Siblings Day

A sibling is a gender-neutral word for a relative that shares at least one parent. A male sibling is a brother and a female sibling is a sister. A person with no siblings is an only child. Given that most siblings are brought up together, there is usually a very strong emotional bond between them and the relationship between siblings is unique in itself. The word sibling was reintroduced in 1903 in an article in Biometrika, as a translation for the German Geschwister, having not been used since 1425.

With siblings, we can be ourselves. They know all our secrets and maybe some secrets we don’t even acknowledge to ourselves. Siblings shape the person you become because growing up with people of different attitudes, characters and idiosyncrasies, you learn to get along with people instinctively. And of course, growing up with siblings, you have to learn to communicate and express yourself so your voice is heard. If your sibling is of the opposite sex, then you have a live example of how that sex thinks and works. This will stand you in great stead in life. Having a sibling is one of the best parts of life, you have a built-in companion for life. As Dr Terri Apter, the author of ‘The Sister Knot’ so rightly put it: siblings may not always agree with you or even like you, but they elicit a great interest in you that is difficult to replicate in any other relationship.

Since siblings have such a huge impact on our lives, should there not be a festival or even a day to celebrate this bond? In India, the beautiful festival of Raksha Bandhan celebrates the love and bonds between a brother and sister. But this festival, the oldest festival in the category, only celebrates the bonds between siblings of the opposite gender. What about siblings who are of the same gender?

That’s when Siblings Day comes into the picture. Siblings Day is a holiday celebrated annually in some parts of the United States and Canada on April 10 and as Brothers and Sisters Day on May 31 in Europe. Unlike Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it is not federally recognised in the United States, though the Siblings Day Foundation is working to change this.

Siblings Day was conceived by Claudia Evart to honour the memory of her brother and sister, who died at an early age. The Siblings Day Foundation was incorporated in 1997 and achieved non-profit status in 1999. In Europe, was launched in 2014 by the European Large Families Confederation or ELFAC to celebrate siblings’ bonds and relationships. The May 31 feast spread in different ways in the European countries where ELFAC is present. In Portugal, Dia dos Irmãos has become very popular. ELFAC has associate members in several European countries including Austria, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Switzerland.

So if you haven’t already done so, take some time to spend time with your sibling/s and enjoy the day, going back to a time when life was uncomplicated and all you needed was the love of your siblings. Happy Siblings Day!

Festivals of India: Avani Avittam and Raksha Bandhan


Today is the festival of Avani Avittam and Raksha Bandhan. Both are festivals which are male centric festivals and which come on the same day each year. I have written about both festivals previously so will not go into the details here. I have always wondered why two diverse festivals – one celebrated in North India and the other mostly in South India, which are possibly the only festivals in the respective cultures which are a celebration of the male gender fall on the same day. Recently I had a ephipany. In both these festivals, the star of the show, if we can call it that, are threads that bind us to our loved ones, to our traditions and to our roots.

During Avani Avittam, which typically falls on the full moon day of the Shravan month, male Brahmin men and boys who have had their thread ceremony done, reaffirm their faith as a twice born and by changing their sacred thread, they symbolically throw away their sins of the previous year and start the year on a clean slate.

The festival is one of the most auspicious festivals for Brahmins and the day is an important one for those who follow the Yajurveda as on this day they start reading Yajur Veda, which they continue to read for the next six months. It is believed that on Avani Avittam, Lord Vishnu has reincarnation himself as Lord Hayagriya, who is seen as the symbol of wealth and knowledge. On this day, God Vishnu who is worshiped as the high deity power actually restored the Vedas to Brahma.

There is a story behind these sacred threads. Lord Brahma, the creator was filled with pride for knowing the entire Veda. Lord Vishnu to crush his pride created two demons Madhu and Kaitabha to steal Vedas from him. Brahma then not being able to save Vedas, he asked Vishnu to help him restore it. Lord Vishnu took the form of Hayagriva and restored the Vedas and supressed the pride of Brahma. Hence, Hayagriva incarnation is associated with knowledge and wisdom.This day is celebrated as Upakarma(Beginning)  also called as Hayagriva utpatti. Restoration of Vedas is known as a mark of new beginning and hence Upakarama is celebrated.This day is also referred as Hayagriva Jayanti.

