Festivals of India: Bhai Dhooj

About 10 days back, on the second day after the festival of lights, Diwali, is the festival of which strengthens the bonds between a brother and sister. Also known as Bhratri Dwitiya, Bhaubeej, Bhai Tika and Bhai Phonta, Bhai Dhooj strengthens the bond of affection between brothers and sisters. There are two Bhai Dooj in Hindu calendar. The first one falls on the Dwitiya Tithi of Chaitra month and is not as popular as the second one which falls two days after Diwali or the second lunar day of Shukla Paksha or the bright fortnight in the calendar month of Kartika. The celebrations are similar to the festival of Raksha Bandhan and on this day, sisters give gifts to their brothers. In the southern part of the country, the day is celebrated as Yama Dwitiya.

The festival is known by different names in different communities. In North India, it is known as Bhai Dooj and is observed during the Diwali festivities, on the second day after Diwali. In Nepal it is known as Bhai Tika, where it is the most important festival after Dashain or Vijaya Dashmi or Dussehra. Observed on the fifth day of the Tihar festival, it is widely celebrated by the Khas people. In West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Bangladesh, it is known as Bhai Phonta and it takes place every year on the second day after Kali Puja. In western Odisha, it is called Bhai Jiuntia while the Marathi, Gujarati and Konkani-speaking communities in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and Karnataka call it Bhau Beej, Bhav Bij or Bhai Beej. Other names for the festival include Bhatru Dviteeya, Bhatri Ditya or Bhaghini Hastha Bhojanamu in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Another name for the day is Yamadwitheya or Yamadvitiya, after a legendary meeting between Yama the God of Death and his sister Yamuna, the river on the Dwitheya or the second day after new moon. According to a legend, Yamraj’s sister Yamuna tried to get her brother to visit her on many occasions but Yamraj was unable to do so for a long time. When he finally met her, he was greeted with a grand ceremony, offered sweets and had the ceremonial tika placed on his forehead. Being immensely pleased with the love and respect he was showered with, Yamraj gave Yamuna a boon and she in turn asked him to dedicate a day on which he would visit her house each year. Hence, the ritual of siblings visiting each other on this day began to honour the kinship between them.According to another legend, after slaying the evil demon Narakasura, Lord Krishna visited his sister Subhadra who gave him a warm welcome with sweets and flowers. She also affectionately applied tilaka on Krishna’s forehead and some believe this to be the origin of the festival.

Celebrated like the festival of Raksha Bandhan, but without the tyong of the rakhi on the brother’s wrists, on this day, sisters invite their brothers for a sumptuous meal often including their favourite dishes and sweets. The ceremony signifies the duty of a brother to protect his sister, as well as a sister’s blessings for her brother. Sisters then perform an arti for their brother and apply a red tika on the brother’s forehead. This signifies the sister’s prayers for the long and happy life of her brother and treat them with gifts. In return, elder brothers bless their sisters and treat them with gifts or cash. In Haryana and Maharashtra, women who do not have a brother worship the moon instead and apply henna or mehendi on girls as a tradition. For sisters whose brothers live far away and can’t meet her, send her prayers for the long and happy life of her brother through the Moon God and performs aarti or prayer to the moon. This is the reason why children affectionately call the moon Chandamama where Chanda means the moon and mama means a mother’s brother. In West Bengal, Bhai Phonta is marked with many rituals along with a grand feast arranged for the brothers though it is necessary that, both the brother and sister are more than 5 years of age.

In Nepal, Bhaitika or Bhaitihar is known as the tihar or festival of brothers. On this day, sisters pray to the God of death, Lord Yamra for the long life and prosperity of their brothers. The ritual involves sisters marking the forehead of their brothers with a seven coloured long tika with the rest of the rituals is similar to that performed by Hindus elsewhere.

To all sisters and brothers, hope you had a fabulous festive period!

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