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Raksha Bandhan

The Bond of Love, the Promise of Protection

by Phalguni Freeman

In Honor of Raksha Bandhan, August 11, 2022

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.

In India, on the morning of Rakshā Bandhan, 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 āratī 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, and ties the rākhi on his 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 her brother a life of abundance, prosperity, and good health. The brother then gives his sister money as a token of his commitment to always protect her 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, a Mogul who at that time presided over much of India, and asked for his help in protecting 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. 
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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 strengthened 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 with the Guru 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 uphold 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 safeguarding 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 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.

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1Rabindranath Tagore, The Jewel That Is Best: Collected Brief Poems, Trans. William Radice (New Delhi: Penguin, 2011) p. 118.

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During this celebration of the bond of love between the Guru and disciple, I am reflecting on how I express and experience this bond in my life. Difficult choices that affect the life of someone I love very much and who has been in my care for nine years are on the immediate horizon. What comforts me and allows me to move forward is knowing that by continuing my sadhana, staying with the practices, and remembering Gurumayi, I will make decisions from a place of connection to grace. As a result, these decisions will be in the highest and best interest for all involved. I could not imagine going through life in this world without the Guru-disciple relationship.
 

West Vancouver, Canada

I have always loved Raksha Bandhan, and have had the good fortune to participate many times in the celebrations. It is always so filled with great joy and happiness!
 
Today, as I read “The Bond of Love, the Promise of Protection,” I felt as if I were celebrating this special day with many friends, brothers, and sisters, exchanging rakhi bracelets. And I imagined Gurumayi in front of me—smiling at me, acknowledging my love and devotion.
 

San Giorgio a Cremano, Italy

Today is a very special day for my family and me. My parents are celebrating their golden anniversary, marking fifty years of being married. Ever since I was a child, I was always excited to celebrate their anniversaries with them.

That their fiftieth wedding anniversary happened to fall on such a wonderful holiday as Raksha Bandhan is extra exciting. I feel that this gives us the opportunity to celebrate unity in so many ways, to celebrate love in so many ways. It is not something common to have one’s parents married for such a long time—this is something very special. I feel so grateful for this occasion. I take nothing for granted and know that this is the blessing of my Guru. I experience that it is like “the blanket of protection” that is made out of the love between Guru and disciple.
 

Obing, Germany

Yesterday I tied some tall flowers to stakes to help support them. Then today, I read this wonderful essay, and I realized that, for me, the stakes I planted represent my Guru’s grace, supporting me as I walk my spiritual path. Similarly, the ribbons I used to attach the stakes to the flowers represent, for me, the bond of love between Guru and disciple.

Never have I felt more protected and inspired to greater effort.
 

Oregon, United States

I especially cherish this exposition on Raksha Bandhan and its  beautiful title, “The Bond of Love, the Promise of Protection.” The idea of seeing the bond between the Guru and the disciple as “being created from and nurtured by many intersecting threads" was very meaningful for me. Through this explanation of the meaning and symbolism of this festival, I have been given a potent guide to the expression of love and protection on the Siddha Yoga path.
 

California, United States

This explanation of Rakhi Bandhan allowed me to deepen my  comprehension and awareness of what the rakhi symbolizes in term of unity. I experienced my heart overflowing with love while I mentally started to tie rakhis onto each plant, animal, and tree, especially with the sequoias or giant redwood trees—and at the end “the bond of love” with Mother Earth arose within me in a silent moment of boundless gratitude.
 
As I concentrated on Gurumayi, Baba, and Bade Baba, I experienced the bond of love taking on the form of a radiating light in my heart. Then I saw millions of rakhis emerging from that light to be offered to each human being. Finally, a thin rakhi of light emerged from the top of the head of each human being. All these luminous bonds were gathering high above and merging into the Blue Pearl.
 

Rennes, France

In a recent Zoom session during which I could speak with other Siddha Yogis, I had the experience that the strip of rectangles containing their faces across the top of the screen curled itself out of the computer and became a bracelet which coiled around my wrist. I see this as my rakhi bracelet, formed of images of those who care for me, and who take care of each other.
 

