What is Raksha Bandhan?
Sisters share a special bond with their brothers—one of love and care. And that’s what the South Asian holiday Raksha Bandhan—also known as Rakhi—is all about. It’s a chance to celebrate and reaffirm the relationship between a brother and a sister and is centered around a ceremony in which a sister ties a bracelet around her brother’s wrist, symbolizing their connection and their responsibility for each other’s well-being.
Whether you celebrate the holiday and are looking for ways to make it even more special or you’re just curious to learn more about it, we have lots of ideas.
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History of Raksha Bandhan
Raksha Bandhan first became popular among Hindu people in rural northern India, where the local marriage customs made the brother/sister relationship extra important as they married into different families.
Traditionally, both men and women in this region would marry someone from a different village. But while men stayed in the village where they grew up and kept in close contact with their parents, women were expected to move away to their new husband’s village.
It was the brother’s job to keep in touch with his sister after she moved away, visiting her from time to time and making sure she was doing well. When Raksha Bandhan drew close, he would bring her back to the village where she grew up to celebrate the holiday with her family.
Since then, Raksha Bandhan has spread widely. It is now celebrated throughout rural and urban India, as well as in Nepal, Pakistan, Mauritius, Fiji and anywhere in the world with a South Asian immigrant population. Raksha Bandhan is also celebrated by people outside the Hindu faith, including Sikhs and Jains.
And because its celebration is so widespread, the celebration of Raksha Bandhan is known by many other names. It is also commonly referred to as Rakhi and is sometimes called Saluno, Silono or Rakri.
How is Raksha Bandhan Celebrated?
Maybe you have a connection to a culture that celebrates Raksha Bandhan but have never celebrated it yourself. Or maybe you do celebrate Raksha Bandhan but you’re looking for some new traditions to make the holiday even more special. Either way, we’ve got some ideas to help get you started!
Hallmarkers Anita R. and Rakesh C. were kind enough to share their Raksha Bandhan memories and traditions, and many of the ideas below come from their celebrations.
The Raksha Bandhan Ceremony
Raksha Bandhan centers around a ceremony that a brother and sister perform together. The ceremony is short, sweet and simple, usually lasting only a few minutes.
The defining moment of the Raksha Bandhan ceremony comes when the sister ties a bracelet, called a Rakhi, around her brother’s wrist. The Rakhi symbolically protects him and represents his sister’s wish for his safety and well-being. In return, the brother promises to support and protect his sister throughout her life.
Other aspects of the ceremony can differ from place to place and person to person, but here are some basic components that are often included:
- Lighting a small oil lamp or a candle
- Praying for your sibling’s well-being
- Marking your sibling’s forehead with red powder made from saffron, known as kumkum
- Hand-feeding sweets to your sibling
- Arranging materials for the ceremony on a large platter called a thali
- Gift-giving; normally the brother presents the sister with a gift
Below: A young Anita R. celebrates Raksha Bandhan by tying a Rakhi around her brother’s wrist in the late 1970s.
Who Can be Celebrated on Raksha Bandhan?
Raksha Bandhan is about celebrating the brother/sister bond—but that kind of bond isn’t exclusive to blood siblings.
“In Indian culture, the brother and sister label extends to cousins, too,” Anita R. explained. “When Indians celebrate [Raksha Bandhan], they also celebrate with their cousins, or even just close family friends who are like a sibling.”
Rakesh C. has fond memories of celebrating Raksha Bandhan when he was growing up in India as part of a large extended family. He would start his morning at home, where he celebrated the Raksha Bandhan ceremony with his sister. Then the two of them spent the rest of the day traveling around town, celebrating Raksha Bandhan with all their cousins.
“You have all 10, 15 Rakhis on your hand, right? Sometimes they cover your whole arm,” he said, remembering the bracelets he wore in celebration at the day’s end. He enjoyed showing off such a clear, physical sign of how many people were wishing him well.
Now that he lives in Kansas, Rakesh carries on the tradition through his sons. Last year, his friend’s daughter tied Rakhis to his sons’ wrists, celebrating a brother/sister bond even though they’re not blood related.
Getting Ready for Raksha Bandhan
According to Rakesh, it is common to go shopping in the days leading up to Raksha Bandhan. Sisters are often in charge of gathering the materials for the Raksha Bandhan ceremony, including the Rakhi bracelets and the sweets. Rakesh explained that any kind of sweets can be used in the ceremony—sisters will often pick out their brothers’ favorite candies.
Anita agreed that the sweets don’t need to be fancy or traditional. “I know I’ve fed my brother a Snickers bar before.”
Brothers, on the other hand, might shop for a gift to give their sisters during the Raksha Bandhan ceremony. The most traditional Raksha Bandhan gift is simply money.
“When I was a kid, it was just a dollar,” Anita said.
