Saturday, 13 August 2011

Bracelets for brothers

Today is Raksha Bandhan, more popularly known as Rakhi, a festival observed across India that celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. Being primarily a family affair, this isn't a partying-in-the-street type of festival, but everywhere across Delhi today you could see the evidence of it - men and boys with a variety of threads tied around their wrists:

The basic idea is that sisters tie the threads  - which vary from simple friendship bracelet-type affairs to intricate beaded adornments - around their brother's wrist as a symbol of her love for him, and in return he vows to protect her. If you don't have sisters, don't worry - the ceremony can be extended to cousins and even unrelated men if there is a close platonic relationship between them.

I find this a really charming tradition and admirable. Sibling relationships are, after all, one of the most important that many of us have, and all other things being equal the chances are your brothers or sisters will know you for more of your life than anyone else. But in the UK we have no tradition of celebrating this relationship. That's a bit of a shame when you come to think of it.

My sisters are a little too far away to tie anything around my wrist. If you're reading this, ladies, I'd be more than happy to accept a deferred gift when I next see you, and naturally in return I will do my best to put myself between you and danger (though again, doing so from a different continent may be challenging).

Of course, my sisters would probably find the idea of their little brother, primarily known for nicking all the chocolate biscuits and being a constant irritant for the first two decades of their lives, as some kind of Protector figure rather amusing. The assumptions about gender relationships that underlie the tradition, as ever in India, may seem old-fashioned to Western eyes.

But I think we could do a lot worse than emulate the Indians here. Of course my sisters are very capable of taking care of themselves. But what brother wouldn't want to protect his sister? It must be nice to have a shared day dedicated to expressing what that very special bond means.

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