India Matters – Bhai Dooj

This section addresses relevant issues and facts about different parts of India through the 6Ws and 1H question answer format.

Bhai Dooj:

What is Bhai Dooj?
Why is it celebrated?
When is Bhai Dooj celebrated?
Who were the main characters in the story behind Bhai Dooj?
How is it celebrated?
Where is it most important?
Which festivals are similar to Bhai Dooj?
What is Bhai Dooj?
It is an Indian festival that is celebrated with special joy and piety.
Why is it celebrated?
This festival marks the love between a brother and sister. In India, family bonds are very important, and the ties between brother and sister are considered special. Bhai means ‘brother’ in Hindi.
When is Bhai Dooj celebrated?
It is celebrated on the last day of the Deepavali period – the second day after the New Moon in the month of Karthigai or Karthik in the Hindu Calendar. In 2019, the day falls on October 29th.
Who were the main characters in the story behind Bhai Dooj?
There are several versions of how the festival originated. Some believe that it revolves around Lord Yama, who is usually a feared deity, as he is known as the God of Death. However, once, he was a welcome guest, not a dreaded visitor. That was when he went to see his beloved sister Yami. She welcomed him with aarathi and tilak. This made Lord Yama extremely happy. He declared that from then on, if any woman performed aarthi for her brother and applied tilak on his forehead on the anniversary of that day, the man would not need to fear death. According to another version, the event celebrates Lord Krishna’s visit to his sister Subhadra after killing the terrible demon Narakasura. Subhadra joyfully received her brother with sweets, flowers and tilak. In South India, the festival of Karthikai Deepam has a similar legend attached to it as a sweet side-story. The only daughter of an ancient king had a pet elephant to which she was very attached. She considered the elephant her ‘brother’. The little girl grew up, and got married. She had to go away to her husband’s house, leaving here elephant-brother behind. She missed her ‘brother’ so much that each year, on the occasion of Karthikai Deepam, she lit a special lamp called the Gajalakshmi Vilaku and prayed for his wellbeing. Women light Gajalakshmi Vilakkus for their brothers on the festival day even today.
How is it celebrated?
Women prepare their brothers’ favourite dishes, and invite them to a feast. The tilak they apply on their brothers’ foreheads symbolises their prayers for the wellbeing of their siblings. In return, the men bless their sisters. Often, they also give gifts, including money.
Where is it most important?
Bhai Dooj is especially important in North India and Nepal. It is called by different names in different parts of the country – Sodara Bidige in Karnataka, Bhai Phota in Bengal, Bhay Bij in Maharashtra, and so on.
Which festivals are similar to Bhai Dooj?
Raksha Bandhan is a very similar festival. Women pray for the long life and prosperity of their brothers, and the men promise to love and protect their sisters. This festival too has several legends from Hindu mythology attached to it.
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