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Bhai Dooj - A Brother Sister Festival

(by Sonal Kulshrestha)

(Photo credit: Origin unknown)

We are on the fifth and the last day of the 5-day long Diwali celebrations. This day is celebrated as 'Bhai-Dooj'. 'Dooj' means the second day after the new moon, the day of the festival, and 'bhai' means brother. As the name suggests, this is a festival that celebrates the special bond between a brother and a sister. Hindus celebrate this special relationship twice every year, the other time being 'Raksha-Bhandhan' or 'Rakhi' in August. 

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On this day, sisters pray for long, healthy and prosperous life of her brothers. They apply 'tilak' on their forehead, perform their 'aarti' and offer them sweets. On his part, the brother gifts his sister money or a gift.

As with all other Hindu festivals, this too has various legends tied to it. One such legend that explains its origin involves Yama, the God of Death and his twin sister, Yamuna. According to Kalyani Bhat, who has taught religious classes in the Dallas Fort Worth Hindu Temple for 8 years, on this day, Yama visited his sister’s home where she did his aarti and fed him. Yama then told her that henceforth brothers would be invited to their sisters’ home and that any brother who visits the sister on Bhai Dhooj day will escape the hand of Yamaraj. According to another legend, Vishnu had to agree to be King Bali’s guard. Then Laxmi, pretending to be a poor woman, asked King Bali to be her brother. Once he agreed, he had to grant her any wish. So Laxmi asked him to release Lord Vishnu. He had to. And so the legends go on.

 No other religion in the world has a designated festival for a brother-sister relationship, let alone two. Indian cinema, of course, glorifies this relationship too. We have all heard the soulful, "phoolon ka taron ka, sabka kehna hai, ek hazaron mein meri behna hai, sari, umar, hamen sang rehna hai". We have all grown up seeing the Hindi movie hero dote on his sister (thinking of Dev Anand in 'Hare Rama Hare Krishna') or sacrifice everything to get his ‘chhoti behna’ (younger sister) married (thinking of Raj Babbar in 'Dulha bikta hai') or is simply pained to see his sister sad (thinking of Amitabh singing the song, 'Nahi Main Nahi Dekh Sakta Tujhe Rote Hue in the movie, ‘Majboor’).

Not to say that the brother-sister relationship is not worthy of being glorified. Because it is. A brother is a girl's first best friend of the opposite gender. He knows her favorite singer, her favorite shows, her favorite teacher even. He knows her shortcomings and still loves her. And vice verse. Although, we have to admit, as kids, we seldom appreciate the significance of this festival. Most of us have certainly witnessed our little son whine and crib about the money he’s supposed to gift his sister. It pretty much goes as, "How come she gets the money and I don't. That’s not fair!" But our wisdom tells us that the whining and cribbing will go away as our kids get older, leave the house, go their separate ways in life and settle down with their own spouse and kids. As they'll get busy in the grind that is life, they'll miss the days when they were kids, when they endlessly played together, sang together, when they were there for each other and when they had each other's back. We know now that when "life happens", festivals like these are gentle reminders of the beautiful, carefree time that we spent with our siblings.

Happy Bhai Dooj!

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