Today, Hindus across the world are celebrating the festival of Raksha Bandhan. What is Raksha Bandhan? In Sanskrit, it means ‘the tie of protection’. The word ‘raksha’ means protection, whilst ‘bandhan’ is the verb for tying. It is both a Hindu and secular festival which celebrates the close connections and duty between not only blood brothers and sisters, but men and women who share a similar connection despite being more distant relatives or biologically unrelated. The sister will tie a ‘rakhi’, a sacred thread, around the wrist of the brother. This symbolises the sister’s love for the brother, and her prayers for his well-being, as well as her brother’s vow to protect her.
Regardless of our beliefs, creed or other affiliations, today is therefore a day on which we can celebrate the close connections within our lives. These are not only the traditional ‘brother-sister’ relationships but in fact any close connection which we have within our own lives, irrespective of the gender of the other person. We can all take a small amount of time to reflect on the connections that we have and the positive impact that they have on our lives. It is not, however, only our own lives which are improved; many of the close connections that we forge are reciprocal. This means that in building close relationships, we not only benefit ourselves but someone else.
The benefit that often results is surely reason enough for each of us to make an effort to create close connections with those around us. How do we go about doing this? The traditional vow of a brother to protect his sister is, I believe, of great relevance here. Such close connections are formed out of one person’s concern for the well-being of another. This in turn creates the motivation to help them when they are in need. In short, the key element in building these connections is compassion. As human beings, I feel it is our responsibility to develop and exercise this value. We must be aware of the people around us and take the time to get to know them. We should not isolate ourselves from them because of any differences that may exist, but look past these differences and attempt to build new relationships. In very simple terms, we really all need to be nice to each other.
This leads onto a broader message that we can take from Raksha Bandhan: the importance of a sense of community. Layers upon layers of the close connections that are forged between individuals, and their overlaps go towards creating a much greater unit. The most striking example of this that I have seen is the Cambridge collegiate system. In twelve months, a new intake of students can go from, in most cases, hardly knowing each other, to becoming not only close friends but a tight-knit group. Such a tight-knit group collectively benefits all those within it.
A cursory glance at the current societal dynamic shows that we need to forge close connections and create this sense of community now more than ever. Both prior to and in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in June, the attitude of many in the UK towards immigrants became decidedly nastier; the surge in hate crime in the days after the results were announced is enough of an indication of this. Across the Atlantic, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to sow disunity and malcontent in various quarters with every speech that he makes. There is armed conflict around the world. At such a time, we should look to come together, not race apart from each other.
Each one of us can contribute to building the sense of community that we need to move through this troubled phase. Whether at school, university, the workplace, or even the street on which we live, it is vital that we make connections with the people around us and ultimately build close ties founded on compassion to create a much closer community. This, I believe, is the practical manifestation of the Hindu saying ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ – the whole world is one family.
Wishing a happy Raksha Bandhan to all.