Northcote, Australia

Realizing it is Raksha Bandhan today, I sat quietly and almost immediately was drawn inside. I felt a stream of love pouring into my heart, a constant pulsating stream. Images came to mind—the stream of water on a shiva lingam, the offering in a yajna. I felt there was no end, there is no end. May I always remember this gift of the Guru's love and protection in my heart.  
 

Ludlow, United Kingdom

This beautiful exposition answered a question I’ve had about an old friend who has recently come into my life after many years of being apart, after he had a dream in which I appeared to him. I know this person is hungry for the Truth but I've been struggling with how to tell him about Gurumayi and the Siddha Yoga path.
 
When I read this exposition, I understood that I can share the path by talking about the wisdom that has sprung up inside me and the wonderful experiences of love and unity that fill my life since I received the grace of the Guru. He has metaphorically tied a rakhi on my wrist and I now see that I just have to respond from my heart.
 

Vancouver, Canada

Phalguni’s mention of people tying rakhis on trees as a loving expression of our intimate bond with nature inspired me. In the early morning, I tied threads around the branches of the trees that surround our home with their shade, majestic beauty, and protective presence. As I tied the rakhis, I thanked each tree for the subtle, nurturing power it silently emanates. What wonderful friends trees are!
 
Each tree looked beautiful, so I took a photo of one of the rakhis tied to a tall cedar beside our meditation and svadhyaya room. When I looked at the photo afterwards, I was astonished—the branch where the rakhi was tied was encircled by a ring of light whose edges shimmered like a rainbow! 
 
I felt this seemingly small offering was revealing its amazing, inherent power to me. It beckons me to explore the power of love and our divine connection with nature even further.
 

California, United States

In the past, I honored Raksha Bandhan by sending a rakhi to Shri Gurumayi. This act became a special annual offering for me. This year, however, I felt sad when I was not able to do this.
 
Then I discovered that when I offered a rakhi to Shri Gurumayi by placing it on the padukas on my puja, I felt enormous joy within. This year, manasa puja, mental worship, plunged me into an even deeper connection with Gurumayi.
 

Bedford Gardens, South Africa

Today I felt so comforted. During these times, the challenges seem to pull me away from my Self. Contemplating Raksha Bandhan showed me the thread that always connects me to the Guru's love. I may feel pulled away, but the thread is always connected. In an instant I can be pulled back into the deepest calm, the deepest protection.
 
Shri Gurumayi is my home, my true North.

Crowthorne, United Kingdom

In the midst of the deep gratitude I was feeling at this time of celebrating Raksha Bandhan—even virtually—these words landed in my heart perfectly. As I read the words, I felt, “Yes, every moment and act of remembrance is tying a rakhi! Every one, however seemingly small, is another rakhi thread.”  
 
Imagining Gurumayi’s arm adorned with bracelets lit up my heart and allowed me to experience the joy of tying my own love to her great love, step by step. Holding this knowledge in my heart gives me a tangible way to celebrate, which is not virtual, not imagined—but real in my own heart.
 
And so we go on, every moment of peace becoming protection, every moment of protection carrying peace to all. Thread by thread, upholding all that is real and worthwhile, all that is true and enduring, we can truly celebrate the bond of love.
 

Washington, United States

Reading these beautiful words about Raksha Bandhan, I first thought about my brother, who is far away physically. Then I realized I could do all the traditional rituals for Raksha Bandhan in my mind and heart, like a dharana. My heart felt amazed to experience my love for my brother, seemingly at a distance but closer than ever before. 
 
I also vowed to tie a rakhi in the many ways described in the concluding paragraph, such as following the pandemic protocols, smiling, spreading love, and living the wisdom of the Siddha Yoga teachings. 
 
My heart feels pure love and joy, knowing that I experience Gurumayi’s protection at all times.
 

a Gurukula student in Gurudev Siddha Peeth