The Rakhri ritual is not a Sikh celebration. Its practice doesn’t fit in the Sikh philosophy.
Rakhi or Rakhri means protection. This is a custom among some Hindus. Accepting a Rakhri from a girl, sister or a cousin, means that the boy takes responsibility of protecting her if she happens to be into any trouble. As a token of his promise, he gives some money to the girl after she ties the Rakhri on his wrist. The ritual Rakhri assumes that a girl cannot protect herself. This gives second-rate status to the women. Hence, it is not an approved custom among the Sikhs.
According to historic tradition, the Rakhi or Rakhri was a magic thread tied by a Tantric Yogi, a holy person, or a fakir, to protect the wearer from evil happenings. Later, the Rakhri took the form of the present colorful bangle like thread with flowers and other decorations tied to it.
The Indian festival of Raksha Bandhan prominently know as rakhi once again approaches. The sight of Sikhs purchasing thread to tie on wrists of their brothers and fathers, in return for blessings and gifts has become far to common. Originally a Hindu festival has ignorantly been bought into and accepted in Sikh culture, without a single thought to what it is all about and why our Gurus would never support it. The ritualistic festival, which is against the basic tents of the Sikh faith, has been justified with the explanation that it is a day dedicated to the bond of a brother and sister, and an excuse to pamper each other.
In accordance with the Hindu faith the day is marked, ‘As per the traditions, the sister on this day prepares the pooja thali with diya, roli, chawal and rakhis. She worships the deities, ties Rakhi to the brother(s) and wishes for their well being. The brother in turn acknowledges the love with a promise to be by the sisters’ side through the thick and thin and gives her a token gift.’
Festivals like these are beautiful, no doubt and therefore easily justifiable yet in Sikhi our actions or non action should be determined by the Guru only. Nowhere in Sikh history has any Sikh Guru known to have accepted this Hindu custom. Often one hears about a painting of Guru Nanak Dev Ji is being depicted to have a raakhi being tied on his wrist by his sister Bebe Nanaki. This is nothing more than a work of fiction and has not substantive historical evidence.
From the very beginning Guru Nanak rejected the spiritual thread that the Hindu Brahmins consider connects them to God, in the midst of all the learned Pandits, Brahmins and his own father, would that same Guru accept the far more earthy thread called a ‘rakhi’? Far too often we blindly follow rituals and apply little logic and explanation to our actions and rakhi is eveident of this. If Nanak could challenge the Brahmins and reject outright the janeu, would he want to contradict himself by accepting another thread? The painting of Guru Nanak with Bebe Nanaki has been created after the time Guru Nanak walked this earth, more then likely the person never had the fortune of meeting Guru Nanak in person but infact painted this centuries after as it is not in the style of painting used at time of Sikh Gurus. There is no doubt as per history Guru Nanak and his sister Bebe Nanaki had a strong bond and loving relationship especially as she was one of the first to recognize the uniqueness of Guru Nanak and his message.
From Shabad Guru we can see that such a festival would be hypocritical and therefore the Guru would never support it. Gurbani makes clear our beliefs should be in line with the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib ji and actions not contradictory. Likewise, no other Sikh Guru accepted rakhsha bandhan ceremony; it was not a Sikh practice, be it religious or cultural.
The usual uneducated argument, ‘So what’s the harm in commemorating the day?’ or ‘they are just expressing love and commitment’ is often thrown about. Whilst there is no harm physically in doing any of these things, they are still not in line with the teachings of the Guru and not approved of by the Guru for Sikhs. Having removed us from meaningless rituals practices and festivals we seem to be definite in bringing them back and taking us further away from Akaal Purkh and the essence of Sikhi.
Sikh heritage is unique, giving equality to both men and women, rich and poor, no matter of race, caste, colour or creed. So then why would a Kaur ever need anyone’s protection when they have the power within them to defend themselves? That is why if the Singh was given a Kirpan, so was a Kaur granted the same. When the 40 Sikhs abandoned the Guru, their wives took away their mens’ weapons and horses and left their husbands home to take their place. It was a proof of the might of the Guru’s daughters – that they are as mighty, or even mightier, than men. ‘Truth is high,’ Guru Nanak Dev Ji said and, further added, ‘but higher still is truthful living.’ So how can a mere thread prove the love between a brother and sister. Will that thread not wear out too, just like the janeu?
Festivals and ceremonies like rakhsha bandhan are for those for whom it was made, for the Hindu faith has it’s own valid reasons. Sikhi has its own distinct philosophy and moral compass. And how? Guru Nanak did not accept the janeu; he rejected the offering of water to his ancestors; he did not recite the Hindu Vedas; nor prayed to the 330 million gods, but contemplated only on the SHABAD what was revealed to Him from the Court of the Lord. Likewise, the other Sikh Gurus further developed what Guru Nanak preached; they never contradicted Nanak’s message and way of life.
In conclusion, while the ceremony is a beautiful one, it simply has no place in Sikhi because it is not higher than the Sikh teachings and way of life. The simple thread that is meant as a prayer to protect a sister and to seek the blessings of the brother’s long life and well being, is not any higher than believing that it is Akaal Purakh that protects and blesses us his beings. The Kara (iron bracelet) one of our Panj Kakkar is a constant reminder of shabad Guru and how Akal Purkh is with us constantly.
Threads are illusion, a Sikh of the Guru has no need for it to be reminded of his duty to the world, otherwise our Gurus would have allowed us to adopt it. And what of those who have no brothers? Who will protect them? What of those who have no sisters, who will pray for their long life and wellbeing? It’s all out of logic for Sikhs.
Rakhsha Bandhan is good for the Hindus, the Sikhs have their own beautiful way of life, made as simple as it could ever have been so that we can connect more to the Divine, and detatch more from the illusionary world.