The Sacred Thread: Its All In the Head

Guest blogged by Gurchit Singh. Gurchit is a 16-year-old aspiring activist (in his own words) who submitted this piece (his first) to The Langar Hall. Raksha Bandan was last Saturday, August 13th.

Oh the joys of Raksha Bandan! The air is filled with love, family members are conversing and munching on a plethora of sweets, hugs and kisses are being ecstatically extended to any and all family members the overemotional-mother can seem to get her loving arms around, and the overall mood in the home is one which many families can only dream of experiencing on a daily basis. Unfortunately, these loving moments only further promote a holiday which demotes women and opposes aspects of Sikhism itself.

While occupying myself with Facebook and sipping warm milk on the morning of Raksha Bandan, I was going through my daily routine of checking any notifications I may have received from the prior night. After reading many generic Raksha Bandan-related salutations, I finally came across one that actually defined what it was actually aimed at achieving: Raksha Bandhan is a festival which celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. The ceremony involves the tying of a rakhi (sacred thread) by a sister on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her. While reading this definition, the two phrases that IMMEDIATELY jumped out at me were sacred thread, which conjured an instant connection to one of Guru Nanak Dev Jis earliest forms of rebellion against what he believed aimless and biased: the Janeu ( the full Sakhi can be referenced here), and brothers lifelong vow to protect her, which called forth an image of a frail young woman constantly relying on her brother for protection from external occurrences.

So the question pending is: Why does a man need a cheaply crafted bracelet around his wrist to remind him that as a Sikh, he has the responsibility to assist an individual in need? He does not. Becoming a genuinely brave and helpful individual must come from within, and the only way to achieve this is to prioritize what is most important in life: yourself or others.

If one does wish to obtain a sacred thread, one need not go far, for the only true sacred thread is one that is metaphorical, and what is truly special about this thread, is that it is available to individuals of both sexes. Step back, think, and separate right from wrong, for self-contemplation is the only way one can truly improve and move on.

naae ma(n)niai path oopajai saalaahee sach sooth ||
dharageh a(n)dhar paaeeai thag n thoottas pooth ||3||

Believing in the Name, honor is obtained. The Lord’s Praise is the true sacred thread.
Such a sacred thread is worn in the Court of the Lord; it shall never break. ||3||

Now onto the meat of the matter: sexism. In my eyes, Raksha Bandan is just another ritual that made its way out of a predominantly sexist country, and now threatens to pollute the open-mindedness of others.

After condemning Rakhi on Facebook, a close friend commented the following: face it, [its] more likely the brother is often put through the test of protecting [their] sisters. Aside from grammatical flaws, this statement remains very incorrect. Yes, to many people the woman is feeble and weak, always looking for support, but to those that are capable of looking at things in a less provincial manner, it is clear that where the woman lacks physically, the man lacks mentally.

The idea of protection should be treated as a double-sided concept because any individual is capable of helping another. Men are more prone to giving into societal pressures, for our sex has been infested with the idea that drugs and alcohol make us cool and help us fit in. We need the help and protection of women most when we go through the phase where we wonder if drugs and alcohol can benefit us, and in all honestly, I find it more likely that any woman can talk me out of committing these deeds than any man ever could. Men are made to be physically stronger, but that does not mean women [cant] be just as strong if not stronger. Women can do many other things that men in fact cannot ~Anjali Lobana.

For the first time in my mere 16 years of life I have finally spoken aloud and opposed the family tradition of Raksha Bandan. I have taken a stand and have corrected my wrongs. I have stopped a tradition in my family which I feel undermines everything I have ever been taught and everything I have ever learned on my own. After 16 years of living my life, I have finally realized that the Revolution Starts With Me.


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56 Responses to “The Sacred Thread: Its All In the Head”

  1. Beautifully said. I have the same sentiments and have been unable to find the appropriate words to express it. Thank you for speaking aloud!

  2. kantay says:

    There is something wrong ™ with raksha bandhan. Strike a blow for freedom. Fight the good fight against sexism by attacking relatively benign and inconsequential superficialities along well worn tracks. Also ladoos. They should be pink AND blue so that we can have a revolution.

  3. MomandMeena says:

    Gurchit Singh: Fantastic post! Well done. We need more young Sikh men like you to take such a stand. Let the Revolution begin…..May Waheguru bless you.

  4. kantay says:

    By the way its really sad that in order to fight sexism you say that women are mentally stronger. Way to cut yourself down. Women and girls of color are significantly more likely to graduate college and get what jobs are out there. Maybe instead of symbols that are soft targets that your wider society will never pay mind to you could address the crisis of violence against women in colleges mostly by men and boys who have never heard of raksha bandhan or the serious disparities effecting boys of color in educational achievment. I know you are young but activists should go for thinking beyond the cliche.

  5. kantay says:

    Sorry if this is harsh but you will have more than enough people encouraging you, some because it serves their interest.

