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Rakhi, Rakhri or Raksha Bandhan: Yet Another Hindu Ritual That Sikhi Abhors

by GURCHIT SINGH

 

 

Oh, the joys of Raksha Bandhan!

'Rakhri' or 'Rakhi', some call it.

The air is filled with love, family members are conversing and munching on a mound of sweets, hugs and kisses are being ecstatically extended to any and all family members the overemotional mother can seem to get her loving arms around, and the overall mood in the home is one which many families can only dream of experiencing on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, these short-lived 'loving moments' only further promote a holiday which degrades women and opposes much that Sikhi stand for.

While glued to the Facebook and sipping warm milk on the morning of this Rakhri day, I was going through my daily routine of checking any notifications I may have received from the prior night. After reading many generic Rakhri-related salutations, I finally came across one that defined what the ritual of Rakhri was actually aimed at achieving:

"Raksha Bandhan is a festival which celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters," it said. "The ceremony involves the tying of a rakhi (sacred thread) by a sister on her brother's wrist. This symbolizes the sister's love and prayers for her brother's well-being, and the brother's lifelong vow to protect her.”

While reading this, the two phrases that immediately leapt out at me were “sacred thread”, which conjured an instant connection to the one that Guru Nanak so famously rebelled against; and the words, “brother’s lifelong vow to protect her”, which brought forth an image of a frail young woman constantly relying on her brother for protection from life's perils.

So the $64,000 question is: Why does a man need a ritualized string to remind him that he has the responsibility to assist an individual in need? Or to come to the assistance of his family and loved ones, for that matter? Being and becoming a genuinely brave and helpful individual must come from within, and the only way to achieve this is to prioritize what is most important in life ... and not by tying a ritual thread.

There's only one sacred thread we don as Sikhs:

Let mercy be the cotton,

Contentment be the thread,

Countenance be the knot,

Truth the twist.

Such a thread is for the soul, O pandey! 

Put it on me only if you have such a thread.

[Guru Nanak, GGS:471]

 

Now, onto the meat of the matter: sexism!

In my eyes, Raksha Bandhan is just another ritual that made its way out of a predominantly sexist society, and now threatens to pollute the rest of us..

To those who practice this superstitious ritual, the woman is feeble and weak, always looking for or needing support.

The idea of protection should be treated as a two-way street because any individual is capable of, and is obliged to help another, regardless of either's gender.

“Men are made to be physically stronger, BUT that does not mean women [can’t] be just as strong, if not stronger. Women can do MANY other things that men in fact cannot”, says Anjali Lobana.

For the first time in my 16-year-long life, I have chosen to speak out aloud and to oppose something I have seen practised in my own family, with no thought having been given to what's behind it. I have decided to take a stand and have declared that I will no longer participate in this demeaning Hindu superstition. I feel it undermines everything I have ever been taught and everything I have ever learned on my own.

At 16, I have come to the realization that "The Revolution Starts With Me!"

 

August 18, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Harpreet Singh (Shillong / Bareilly, India), August 18, 2011, 9:51 AM.

Here's another article along the same vein - on Hindus needing to rethink practices such as traditions like rakhri ) and Karva Chauth (fasting by Hindu wives for the long life of husband). http://www.tribuneindia.com/2001/20011110/windows/stamped.htm

2: Harpreet Singh (Shillong / Bareilly, India), August 18, 2011, 9:55 AM.

Another good article in Punjabi on this subject: "Mein(n) nahi ban'ni rakhri rukhri" - http://www.rozanaspokesman.com/fullpage.aspx?view=main&mview=Aug&dview=13&pview=6

3: Kanwar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 18, 2011, 1:44 PM.

My wife is from a Punjabi Hindu background and she has detested this ritual for a long time. It is an annual source of tension and hostility with my in-laws, much to my secret delight. Yet no matter how vociferously my wife stresses her abject hatred for the ritual, they keep trying, year after year, to threaten or cajole her into performing it. Thankfully, she's tougher than all here brothers put together, so inevitably some other sibling has to do double duty to mollify the gods and goddesses. In contrast, I'm utterly sickened when so many Sikh women go along with this sort of demeaning nonsense and shrug it off as harmless fun. We should all vehemently reject this garbage because it is just another mechanism to bring us back into the non-thinking Hindu fold.

4: Mai Harinder Kaur (U.S.A.), August 18, 2011, 6:12 PM.

