Raksha Bandhan

August 2003

A Festival of Love, Affection and Protection

The holiday of Rakhsha Bandhan, or Rakhi, is a celebration of the bond of love and the bond of family. On this day, sisters tie sacred threads around their brothers’ wrists, symbolizing their love and affection. In return, the brother promises to protect his sister and to always be there for her. Rakhsha means protection or security and bandhan means a bond or relation. Thus, Rakhsha Bandhan symbolizes the bond of security and protection between brothers and sisters.

Indian Culture – the world is one family

However, on Rakhi, the brothers and sisters do not have to be blood relatives. That is the beauty of Indian culture. Our tradition tells us that the world is our brother and sister. On this day of Raksha Bandan, a girl can tie a rakhi on the wrist of any boy or man to whom she feels a close bond. Then, from that day forth, they will call each other “sister” and “brother.”  In this way, relationships are strengthened, solidified and purified. The tradition of Rakhsha Bandhan symbolizes and underscores the way Indians live together as brother and sister -- relationships filled with love, devotion and affection, but devoid of lust, attraction or violence.

The Bond of Rakhi

Additionally, the tradition of Rakhi has created a beautiful, sacred way for women and girls to be protected during times of political and social turmoil. Even as men injure and dishonor women, no one would injure his own sister. The bond of rakhi is held so sacred that no man would dare leave his rakhi sister unprotected, let alone actually injure her himself. For example, the ancient Muslim ruler of India, Humayun, was obligated to protect the Hindu princess Karmavati, even in spite of all political and social sanctions against Karmavati and her family. Why? Because the princess had sent Humayun a rakhi.

Sacred Beginning

The holiday, like all Indian festivals, has a divine, sacred beginning. During the time of the Mahabharat, Lord Krishna threw a celestial weapon at  Shishupala in order to punish him for his numerous sins. However, as Lord Krishna hurled the weapon at Shishupala, the Lord cut his own finger. Draupadi immediately tore off a piece from her sari and wrapped it around Lord Krishna’s finger, stopping the bleeding. Lord Krishna asked her what she wanted in return for this favor. “Nothing, Oh Lord,” she replied. “Just your holy presence in my life, at all times.” So, from that moment forth, Lord Krishna promised Draupadi that He would always be with her and that He would always protect her. Later, as the Kauravas tried to dishonor Draupadi by removing her sari in a public hall, she called to Lord Krishna who immediately came to her rescue.

Bond with God

This shows us more than simply the bond between a brother and sister or the promise of security. This teaches us a valuable lesson about our own relationship with God. Draupadi gave to Lord Krishna one small strand from her sari. In return, Lord Krishna gave Draupadi an endless, infinite sari, one which could never be removed. When we come forward toward the Lord, even one small step, He comes toward us by miles. When we offer one small strand of our lives at His holy feet, the rewards are infinite.

Our brothers and Sisters across the globe

On this holy day of Raksha Bandhan there is so much to learn, so many vows to make. First, there are the ancient, traditional meanings, whereby girls and women remember their brothers – far and near – with love and affection. In exchange, all men and boys promise to protect their sisters – both against physical harm, and also against dishonor to their name or to their family. These are as crucial today as they were in the past.

However, perhaps even more importantly, we must realize that the only way the world will survive is united as one family. Thus, now, we must also take the deeper, underlying meaning of Rakhi. We must vow to make the world our brothers and sisters – not only in theory, but also in practice.  Let us use rakhi as a symbol of our universal brotherhood. May our girls and women lead the way toward this universal family as they tie rakhi bracelets on the wrists of not only their closest male friends, but also on the wrists of enemies. Let us use this holiday to reach out to those around us, embracing them as brother and sister.

As we come upon the anniversary of September 11, let us take a renewed vow to pray and to work for a world in which everyone is united as sister and brother. In our families we frequently disagree. One sister likes tea, while another prefers coffee. One brother is an athlete and another is a musician who thinks that sports are a violent waste of time. One worships Lord Krishna, while another worships Lord Shiva. But, amidst these differing opinions and paths, there is an underlying respect and harmony. There is a feeling, despite all differences, that “we are family.” When we truly realize that all people, of all races and all religions are our brothers and sisters, then and only then  will we be able to live together harmoniously and lovingly, even amidst a myriad of traditions, paths and belief-systems.

Our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom

As our hearts open and our arms extend outwards to embrace all of humanity, let us also open our hearts and our hands to our brothers and sisters in the universal family whom we call “animals.”  Let us realize how cruelly and inhumanely the cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys of the world are treated, simply so people can enjoy a nice hamburger, piece of fried chicken or cake with eggs. Let us open our hearts and our ears to the cries of mother cows whose babies have been wrested from them at birth in order to become hamburgers. Let us open our hearts and eyes to the sight of these animals whose skin is cut from their bleeding bodies while they are still living, breathing and feeling.  Let us open our eyes to the sight of egg-laying hens crammed together so tightly into cages that they can neither move, nor even lift a wing or lie down, starved of food and water. Let us watch the newborn male chicks (who because they are male won’t be able to grow up and lay eggs) thrown into garbage bags to suffocate or thrown live into meat grinders where they will then become the food for other chickens.

Some people say, “Well the Bible says that God granted man dominion over the animals, so it’s okay.” Dominion does not mean the right to use, torture and destroy at will. Dominion means a responsibility to protect, to care for, to watch over. We have been deemed as the “caretakers” of the animals, not as their predators. If your parents go out to the movies and leave you in charge of your younger brothers and sisters, could you kill them and eat them? Is that what dominion means? Of course not. You were left in charge of caring for them and protecting them.

Let us realize that our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom, weep helplessly when separated from their mothers at birth and scream in pain when injured, just as we do. Let us realize that we are defying the order of God and the path of dharma when we knowingly and unnecessarily cause such pain, trauma and suffering to our 4-legged brothers and sisters.

On this sacred day of Rakhi, let us vow to offer our protection to every mother cow whose baby is turned into beef, to every mother hen whose beak and toes are cut off and who is starved and deprived of water so that she will lay eggs quicker, to every chicken who is hung upside down on a sharp hook and de-skinned while frequently still living. Let us see these animals as our dear sisters who need and deserve our protection.

The true Rakhsha Bandhan

Last and most importantly, let us offer the rakhi of our heart to the Lord. For He is our true brother, our true sister, our true protector.  It is to Him that we want to be eternally tied. The divine rakhi that you offer to the Lord will never become untied, never become faded and will never break. He will forever protect you, forever be with you and forever love you.







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