Today is Raksha Bandhan day, a yearly moment when Indian sisters tie a sacred thread called raakhi to the wrists of their brothers, symbolising a bond that carries for the latter the responsibility of protection. The idea of Raksha Bandhan started in prehistoric times, but there are so many theories about its origins that it is best to forget them and get on with today. Let’s also ignore it when some people suggest raakhis have inspired the broader worldwide idea of Friendship Bands too, which have become popular only in the last 50 years. The idea has so much power that over the decades it has been snowballing into a silent movement that accommodates Indian women who do not have real brothers or may want to add more. The reverse is equally true, of men who have no sisters or may want to add more. Raksha Bandhan has gone farther since girls send such threads to men they haven’t met and may never do so, like heroes of sports or cinema. Virat Kohli, Amitabh Bachchan and such luminaries get plenty of such raakhis from their female admirers. This is also true of politicians, who each year get raakhis tied by underprivileged women, orphaned children, or just plain ordinary ladies, in what routinely become nationalised photo-ops. All the Presidents of India, from Dr Rajendra Prasad down, like Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and Ram Nath Kovind have happily offered their wrists for multiple raakhis, mostly by unknown girls or ladies, no matter how young or old the latter are.
This year like before, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have many girls and women tying him a raakhi. One of the people who will be wearing him a raakhi this morning is a lady of Pakistani ancestry. Qamar Mohsin Shaikh is originally from Karachi but has settled down in Ahmedabad after marriage. She has been wearing him a raakhi for an uninterrupted 23 years, and nothing has changed for her, the love for her caring and nominally-adopted brother being the same. But since he is so important and busy now, she is surprised he finds the time to meet her; he does so, at least on this day of the year.
This love between a Muslim woman and her Hindu brother is heart-warming, and it takes one to the great poet Rabindranath Tagore at the beginning of the 20th century. The British wanted to divide the Hindus and Muslims, so they decided to do that in Bengal to begin with. The state was cut up into a Hindu-majority part and a Muslim-majority part in 1905. That pained Tagore no end. He thought of using raakhis as a bond of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. He ran a strong campaign championing the cause of this amity, repeatedly urging people from both faiths to come and tie the thread of love on each other’s wrists and send a message to the British. Here’s a poem of his that romanced with the band:
The love in my body and heart
For the earth’s shadow and light
Has stayed over years
With its cares and its hopes it has thrown
A language of its own
Into blue skies
It lives in my joys and glooms
In the spring night’s buds and glooms
Like a Rakhi-band
On the Future’s hand
His efforts paid off. To the joy of Tagore, the British reversed their decision in 1911. Later, in 1947, they divided Bengal again, when the country got its freedom. It is good that Tagore had passed away in 1941; he may have wept to see what had happened. We will see more about Tagore later, but for now let’s see some songs that featured a brother and sister, as also a raakhi in our films.
First, songs to do with brother and sister:
- Chhota sa ghar hoga…”Chaandi ki kursi pe baitthe meri chhoti behna” (Kishore to Noor) (Kishore Kumar, Shaila Belle/Naukri, 1954)
- Meri chhoti si behen dekho gehne pehen (Nanda and Satish Vyas) (Lata, Geeta/Toofan Aur Diya, 1956)
- Wo door jo nadiya behti hai…”sun bhaiya mere” (Nanda and Jagdeep) (Rafi, Lata/Barkha, 1959)
- Mere bhaiya ko sandesha pahunchaana (Jaishree about Sunil Dutt) (Lata/Didi, 1959)
- Mere bhaiya mere chanda mere anmol ratan (Meena Kumari to Shailesh Kumar) (Asha/Kaajal, 1965)
- Meri pyaari beheniya banegi dulhaniya (Rajesh Khanna to Naaz) (Kishore Kumar/Sachcha Jhootha, 1970)
- Phoolon ka taaron ka sab ka kehna hai (Dev Anand to Zeenat Aman) (Kishore Kumar/Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1971)
- Behna o behna teri doli main sajaoonga (Amitabh to Heena Kausar) (Mukesh/Adalat, 1976)
- Chanda re mere bhaiya se kehna behna yaad kare (Farida Jalal for Raj Kumar) (Lata/Chambal Ki Kasam, 1980)
Now songs where Raksha Bandhan was happening:
- Raakhi ka mausam aaya re (Actors unknown) (Geeta Roy/Shaukat Hussain, ie Nashaad/Jeene Do, 1948)
- Rakhi ka aaya tyohaar (Actors unknown) (Lata, Shamshad/Rakhi, 1949)
- Bhaiya mere raakhi ke bandhan ko nibhaana (Nanda to Balraj Sahni) (Lata/Chhoti Behen, 1959)
- Rang birangi raakhi leke aayi behna (Mala Sinha to Balraj Sahni) (Anpadh, 1962)
- Meri raakhi ki rakhiyo tu aan re (Vyjayanthimala to Ashok Kumar) (Asha/Naya Kanoon, 1965)
- Bandha hua hai ik dhaage mein bhai-behen ka pyaar (background on Ashok Kumar and Waheeda Rehman) (Rafi/Raakhi, 1962)
- Rakhiya bandha lo bhaiya (Indrani Mukherjee to Ashim Kumar) (Lata/Bhojpuri film Laagi Naahi Chhoote Rama, 1963)
- Hum behnon ke liye mere bhaiya aata hai ik din saal mein (Nazima to Rajendra Kumar) (Lata/Anjaana, 1969)
- Ye raakhi bandhan hai aisa (Nazima to Manoj Kumar) (Lata/Beimaan, 1972)
- Behna ne bhai ki kalaayi pe pyaar baandha hai (Kumud Chhugani to Dharmendra) (Suman Kalyanpur/Resham Ki Dori, 1974)
- Meri behna ye raakhi ki laaj tera bhaiya nibhaayega (Shreeram Lagoo to Shraddha Varma) (Mohd Aziz, Suresh Wadkar, Manhar/Ghar Dwaar, 1985)
- Maata bhi tu pita bhi tu (Divya Rana to Dharmendra) (Anuradha, Rafi/Watan Ke Rakhwale, 1987)
We saw how much Tagore loved the idea of raakhi, and how he used it as a weapon to fight the British occupiers on our land. It was the same Rabindranath Tagore who didn’t like the harmonium because it was of foreign origins. Consequently, in 1940, he wrote a letter to the Director of All India Radio, then run by the British, informing him that the instrument was taken out of Shantiniketan, and please could they get it out of the studios of All India Radio too? That was a smart move, because the harmonium is of French origins, and was brought into India by French missionaries. The French were also in control of parts of India, and the British hated them. Thus, the harmonium was taken out of AIR in a ban that lasted 30 years. This banning also meant a ban on popular music, which is the reason Indians started playing their film music on Radio Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. The most successful of radio hosts to emerge as a consequence of Tagore’s appeal was the amazing man called Ameen Sayani, who for decades ran his Binaca Geet Malas. Ameen Sayani is still around, and still a radio show host, still with his trademarked “Behno aur bhaiyo!“ Wonder how many of his listening brothers have hugged him, and how many sisters sent him raakhis.
Originally published on Raksha Bandhan day, 26th August 2018 in DNA Jaipur, page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-08-26
Featured image: President Dr Rajendra Prasad on Raksha Bandhan day.