Special days such as Raksha Bandhan and Friendship Day transcend boundaries and celebrate relationships

For Priya, a Marwari settled in Madurai for 22 years, Raksha Bandhan is more important than even Diwali or Holi. “It’s either because I love my brother so much or just that the festival brings back so many wonderful memories,” says Priya. “Rakhi symbolises a promise for life. It’s only the brother who looks after you next to your parents.” She ties rakhis on 12 men including cousins. “Being in Madurai, where Rakhi is hardly celebrated, we post rakhis and gifts earlier or we exchange gifts later when we meet.”

Initially, the ‘North Indian festival’ was a quiet affair among close-knit families and friends, but now even Tamilians have started to tie rakhis. Shilpa, a Kutchi Maduraiite, ties rakhi on Madhavan, her neighbour of 15 years. “In the north, we also tie rakhis to ‘mooh bole bhai’ (brother by word of mouth),” she says.

The market in Madurai is flooded with rakhis for the upcoming festival. Apart from the latest varieties of rakhis, ‘puja thalis’ that come with sets of kumkum, diya and greeting cards are also available in Archies and similar stores. A complete new collection of kids’ rakhis has hit the shelves. Little sisters and brothers can wear Pokemons, Tom & Jerrys and cartoons that emit light and sound on their wrists.

“Earlier it was difficult to find rakhis, but now every fancy store has at least the basic varieties,” says Mamta, a North Indian. “I have been in Madurai for 19 years and I post rakhis even overseas. It’s not that you have to tie rakhi to only your own brother. Even cousins and others who are also considered brothers can be tied a rakhi.”

Mahesh, a Sindhi born and brought up in Madurai, says, “Raksha Bandhan literally means ‘a tie of protection’. The sister prays for the well-being of her brother so that he will protect her in times of need.” Showing the gift box his sister had sent from Bangalore, he says, “Nowadays, these kinds of rakhi sets and boxes come handy. They contain chocolates, goodies, dried fruits, mishri (kalkandu), rakhi and other decorative items.”

While, the ‘bhai behen’ relation is celebrated on Raksha Bandhan, best buddies are buying bands for Friendship Day. “Both the festivals are similar,” says Mani, a college student. “It’s about tying a thread to symbolize relationship. But Friendship Day is more westernized. Even the designs of the bands are modern, whereas rakhis are traditional in look. Every year, we celebrate the occasion with a small get-together. We party and go for a movie. Even on sites like Facebook, friends have planned reunions and trips.”

“To mark the day, sites like way2sms.com have increased the number of free SMS. And as always, I text all my friends on the day,” says Aravind, a collegian. “Though relations are forever, a specific day earmarked to celebrate them helps to take a break from the routine and drop a word of love for the people who care for you.”