  6. KDS says:

    < Men are more prone to giving into societal pressures, for our sex has been infested with the idea that drugs and alcohol make us cool and help us fit in>

    Oh god from where does authors come out with these type of researches.Women if not more are equally vulnerable to societal pressure as men. many women in India ,in colleges or work places shun their traditional Indian image and adopt image of western babe because they feel its cool .They may like it or not but the they just succumb to look like babe because of freinds ,society.

    <I find it more likely that any woman can talk me out of committing these deeds than any man ever could. “Men are made to be physically stronger, but that does not mean women [can’t] be just as strong if not stronger. Women can do many other things that men in fact cannot” ~Anjali Lobana.>

    Again what a surprising statement .On an average women just have 52% of upper body strength compare to an average man.If women are similar then why don't we have unisexual sports all around the world just like the education

  7. Jasbeer Singh says:

    Gurchit Singh …you’re Great!! Excellent post..a much needed to break Brahman vaad entering into our Culture and Tradition..

  8. guest says:

    every tradition looks empty and meaningless if you don't understand the meaning and intent behind it. rakhri is just a chance for brothers and sisters to show their affection for one another, that's all. the blessings are supposed to be reciprocal. it's just a fun day to get together with your siblings and remind each other how you care for one another.

  9. Mohinder Singh says:

    U R right,it is just a day for fun and get together.Leave it to internet & blogs like TLH to turn every thing upside down and take the fun out of every little tradition in the name of sikhi.

  10. ravi says:

    thanks for the post, well written. an alternative approach to challenging this cultural practice is to reclaim raksha bandhan and change it's meaning. ie. brothers and sisters acknowledge a bond, will work to check each other, help each other grow and gain knowledge, and use the opportunity to agree to combat misogyny together as allies. the argument you lay out about women being stonger is true but simply dismissing the entire holiday could offend more old school folks.

  11. Busy Singh says:

    Toooo much time on your hands people!

  12. lazy singh says:

    look who's talking, busy!

  13. justaskraj says:

    maybe another point of view on Rakhri (what you call Raksha Bandhan).

    Back in some day, back in some way, married women were left, in Hindu tradition, to their own devices. So if their husband beat them, or prostituted them, as a brother you have no say, you see, there was no other way! And Muslims see women as inferior in every way!

    Take it however you like, I see Rakhri as a yearly bond between my sister and me, and nothing else you see. I'm always there to help her in any way, come what may, and she me any day!

    The thread is not sacred (i usually remove it 5-10 mins after), and any belief by anyone that the thread actually means something more (not just a Sikh) should get their head examined!

    The sacredness is the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood between my sisters and me!

  14. No body says:

    [EDITED BY ADMIN – Please read our policy: “This space is intended as a forum for open discussion. However, we will edit or remove comments we find inappropriate, at our discretion. No profanity, name-calling, discrimination, or hate will be tolerated, whether directed towards another commenter, a blogger, or an individual or group not directly present on TLH”.]

  15. kantay says:

    Jats in Punjab have never placed themselves in the caste system……buddhism, islam, sikhi, and the hinduism practiced in Punjab all show this. The British records indicate this as well. Jat kisay tho na kut. If we follow a certain path its because we agree with it.

  16. guest says:

    rakhri is about affirming the bond between brothers and sisters. gurchit singh describes it quite eloquently in his post:

    "Oh the joys of Raksha Bandan! The air is filled with love, family members are conversing and munching on a plethora of sweets, hugs and kisses are being ecstatically extended to any and all family members the overemotional-mother can seem to get her loving arms around, and the overall mood in the home is one which many families can only dream of experiencing on a daily basis"

    that sounds great to me. look, if you don't want to affirm the bond between yourself and your brothers and/or sisters, then don't participate, that's all there is to it. no need to drag religion into something that's not religious to begin with, saying this is sikhi and that is anti-sikhi.

  17. guest says:

    http://newsleaks.in/rakhi-celebrated-in-pakistan/

    "Rakhi is a festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters."

  18. hunny singh says:

    Who is exactly a Hindu….for that matter who is a Sikh?
    Having a bond with ur sister or brother is a cherished thing hopefully year round and like any day of remembrance its a day for exactly that remembrance. Having it come down to capital exchange and patriarchal protection are some of the pitfalls of commodification of relationships. It’s another part of the plan to create a pan Indian experience to serve imperial ideology. Thanks for sharing Gurchit.

  19. rmsingh says:

    Here's a devil's advocate argument: if, as Sikhs, we should reject rakhri as a practice, should we defend the right of others to practice this ritual? How does rakhri compare to, say, wearing of the veil/burqa/hijab, which while rejected by Sikhi, has been defended by Sikhs as a Muslim practice?

  20. kantay says:

    The gendered implications of raksha bandhan I agree does not have much to do with violence against women in US colleges and also does not have much to do with the serious disparities in educational achievement between boys and girls. It does.allow people to write the phrase “gendered implications of raksha bandhan”

  21. kantay says:

    Oh I forgot to add…also fight the power and the personal is political

  22. kantay says:

    Also please remember to apologize to your female relatives for being a Punjabi male and try to do better about that. I’m educating you, you are welcome

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