Why don't more people call out Raksha Bandhan for the patriarchal custom it is?

The festival may not carry the significance of yore but the essential meaning of it cannot be denied – men are considered superior to women, and not equals. Read on.

Raksha Bandhan is a symbolical gesture of love, protection and care between a sister and a brother which is celebrated across India. Modern day connotations of the festival, which is deeply rooted in patriarchy, have largely changed with sisters celebrating the festival or brothers tying a rakhi on their sisters wrists. The festival has become more like family reunions, but the underlying fact remains unchanged. Be it Bhai Dooj, Teej, Karwa Chauth, Jamai Shoshthi, Saavan Somvaars or Raksha Bandhan, the common factor in all of these festivals is that men are considered superior to women, and not equals.

Raksha Bandhan finds its origins in myths and legends of Krishna-Draupadi, Yam-Yamuna, Lakshmi- King Bali and many other interesting stories. There are also a few historical references of the festival, for instance, it is said that Rani Karnavati of the kingdom of Mewar sent a rakhi to the Mughal emperor Humayun, so as to protect her kingdom from being attacked. Even Rabindranath Tagore is believed to have celebrated rakhi in Bengal during the Indian struggle for independence, to bring together people from all communities to promote unity and harmony.

It is bewildering to see how people justify celebration of festivals like Raksha Bandhan, in the manner that we celebrate it, not in the way of Rani Karnavati-Humayun or Rabindranath Tagore but in the fashion of a free bodyguard. Tie a rakhi, get a ‘protector’ with it.

The festival may not carry the significance of yore, but the essential meaning of it is something that cannot be denied.

Etymology of Raksha Bandhan

Raksha means protection, Bandhan literally translates bond which has two meanings either to tie something together or an agreement/ a promise/a vow. The word itself is unsettling. On Raksha Bandhan a sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist and then he is bound to protect her. But wait, isn’t a brother or anyone who loves or cares for you bound to do it anyway?

Rituals of Raksha Bandhan

Although now it has been done away with, but many women still do not to eat till they tie a rakhi on their brother’s wrist (for brothers, it is optional). Why? To pray for the longevity of the said brother’s life. You would argue, we love our brothers so much why can’t we go hungry for a few hours.  Sure you can, but why this fascination with fasting women (be it Karwa Chauth, Ahoi Ashtami, Saavan Somvaar, Teej)? Do we not love our brothers or husband when our stomachs are full?

Then, we decorate a thali and put some roli (red coloured powder) or sandalwood and rice, with that we have an aarti. A ritual usually performed for gods and goddesses.

The idea of putting a tilak between the eyebrows in an upward direction, according to Hindu traditions, is to make a person look towards a higher self and towards spirituality. But can’t brothers also help their sisters move towards that higher self by putting a tilak on their sister’s forehead, or have women already attained nirvana.

Could someone please explain why do we need to put someone up on a pedestal and worship them?

The promise, the bond

With this we come to the final point of these skewed concepts of a bond of siblings/cousins. In India, where we have concepts of unconditional love, I fail to understand how tying a thread make my bond with him or my sisters ‘even stronger’. In a country where honour killing is rampant and equality is still a utopian concept – festivals like Raksha Bandhan are out of place.

No, I am not against anyone celebrating the festival, because if that makes them happy and evokes that lost sense of bonding and love in this fast-paced world, Rakhi may be the best occasion. But to me, Raksha Bandhan feels like a parasitic shell of a deeply-patriarchal mindset which is still trying to keep us within its clutches by evoking nostalgia.