciprocates by presenting his sister with a simple or elaborate gift. However, it must be noted that the celebration varies in the way it’s practiced around the world even in India.
Bobby, owner of Shakti Saree and Spiritual store, said “I have seen a great increase in the sales of Rakhi in recent years. I used to have two tables but now the entire sidewalk is taken over as more people learned I have a wider selection of threads.” But one customer who was shopping for Rakhi noted that the designs are far too glittery. “The boys would be too embarrassed to wear rhinestones and pearls,” she said, as she dug through boxes and boxes of threads to find the right one. The festivity associated with Rakhi has gained momentum over the years because of the increasing number of Hindus living in Queens. But it has always been part of the Guyanese Hindu culture at home and abroad because of their ancestral roots.
In a subtle way Rakhi encompasses moral, spiritual, cultural, love and harmony among family and friends. Most brothers have a common understanding that he is expected to protect his sister, married or unmarried from danger. While the sisters pray for their wellbeing.
Nowadays this ‘sacred red thread’ is worn by many who are not Hindus’ but it still carries the same belief which symbolizes long life and protection against enemies. There are several documentations about the use of this thread to symbolize unity. Even great leaders have received this thread as a form of protection during war. Many people consider the ‘sacred thread’ to be mythical because there is no study about its effect to ward off evil and is seen as a cultural practice.
One of the earliest examples of a Rakhi being tied is found in the Hindus’scriptural text of Vishnu Purana as documented by Horace Haymon Wilson. Yasoda,the foster-mother of Lord Krishna recites a prayer while tying a Rakki amulet on his wrist. Another legend concerns Alexander the Great. When he invaded India his wife Roshanak, sent Porus the King of Kaikeya, a sacred thread asking him not to kill her husband. When Porus was to about to deliver a lethal blow to Alexander he saw the string on his wrist and refrained from harming him. However this could have been a setup for Alexander to conquer India. And there are many other documentation in different scriptural texts about the use of the red thread.
Rakhi is also useful to play little tricks. Such as when a girl thinks a boy has love interest in her and she doesn’t, she might send or tie one on him clearing the air in this delicate way of her non-interest. Or during puja or prayers in a temple the protective thread is tied either on the participants right hands for unmarried or left for married. This way one can find out if a person is married without having to ask by looking at their wrist.
Overall Raksha Bhandan is blessed day for siblings to honor and glorify their relationship, to renew and strengthen the bond through this sacred celebration without feeling obligated but seeing it more as filial love.