I couldn't help laughing with delight at the end of this! In my family, I had 7 (seven) older brothers and I learned to protect myself by fighting them. I got really good at it, too. I was just as capable of protecting them, as they were of protecting me, in spite of the fact that I was quite tiny. My Dad would have considered the whole Rakhi thing absurd if it had ever come up. It didn't.

5: Karam Lamba (Ahmedabad, India), August 19, 2011, 5:44 AM.

Rakhi is a recent creation. That it is demeaning for girls is hidden behind the fact that they love getting gifts. Totally illogical: Sister ties "sacred thread" to get protection. Shouldn't she be giving gifts to her brother in return for the protection? People are averse to using logic.

6: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), August 19, 2011, 6:50 AM.

I grew up tying rakhri to my little brother. I have fond memories of the festival. It was not a symbol of protection, but a symbol of love between a brother and sister, we were told, and so we felt deeply. It couldn't have been for protection because being five years older and very athletic, it was I who had to beat up the boys who messed with him. I came home bruised and disheveled often, and everybody knew right away what had transpired. We grew up and moved apart. I would send him a rakhri even as I was away for years until a decade or so ago when some unfortunate things happened and he stopped talking to me. Many Rakhris came and went and I felt sad. He too must have have missed that piece of thread from his protector-sister. When things became okay, years later, I realized, I did not have to externalize my love for him. I love him deeply no matter what, but I could not bring myself to go through placing my vulnerability in that piece of thread, ever again. That being said, I still think of that festival fondly and I think the word 'abhor' is a bit too strong. Sikhi teaches us to turn to Waheguru for protection and about equality, but does not teach us to abhor or demean harmless practices that others may follow. It's okay to reject it gracefully but detesting and ridiculing it is not very Sikh-like.

7: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), August 19, 2011, 7:36 AM.

Beautifully said, Gurmeet! Sikhi is pure love, and then some. We reject the janeu and yet we must protect the right of Hindus to wear it. That is our history.

8: H.S. Vachoa (U.S.A.), August 19, 2011, 8:13 AM.

Besides the philosophical problems with Rakhri, it is more pernitent to know the historical roots of the ritual that lie in the politics of Hindus. We have to first understand what was and is the purpose of Rakhri. Rakhri originated as a political act by Rajput Hindu ranis who would strategically make Muslim Emperors their brothers with the "sacred thread" in order to protect ('rakhi') their principalities and estates and hence the name 'Rakhi'. Rakhri's essential purpose is not about protection of sister or brother but subversion through psuedo-siblinghood for protection of one's interests.

9: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 19, 2011, 10:05 AM.

I didn't want to comment; it had become too technical. After reading Gurmeet and Inni ji's comments, I thought I would jump into the fray. It is an innocuous festival that everybody enjoys. Yes, Guru Nanak said: "I won't wear the janeau" and Guru Tegh Bahadar said: "I won't let you take it away from the Hindus!"

10: Parmvir Kaur (New Delhi, India), August 19, 2011, 11:07 AM.

Gurmeet ji: I believe you've missed the point, I'm afraid. The article or its title do not say that the practice is abhorrent in itself. Neither does it suggest that it is abhorrent for Hindus to practice this or any other ritual. But it is quite emphatic - and correctly so - in saying that it is abhorrent for a Sikh to be delving in such a practice as a superstitious ritual. S. Sangat Singh ji: you are absolutely correct. Remember, Guru Tegh Bahadar did not then add that it was okay for the Sikhs then, while protecting the right of the Hindus to do their thing, to start doing the same thing themselves. [It would completely nullify his great sacrifice, if that was the suggestion!] Sikhi is not a difficult concept: on this particular issue, all it says is ... do what makes common sense, but don't get silly over it by turning it into a ritual, superstition or religious practice, and waste your time thinking it'll perform some spiritual hocus-pocus for you, or anyone else.

11: Surjit Kamra (Germantown, TN, U.S.A), August 19, 2011, 12:05 PM.

For me, Rakhi is like celebrating Mother's Day or Father's Day here in the United States. These special days are partly supported by commercial interests, while also making it a special day for the family.

12: N. Singh (Canada), August 19, 2011, 1:50 PM.

