June 27, 2017

Niagara Falls turn red and blue to honour Brother-Sister Day

An article by Vinita Kinra (@VinitaKinra)

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

The South Asian community of Canada had much to rejoice on August 29, the day celebrating the ancient Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan. Literally meaning “the bond of protection,” this festival recognizes the chaste love between brothers and sisters. It mostly falls in the month of August, coinciding with the full moon day called Shravan Poornima in the Hindu calendar. The typical rituals involve the sister tying an elaborate wristband made of colorful threads and decorations, or a non-fussy plaited chord of silk textured threads. She also places a “Tilak” (a small mark of vermillion or sandalwood) on her brother’s forehead. She then circulates a plate filled with lighted candles, flowers and sweets around the brother’s face, like Hindu worshippers do when praying to a deity. This reverence elevates the brother to the ranks of God, who takes upon himself the arduous duty of protecting and supporting his sister against all odds and in the face of all adversities. The siblings hug, seek blessings from parents and family members while feeding each other sweets with their hands. It is also customary for brothers to bestow gifts on their sisters.

This endearing festival took roots in ancient India where Rajput queens sent tokens of colourful threads to neighbouring rulers to garner their support and protection. This sublime love goes beyond biological boundaries and allows unrelated men and women to be tied together in a sacred relationship of trustworthy confidantes and unfailing special friends who would never betray or disappoint each other.

Ontario has found a dedicated social activist in Daniel Masih, who made it his mission to seek recognition for Raksha Bandhan or Brother-Sister Day beyond the barriers of the South Asian ethnicity of Canada. His efforts have borne rich fruits as Niagara Falls dazzled with pink and blue lights to mark this symbolic festival that brings out the best in men and women. Besides Niagara, the cities of Brampton and Pickering have officially proclaimed Raksha Bandhan as Brother-Sister Day. Masih’s hope is to make this day as much of a phenomenon as Mother’s or Father’s Day. Families split by geographical barriers rely on snail mail or the internet to send strings of love, cards and greetings. It will be another long year before this chaste bond between brothers and sisters can be celebrated again.

Source for illumination details on August 29, 2015:  Niagara Parks website.

Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily,  The Times of India.

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