Raksha Bandhan is an old Hindu tradition where a sister ties a Rakhi around her brother's wrist as the brother pledges to protect her. It's most majestic rendition was when Rajput princesses would tie Rakhis around their brothers' arms as they (the brothers) left to fight the Mughals.
Centuries later Rabindranath Tagore revived this cusotm when the British proposed partitioning Bengal for the first time around 1911.
The Bengali version of a brother sister festival is 'bhai fota'. This happens a couple of days after Kali Puja or Diwali. This is celebrated in other parts of India such as Maharashtra as Bhai Dooj.
In Bhai Fota the sister prays for the well being of her brother. From what I remember the basic specs are as follows:.
Bother and sister sit facing each other on the floor. The sister dips her finger in sandal wood paste and applies a dot/ teeka/ fota on the brother's forehead. This happens thrice with curd and ash from a diya (or kajal/ eye liner???) substituting the sandal wood paste.
While doing this she recites a little ditty which goes something like this In Bengali:
Jomer duare porlo kaata
Jamuna dai bhai ke phota
Aami di amar bhai ke fota
This loosely translates as 'Yamraj, the God of death, is stopped in his tracks as Jamuna gives her brother a fota (teeka) and I give my brother a fota.' This is based on a mythological story which I once knew.
Sweets are exchanged. If the sister is older she blesses the brother who touches her feet and gives him a gift. This is reversed if the brother was older.
Yesterday was bhai fota and I was remembering Pupai, our next door neighbour from Kolkata. We had all moved into our apartments in Kolkata in the mid eighties. We were two brothers at home. And Pupai was an only child with no immediate brother. I was eleven. My brother was three. it's not polite to refer to a young lady's age but I think Pupai was five or six years old.
So our bhai fota ritual started. We hardly missed a year in between. I was elder than Pupai and my brother was younger than her. So we all got gifts.
Her mom would organise the sweets and cook ghoogni, a Bengali chick pea dish, which we really looked forward to. (Turn to another Bong Mom's lovely blog for a recipe of traditional ghoogni).
My Mom would get pastries from Jalajog, the Bengali savoury shop from the Stone Ages, and make 'chow mein'. Very few Bong Mom's would make Chinese at home those days and this was quite a novelty too.
I left Kolkata fourteen years later. Pupai, grew up went to college, went to Delhi and then to Texas. Through her journeys she would find out my email id's and wish me on Bhai Fota.
I hadn't heard from Pupai for a couple of years and I was thinking of writing this post on Sunday. I opened facebook on my phone and suddenly saw a Facebook friend request from a vaguely familiar name. Turned out that it was from Pupai using her grown up name!!! ('Pupai' was her nickname.) She had tracked me out and sent me Bhai Fota wishes all the way from Texas. She's doing her PHD. And I am sure the world is her oyster now.
That message from miles away made my day. I told Pupai to buy a Bhai Fota gift for herself on my behalf.
I guess this post will have to do till we next meet.
Happy bhai fota Pupai.
Caveat: The customs and historical references in this post are based entirely on my memories from a long time back. There could be mistakes and gaps in them and should not be taken as definitive. Any corrections, as comments, would really be appreciated.