Of course, the important part is the symbolic act of gift-giving, rather than the gift itself. So the gift doesn’t have to be money. Picking out a more thoughtful, personal gift for your sister can definitely be a meaningful part of your Rakhi celebration.
Other Ways to Celebrate Raksha Bandhan
In addition to celebrating the brother/sister bond, Raksha Bandhan can be a great chance to celebrate your cultural heritage.
Rakesh said that even though there aren’t specific foods associated with Raksha Bandhan, his family took the day as an opportunity to cook traditional—and delicious—Indian dishes. In the same vein, he said there isn’t a Raksha-Bandhan-specific outfit people are expected to wear. Nonetheless, people enjoyed dressing nicely for the day in traditional and beautiful Indian garb. But the formality of the celebration may differ between households.
The childhood memories of Anita’s mother center around getting dressed up in their finest clothes and sharing a large platter of traditional Indian sweets with siblings and cousins. For Anita, on the other hand, the celebration she grew up with was completely informal.
“You’re not going to get us to dress up,” she said, chuckling.
Having grown up in the U.S., Anita wasn’t deeply immersed in Indian culture and doesn’t celebrate most Indian holidays. However, Rakhi has always been important to her. She loves having the chance to be reminded of her connection with her brother and the way they care about each other.
“Sibling relationships are so close, so natural,” she said, “but we don’t ever really celebrate them.”
So if you can find ways to celebrate your culture on Raksha Bandhan or to spend time with your siblings or to show how much you appreciate them and the bond you share, there’s really no wrong way to celebrate the holiday.
Below: A young Anita R. feeds her brother sweets on Raksha Bandhan.
Raksha Bandhan Across the Miles
Even if you and your siblings live far apart, you can find ways to celebrate Raksha Bandhan.
Anita’s mother moved to the United States at age 18, but her mother’s brother stayed in India.
“Every year she would have to mail him—mail to India—a ribbon for somebody to put on him,” Anita said of her mother’s efforts to celebrate Raksha Bandhan from afar. Today Anita and her own brother live in different parts of the United States, but they too celebrate the holiday through the mail. “I mail him a Rakhi. His wife has to tie it on him for me because I’m not there.”
Below: Anita’s mother ties a Rakhi around her brother’s wrist during a trip back home to India on a Raksha Bandhan several decades ago. Note the kumkum powder on his forehead and the platter of sweets to the right.
A personalized, handwritten message can be a great way to make sure your brother or sister knows how much you care, even if you’re spending Raksha Bandhan far apart. Exchanging cards has been another meaningful piece of Anita’s long-distance Rakhi celebrations. She said that one message she received from her brother more than 10 years ago is still hanging on her fridge.
“It was very simple,” she said. “It said, ‘Happy Rakhi’—it’s a nice reminder of what a great sister I have.”
Below: During a trip to his home in Atlanta, Anita and her brother celebrated Raksha Bandhan in person by exchanging cards, tying on a Rakhi and eating sweets.
What to Write in a Raksha Bandhan Card
Any message expressing gratitude to your sibling, wishing him or her the best or affirming the bond between the two of you is perfect for a Raksha Bandhan card.
Raksha Bandhan Messages for Sisters
Messages from brothers to sisters might promise help, support and protection, no matter what life might bring.
- Happy Raksha Bandhan. I’m so glad to be celebrating a sister like you.
- Hope you know how much you’re loved and that I’ll always be here for you.
- Raksha Bandhan reminds me how lucky I am to have you for a sister.
- Whatever life throws at you, remember you can always call on me for help and support.
- Wishing everything good to my awesome sister.
- It means a lot to me that we’re so close. Happy Rakhi.
- We have a one-of-a-kind bond, and I’m so happy to call you family.
- Whether we’re laughing, arguing or having some real talk, I couldn’t ask for a better sister than you.
- (Specifically for a cousin or friend) Wishing you a happy Raksha Bandhan, because you really are like a sister to me.
Raksha Bandhan Messages for Brothers
Messages from sisters might focus on thanking your brother for his support and guidance and wishing him happiness and prosperity.
- Happy Rakhi to the best brother ever!
- It feels good knowing I can always count on you.
- Thanks for being my brother. Your love and support mean so much.
- Sending you good wishes for health, prosperity and all the happiness you deserve.
- Thanks to you, I always feel protected, cared about and loved. Happy Raksha Bandhan.
- Even if we sometimes have a funny way of showing it, we love each other—and that’s what really counts.
- Wishing you good things because you’re a good brother.
- Whether I need advice, help or just someone to talk to, you’re there for me.
- (Specifically for a cousin or friend) No matter what the family tree says, you’re my brother—and a pretty great one, too. Happy Rakhi.
If you’re lucky enough to have brothers or sisters—or cousins or friends who might as well be—you know that they’re definitely worth celebrating, and we hope this article will help you do just that. Have a wonderful Raksha Bandhan!
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