My Experience at Rakhi Purnima
Last year, when I was on a trip to India, I happened to be there at the end of August, just in time to witness Rakhi Purnima (also sometimes called Raksha Bandhan or simply Rakhi) — a traditional festival celebrating sibling relationships. Now, it would be an exaggeration to say that this event turned my worldview upside down, but it certainly gave me much food for thought — even more so because it was the first time I heard about such festival.
Siblings Relationships in the West and in the East: Something to Compare
In the West, we rarely pay any special attention to the relationships between siblings — usually brothers and sisters are just people who happen to have the same parents. They tend to spend their early years together, while they still live under their parents’ roof, and then go their separate ways, rarely maintaining any kind of close, meaningful relationships except for occasional family get-togethers and Christmas cards.
The same goes for the relationships between children and parents — with the nuclear family being a standard, with high mobility being a necessary thing to get ahead in life, children and parents get more and more distant from each other in all senses. But in this case we at least recognize parent-children relationships as something special — we do have Father’s and Mother’s day, so we feel obliged to get in touch with our parents at least occasionally — which is not the case when it comes to siblings.
After drifting apart, brothers and sisters often don’t see or hear each other for years on end, nor do they feel obliged or willing to do so. Sibling relationships just aren’t regarded as all that important. There is a Siblings Day, of course, but it is a purely artificial holiday without deep-rooted cultural significance.
Not so Rakhi Purnima. On that day, sisters tie a sacred thread called rakhi on their brothers’ wrists — a gesture signifying the sister’s love and wish for the brother’s health and well-being and, conversely, brother’s vow and duty to protect and support the sister. Other ceremonies are involved: brother usually presents special rakhi gifts to the sister, they hug, feed each other, and sisters read prayers for the brother’s well-being and so on, but these details do vary depending on local customs.
For a Westerner, the entire procedure looks quite weird, even unnatural — yet the participants’ sentiments do seem to be genuine and not just a tribute to tradition. Although we are not, of course, taught to treat our siblings with a degree of alienation, it is just a sort of relationship that doesn’t feel like it calls for that degree of warmth. Siblings are just siblings, right?
The Western family is normally connected vertically, if connected at all. We keep in touch with our parents and children, but not nearly as much with siblings, and cousins and suchlike are often kind of not family at all. There is no idea of a larger, overarching family in our culture. And while one may speak for or against such an arrangement in terms of efficiency, one cannot but feel a certain longing or envy when looking at brothers and sisters taking part in Rakhi Purnima, exchanging gifts and vows of protection and seeing it as something absolutely natural.
There is something in Rakhi Purnima that calls to everyone of us, irrespective of religious confession — the idea that family is something far less abstract than we are used to believing, that a different kind of relationships between family members is possible. That, perhaps, it is time to find the phone number of your brother or sister you haven’t talked to for years and finally make that call.
Hope you enjoyed my article!
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