Is it really an "innocuous festival"? Imagine a little girl (without the adult powers of critical thinking) comparing her gift / money received from her brother, with those gifts received by a similar little girl (her friend, perhaps) with several brothers ... what is she left thinking? Does she think: "Oh well, that is life. That is the card that life has dealt me." Or does she think: "I wish I had more brothers ... it is good to have brothers, instead of lots of sisters, because then you gets lots of gifts on Rakhi." What is the subtle message here? Does she grow up thinking that males are providers and females are a burden? Now, imagine a little boy with multiple sisters. He now has to give them all presents to keep them happy. How does he feel? Does he think, "Boy, I am lucky. I get to wear lots of strings on my wrist," or does he think that girls are a burden? Perhaps we need to look at the small, subtle messages we give children before we then start blaming them in later life for the female foeticides and domestic violence that has pervaded the Indian communities. Is this far-fetched? On the one hand, just look at all the little, subconscious messages we give our children, cumulatively, and on the other ... look the net result of what is happening in India vis-a-vis girl-children. That's one of the many points where the message of Sikhi diverges from that of Hinduism ... and that is what is being put forward by Gurchit Singh.

13: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 20, 2011, 6:10 PM.

Comment #11 likens this tradition to North American Father's Day or Mother's Day and correctly directs our attention to the commercial side to these anomalies that have crept in from a religion and culture which systematically discriminates against the female. So, the best way is to educate ourselves against these practices.

14: Parminder Kaur (Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A.), August 21, 2011, 5:53 AM.

To each his own! Cultural practices of the majority tend to influence the minority. We do things to protect our children from being singled out. I did not have a brother. As a little girl, I asked my parents why I could not tie a rakhri to any one so I could get a gift and he could also protect me! My mom said "Waheguru always protects you, and you always get whatever you need or want. You can also become strong in your will and thought and protect others." When we had children, we did not practice this ritual, just like we did not celebrate other meaningless rituals! Hopefully, my son has learnt to come to the aid of any one who needs protection and hopefully my daughter has the strength to help herself and any one else who may need her help! As for me, my 'Rakhi' is in my faith!

15: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), August 21, 2011, 1:25 PM.

For me, Rakhi is a cultural event. One tends to follow the cultural practices prevalent in the surroundings of the area one inhabits.

16: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 21, 2011, 1:58 PM.

Guru Amardas: "thitee vaar sayveh mugaDh gavaar" [GGS:843] - 'Only idiots and fools worship or celebrate these kind of days.' "Thitee vaar" means the days and dates as per the desi calendar. Like poornima (Rakhri), masya (Diwali), etc. There are over 45 kinds of such rituals, all contrary to Gurmat, according to Prof. Gurbachan Singh (Principal of Gurmat College, Ludhiana), including 'barsis (anniversaries). It is mostly women that have been entangled in them in Hindu society society.it.

17: S. Taneja (Boston, MA, U.S.A.), August 23, 2011, 10:43 AM.

I'm a female who was raised in a Hindu Punjabi family and by chance started learning about Sikhi a few years ago. My aunt from India would send me a rakhi every year for the past 20+ years, alongside one for my father because, at a tender age, I declared it wasn't fair that only my male cousins got to wear the 'sacred thread' - I was just as strong as any boy and wanted a pretty thread too. My first steps towards the Sikh path were to shed myself of the very same rituals I grew up questioning. As the writer mentions, for me it was also Guru Nanak rejection of the janeu that led me to my decision. Regardless of constant eye-brow raising/ comments by family members, I'm content with the rejection of such rituals to be a small step straighter on my path. But I must confess, it is difficult to support my stance when so many Sikhs partake in the ritual. I understand the various arguments of it merely being a tradition of cultural significance, or something commercial that has crept in - but isn't this the stuff that leads to unwanted connections to Hinduism? My aunt still sends that extra rakhi, but I just let it sit in the envelope as a reminder of who I am (and who I'm not). A rakhi round-up could be next year's initiative for Sikhs everywhere. A small part of the revolution could be sending unwanted/ unused rakhis to an address as a united stance against such rituals (for those that previously used them). I wonder how many we'd be able to collect.

18: Gurdip (U.S.A.), September 02, 2011, 5:21 PM.

Rakhri, in it's actual context, is for Hindus, not for the Sikhs. Under Hindu influence, it has somehow crept into some segments of the community. Guru Nanak's teachings and words on sacred threads should be first looked at when considering participating in such practices.

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