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In Honor of Raksha Bandhan 2020

The Bond of Love, the Promise of Protection

by Phalguni Freeman

Shravana, 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 Shravana Purnima, that people celebrate Raksha 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, 2020, Raksha Bandhan will take place on Monday, August 3.

On the morning of Raksha 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 Raksha Bandan, sisters tie rakhis—bracelets made of thread—on their brothers’ wrists. The rakhi is a symbol of their unbroken bond of love, which in turn bestows protection.

The sister prepares the arati tray, which includes flowers, rakhis, and the brother’s and sister’s favorite sweets. The brother takes his seat on a specially prepared paat, or wooden stool, which is positioned on the floor with rangolis around it. Once he is seated, the sister comes forward, puts a teeka (a red dot applied on the forehead in the space between the eyebrows) with kumkum on her brother’s forehead, and ties the rakhi 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 gifts his sister money as a token of his commitment to always protect and be there for her.

Historically, the spirit of Raksha Bandhan has even extended beyond the realm of the family. It is said, for example, that in 15th century India, the widowed Queen Karnavati of Rajasthan sent a rakhi 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 rakhis as a call to bring people together, to leave differences behind, and 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 rakhis on trees and plants 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 rakhi 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 Rakhi-band
On the Future's hand. 

I think of a rakhi as a symbol of unity. The rakhi is a reminder that all of humanity is connected. Just as the multicolored strands of a rakhi weave into one thread, the myriad colors of different cultures can be woven into a unified whole. Raksha Bandhan and the humble rakhi 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, Raksha Bandhan holds special import, as it is a time to honor the bond of love between Guru and disciple, and the umbrella of protection that is forged by 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 sadhana, 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 sadhaka’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 dakshina.

As we celebrate Raksha 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 share the love in your heart freely, you are tying a rakhi. Every time you listen to someone attentively, you are tying a rakhi. Every time you follow the protocols of keeping distance and protecting each other, you are tying a rakhi. 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 sadhana, you are tying a rakhi on the people you come across in your life. In a nutshell: every time you live the Siddha Yoga teachings, you are tying a rakhi.

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Raksha Bandhan 2020 was such an amazing, beautiful day for me! I am grateful for all the teachings I’ve received on the Siddha Yoga path, like these, about the bond of protection and love that exists between Guru and disciple.
This year, after participating in the “Be in the Temple” satsang celebrating Raksha Bandhan, I was also contemplating the nourishing bond of protection that I experience with family and friends. I was driving in my car when suddenly, the most beautiful “rakhi” appeared in the sky, in the form of a very vivid rainbow. Simultaneously and out of the blue, a recording began to play on my car’s sound system—a collection of old phone messages from over thirty years ago that I’d archived, messages from very dear relatives as well as many fabulous friends. Each message was a sweet reminder of the love and protection that have always existed in my life.
I am so grateful to Gurumayi for reminding us of the power and presence of grace in our lives, in so many magnificent forms.

Hawaii, United States

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 Bhandan 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