The sacred thread comprises of three strands, joined by a knot known as Brahmagranthi or the knot of Brahma. The three strands symbolise the Hindu trinity – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. There are other interpretations which represent many of the other triads like Mahasaraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakali; or the three tendencies known as sattva or harmony, rajas or passion and tamas or chaos. You could also interpret the three strands as the link between the past, present and the future or the three states of wakefulness, dream and deep sleep. Some even say that it represents the three dimensions known as heaven or swarga, earth or martyaloka and the nether regions or patala. The sacred thread is also a kind of an indication to the marital status of the wearer. An unmarried man will wear one thread of three stands, a married man will wear two and a married man who has had his first child will wear three. In the old days, when most men did not wear a upper garment, this was the indicator people had about their marital status and if they had any children.

This year, the ceremony of changing the sacred thread was done online at our home. S and BB woke up early and after completing their morning prayers, sat down in front of the laptop where they joined others across the island on a video platform where the resident priest chanted the mantras and went through the ceremony with them. We also received the new sacred thread by post last week after signing up and paying for the ceremony online.

BB had to rush for school, so GG quickly tied her thread of love on his wrist before he headed out of the house.

These are the threads that tie us to our roots and our traditions. I call these ceremonies and functions our anchors because without them, we are left floundering and rootless. Especially in today’s world which is so uncertain and vague, it is good to hold on to traditions that are special to you. Your lineage, irrespective of where you come from, goes back at least a few hundred years, if not millennia, so be proud of who you are and where you come from, so you can show your children and your grandchildren where they can go to.

Happy Raksha Bandhan and Avani Avittam to everyone celebrating these festivals.

Poem: Ties that Bind

Last week was the festival of Raksha Bandhan which celebrates the love between brothers and sisters. As usual, GG tied the sacred thread or Rakhi on BB’s right wrist. This year, he kept it for 24 hours whereas in previous years it would barely last a few hours or at the very least overnight. He has also promised GG that next year, she gets to choose the rakhi she wants (this year, he insisted on a very simple one, while GG wanted one which was slightly more grand than what BB chose)

This poem is inspired by the love I see between BB & GG every single day. They can’t go a day without seeing and speaking with each other and last year when they went for their camps and overseas learning journeys, you could actually see the other being antsy. I now wonder how they will go through the two years when BB will enlist for his national service in a couple of years time.

Ties that Bind

A sibling’s love is like that anchor
It’s a bond that lives on forever
They fight, they laugh, but they have each other’s back
It’s the world against them, to the very max

There are few relations as close and loving as the one twins share
It’s a bond even us parents can’t compare

On the special day for brothers and sisters
They reaffirm their love with the sacred thread
He promises to love and protect her always
She promises to love and be there for him all the days

They are true friends for life, truly entwined
Best friends and siblings in the ties that bind

Avani Avittam

Today is Avani Avittam, one of the most important days in the year of a Hindu South Indian Brahmin.  It is probably the only festival that I know where men get top billing. On this day, men (and boys) reaffirm their faith as brahmins and also change their sacred thread. Here is a link from Wikipedia which give more details about the festival and its meaning. The day after Avani Avittam is the day when all brahmin men are supposed to do the Gayatri Japam, even if you don’t do it on any other day 0f the year.

We plan to do P’s Upakarma most probably end of next year. This is when he will be formally initiated into becoming a Brahmin. This is something that needs to be discussed with both my parents as well as S’s parents sometime soon.

Today is also Raksha Bandhan. This is a very beautiful Indian festival which reaffirms the ties between a brother and a sister. This is mainly celebrated in northern India, but since I have grown up in the western part of the country, I have adopted it as well and D&P have been celebrating it since they were babies. In the evening after they are back from school, D will tie the rakhi to her brother. I’ll take a picture of the Rakhi and post it here tomorrow.