Shrāvana, the month of monsoon in India (which corresponds to the months of July and August in the Gregorian calendar), is a time when the earth is fragrant with the fresh scent of rain. The wet leaves of the trees glisten in the rays of the sun, and everything is lush and green. It’s during this time of renewal, on the full-moon day known as Shrāvana Purnima, that people celebrate Rakshā Bandhan, a festival in which they renew and rejoice in the bond they share with all those whom they love and care for.
This year, 2021, Rakshā Bandhan will take place on Saturday, August 21, in the Western Hemisphere and August 22 in the Eastern Hemisphere and in India.
On the morning of Rakshā Bandhan in India, there is great excitement in the air. Everybody dresses in traditional attire; rangolis of bright colors are drawn with love and enthusiasm. The aroma of sweets and other delicious foods and the intoxicating fragrance of fresh flowers waft through the air as everyone prepares for the celebration. In India it is traditional that on Rakshā Bandhan, sisters tie rākhis—bracelets made of thread—on their brothers’ wrists. The rākhi is a symbol of their unbroken bond of love, which in turn bestows protection.
The sister prepares the arati tray, which includes flowers, rākhis, and the brother’s and sister’s favorite sweets. The brother takes his seat on a specially prepared pāt, or wooden stool, which is positioned on the floor with rangolis around it. Once he is seated, the sister comes forward, puts a tīkā (a red dot applied on the forehead in the space between the eyebrows) with kumkum on her brother’s forehead, and ties the rākhi on her brother’s wrist. Then she offers him sweets, and he offers her some in return (to those brothers who have many sisters and sisterly cousins, it’s a day of super plentiful sweets!) The sister wishes for him a life of abundance, prosperity, and good health. The brother then gives his sister money as a token of his commitment to always protect and be there for her.
Historically, the spirit of Rakshā Bandhan has even extended beyond the realm of the family. It is said, for example, that in fifteenth-century India, the widowed Queen Karnāvati of Rajasthan sent a rākhi to Emperor Humayun, who at that time presided over much of India, and asked for his help to protect her kingdom. Emperor Humayun sent his army to protect her kingdom, in this way honoring the sentiment in this seemingly simple thread.
Great leaders of India have over many years encouraged the exchange of rākhis as a call to bring people together, to leave differences behind, and to come together in unity. This has been important in India because of the multitude of castes, creeds, religions, faiths, and races that contribute to the rich diversity of that land.
Many people extend this exchange of offering and seeking protection to nature as well. They tie rākhis on trees and bushes and vines, acknowledging the inseparable bond between humans and their natural environment. One of the great poets of India, Rabindranath Tagore, honors nature with a rākhi in this way:
The love in my body and heart
For the earth's shadow and light
Has stayed over years.
With its cares and its hope it has thrown
A language of its own
Into blue skies.
It lives in my joys and glooms
In the spring night's buds and blooms
Like a rākhi-band
On the Future's hand.
I think of a rākhi as a symbol of unity. The rākhi is a reminder that all of humanity is connected. Just as the multicolored strands of a rākhi weave into one thread, the myriad colors of different cultures can be woven into a unified whole. Rakshā Bandhan and the humble rākhi remind us how important it is to honor our commitment to protect humanity—to protect each other—and this precious earth.
On the Siddha Yoga path, Rakshā Bandhan holds special import, as it is a time to honor the bond of love between Guru and disciple, and the blanket of protection that is woven from this bond of love. I like to think of this eternal bond as being created from and nurtured by many intersecting threads. The disciple’s threads include commitment, openness, trust, surrender, one-pointed focus, intentionality, devotion, and guru-bhakti. These threads of effort intertwine with the Guru’s threads of grace, compassion, benevolence, unconditional love, and the wish for the disciple to experience the best in themselves—to experience their full potential and live their life immersed in the awareness of their own Self. As the disciple performs sādhanā, engaging actively with the Siddha Yoga teachings and practices, a powerful, enduring bond is woven and fortified.
The Guru’s love encourages a disciple to do their best in navigating the road to freedom, the goal toward which the Guru leads them. The Guru’s protection, every step of the way, is the sādhaka’s greatest support as they walk the path. How many times as a disciple have you experienced the Guru’s presence within, tangibly guiding, supporting, and transforming your vision and understanding? How do we protect this presence, this Guru principle that abides within us? One of the ways we can offer protection is by being vigilant about the purity and integrity of our thoughts, about what we let into our minds and hearts, about the words that we speak. In this way, we protect the Guru’s presence that is alive within us.
Another way we can offer protection is by protecting the legacy of the Siddha Yoga path. We can do this by sharing our experiences of living the Siddha Yoga teachings, sharing about the life-transforming power of Gurumayi’s grace and guidance in our lives, with each other, our family, our children. And we can do this by strengthening our commitment to the Siddha Yoga path through the heart-opening practice of dakshinā.
As we celebrate Rakshā Bandhan during this time of physical distancing, we can honor the sentiment of this holiday in infinite ways. I like to think that every time you step forward and freely share the love in your heart, you are tying a rākhi. Every time you listen to someone attentively, you are tying a rākhi. Every time you connect with your love for Gurumayi, every time you share about your experience of walking the Siddha Yoga path, every time you put into action the wisdom you have gained from Siddha Yoga sādhanā, you are tying a rākhi on the people you come across in your life. In a nutshell: every time you live the Siddha Yoga teachings, you are tying a rākhi.