Rakhi, also known as Raksha Bandhan, is a day (typically in August) that celebrates siblings. Traditionally, this has translated to sisters tying homemade (or store-bought) bracelets on their brothers’ wrists in exchange for gifts (or money). Some feel this should have siblings of both genders tie on one another (to stop perpetuating sexist tropes). But no matter who ties on whom, Rakhi is all about crafting.
The History of Rakhi
Time for a little backstory. Way back in ancient India, menfolk would head off to battle. Worried sisters sent them off by tying a god-blessed amulet around their right wrist as a way to protect them during battle.
In other stories, women cared for men who then turned around and took care of them.
Want more backstory? As in the Hindu stories tied to particular gods? Times of India wrote about it.
Literally, raksha (or rakhi) is the bracelet, while bandhan means to tie or bond. The tradition, therefore, is usually called Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi.
Typically, sisters create (or buy) bracelets for each of their brothers (or cousin brothers). Then, on the special day (which, in 2018 will fall on August 26, though since it’s determined by the lunar calendar, has fallen earlier in August in other years), she puts a dot of yogurt and a crimson powder on her brother’s forehead (using her right ring finger, because everything is done with the right hand, traditionally), ties the rakhi around his wrist, and feeds him a sweet (traditionally an Indian dessert, though growing up it was Starburst candies for my brother). He then hands her a gift or cash (and promises to protect her).
I have many cousins around the world and take this opportunity to connect with them. My sister and I get together, make rakhis, and mail them out. Meanwhile, our cousins’ daughters send rakhis to my boys (and my brother’s daughter ties one on them when we see each other over the summer). As for the controversy, the growing idea that upholding this tradition perpetuates the sexist culture that has been harmful to Indian women, I’m torn. On the one hand, perhaps continuing a tradition where women are seen as requiring protection simply reinforces patriarchal views that undermine women’s quest for equal treatment. On the other hand, what if the “protection” that sisters seek from their brothers is actually a call to empathy. By reminding brothers—who, in a patriarchal society, may not recognize the barriers their sisters face—that they need to open their eyes to injustice, even when it’s inconvenient to them.
Perhaps if I’d had daughters, I’d have considered changing how we celebrate this holiday, but with only sons, and with plenty of rakhis to make for my own cousins, I’ll confess I opted for the lazy way out; it’s easier not to have to create more rakhis. That’s not really a good excuse, I know, but it’s my truth.
My sister and I have crafted many rakhis over the years, but since mostly we are mailing these strings to India, we’ve settled on designs that are simple and lightweight. A trip to the craft store for ribbon (or cross stitch thread) and other embellishments can yield a wide array of unique rakhis.
Pinterest, of course, is a great place to look for ideas, just to get started.
My favorite rakhi design was when I ordered custom temporary tattoos with a picture of me and my sister on it. Those were cool.
But here’s a link with some great ideas for paper rakhis.
And a Pinterest board demonstrating quilling rakhis.
Rakhi for Everyone
If you want your children to get along better, at least for one day (or at least the five minutes it takes to tie bracelets onto each other), consider celebrating siblinghood with rakhis. If you want to appropriate the custom as closely to traditionally as possible, sisters should tie rakhis on their brothers’ wrists. But frankly, same-gender siblings could stand to look out for each other too. Have each of your kids create rakhis for each of their siblings, and get (or make) gifts for each other. Or let the rakhi be the gift.
Make rakhis out of paper, cross-stitch thread, yarn, whatever you have. These don’t have to be long-lasting creations, after all. Learn about it, try it out, make it your own. After all, anything that helps support siblings getting along ought to be in every parents’ toolbox. And if that tool happens to involve crafting, then it’s all good in my book.