Let me start by saying that growing up we never really celebrated the Hindu holidays much. I remember once we went to temple for Holi which was a lot of fun, and one trip to India for Diwali, which was fabulous, lighting firecrackers every night. Some of them I’ve only learned about when my Indian family and friends start wishing each other a happy something-or-other on Facebook, and I’m sent to Google it and figure out what it is I’m supposed to be celebrating. (Case in point: Dussehra, which I only learned of a year or two ago.)
So when, a few days earlier, my new and very cool cousin Shefali posted something about asking what traditions people do for Raksha Bandan, I thought it would be a good place for our family to start celebrating some of these traditions. Raksha Bandan, for those of you who don’t know (or haven’t already gone to Google) is a day to celebrate the bond between sister and brother. In my Googling, I learned that it is to celebrate the chaste bond between brother and sister, so sometimes girls will tie a rakhi (bracelet) onto a boy that they think is getting too interested. It’s like a ritualized friendzoning.
Of course, I didn’t really know how to celebrate other than to tie a bracelet, so back to the internets. I did call my mom the day of, but no one answered the phone. Most of them agreed that you have the sister perform a puja (prayer) to the brother and then tie a bracelet on to him. He is then supposed to say that he will protect her and give her a gift.
Rakhi in India range from simple to very, very elaborate, even with some using gold and diamonds. We opted for the simpler route and I thought it would be more meaningful if the kids made bracelets for each other. One of the advantages of being a mercurial crafter is that you have a lot of random supplies around the house from well-intentioned crafting excursions. From the time that I thought I was going to start making friendship bracelets again and also thought I’d take up embroidery (um, yeah), I had quite a bit of embroidery floss around.
I had the girl make a simple braided bracelet with beads, and the boy made a simple knotted bracelet also with some beads (from that time I thought I’d start making my own jewelery). I figured, it’s 2014 and it seemed to make sense that the brother and sister do puja for each other and give each other bracelets instead of just sisters to brothers. (sorry for the lack of good pictures in this post-I was too involved with actually participating to focus on taking good images.)
On the day of Raksha Bandan, Eric pulled out the puja set that my parents had given me some time ago. I started by lighting the oil lamp, which I learned is supposed to use clarified butter. I didn’t have any on hand so just used vegetable oil. I quickly learned that this burns through fast and had to use tweezers to remove the wicks before they set off the smoke alarms. Then, I needed some incense (“to provide a pleasing aroma for the deity,” says the internet) but we didn’t have any. I leaned over our backyard fence and asked our cigarette-smoking neighbors if they had any, and they did! It takes a village, no?
The puja tray looked a little bare, so I put Ganapati on it for good measure. I figure, what can go wrong if he is watching on? The Girl insisted that he wear his “necklace,” which is the strand of pearls that Eric and I wore around our heads when we got married and that usually live draped around Ganapati on our mantelpiece. Why not?
Then we went outside for the ceremony. First the girl and boy did puja for each other and tied bracelets on each other, saying that they would love and protect each other.
Two of their friends were over and so they participated as well, with the the girl tying a simple cord onto their wrists. It was all very sweet and I’d like to think that it was why they played so nicely for the rest of the evening.
It was really, really lovely to do and to see them with each other, even if the kids didn’t take it quite as seriously as I would have liked. It’s made me think that we should be more intentional about celebrating other Hindu holidays as well. Maybe Diwali this year? Or I’ll get really into things and figure out what Dussehra is and how I’m supposed to celebrate it.