Monday, October 19, 2009

To The brothers with love...'Bhai Phota'

"Bhaier kapale dilam phonta,
Jamer Duare porlo kanta,
Jamuna Dae Jomke phonta,
Ami di amar bhaike phonta,
Bhai jeno hoy mota shota."

An east Indian rhyme, translated this would mean

"As I put the tilak on my brother's forehead
I wish him all the success and good health in life"

Living in a land that is distant not only in terms of miles but also in terms of traditions, from that of my forefathers, I try in my own way to preserve whatever little I can of the festivals and rituals I had grown up with. Today through this page, I share such a ritual with you all.
A bond that is much celebrated all over India is that of a brother and a sister. The fierce bond that survives childhood competition, rivalry, tattling and gently flows through the precocious teens of separate rooms and wardrobes, of secrets kept from each other, to finally mature into an oasis of security. We all have gone through these stages, we have fought and cried, we have hugged and laughed, we have cursed and sworn, we have mimicked and pulled each other's legs. We have also, each year, two days after Diwali, celebrated with love and joy, 'Bhai Phota'
In Bengal this event is called 'Bhai Phota'. Two days after Kali puja or Diwali, on dvitiya (second day), 'Bhai Phota' is celebrated. On this day, sisters keep a fast and invite their brothers to be felicitated. This event is ceremoniously performed by the loving sister who religiously fasts the whole morning until she applies a 'Phota' (tilak) of 'chandan' (sandal wood) paste, 'kaajol'(kohl) and 'doi' (yogurt) on her brother's forehead, wishing him a long life and offering him sweets and gifts. The sisters make their brothers sit on an Asana (a small cotton mattress) and draws the 'Phota' on the forehead of the brother. If the sister is elder then she blesses her brother with rice grains and 'Durba' (blades of grass) when the brother touches her feet. The brother also eagerly waits for his sister to apply the 'Phota' and in turn lavishes her with love and gifts. After this the brothers are served sweets and then the whole family engages into singing songs, playing games and anything that is enjoyed by all. On this day relatives are invited to the house for lunch or dinner and thus a huge gathering of young children, teenagers and adults make the ambience more festive and cheerful. The sisters, dressed in their best, make the arrangement for the 'Phota'.Well this is how it happens traditionally, but in reality, as kids the brothers and sisters are coerced into this tradition by the parents. With grumpy faces they oblige to sit on the asana and take the phota, the sister at times, emphasises that if her brother doesn't mend his ways, this is the last year she will be taking part in this festival, after the obligatory smiles to the camera, the fights that were left midway are taken up and life continues. The years follow and the parents across all the towns of India instill the values of love and bonding among their kids through this tradition, and slowly yet surely the little minds change. the sister grows up and her prayers turn genuine, the brother most of the times, leaves the home to study at a distant shore, and on this particular day the feeling of nostalgia, of bygone bhai photas, of the gifts shared and the warmth of togetherness is missed whole heartedly. Maybe it is this that strengthens the bonds, maybe it is the Phota(tilak). who is to say? All we know is, that the tradition of the phota instils faith in us that our brothers will remain hail and hearty wherever they are.Pictures are of my two kids taken in two different years, at different houses... today also we will celebrate this ritual of a love that stands the test of all times.


  1. Hmm that is interesting to know! All these days, I was only aware of 'Raksha Bandhan'. On that day sisters tie Rakhi to their brothers and put tilak on forehead. Thanks for so much detailed info on 'Bhai Phota' :)

    Nice pics.. kids are so cute!

  2. Thank you for sharing this tradition, and for being so candid and honest. This must build strong bridges between siblings as they get older, no matter that they fight (as all children do) while growing up.

  3. Thats really great .Some thing that reminds responsibilities to each other and strengthens the bond. Wish your kids a happy 'Bhai phota' .

  4. sweet ritual...growing up an only child, I missed having a brother or a sister and the strength they can be after you survive the teasing and!

  5. This was super cute!!!!

    Happy Diwali to you and your loved ones.

  6. Very well written and touching post! Even in Hawaii, ethnic traditions are dying off, replaced by modern ones.

  7. Lovely post!
    Thank you ....I really enjoyed it!


  8. I was wondering how come your daughter has got long hair in one photo and short hair in another!

    Yes, this is a good tradition. As you said, the children will remember these things more after they are adults. Our ancestors were following these types of traditions with some meaning, Kavita.

    We, in Tamilnadu do it on the next day to Pongal festival.

  9. @Mohan Thanks Our country is so diverse and rich in traditions, at times I dont know where to start digging!

    @Clytie Thank you, this is the most honest bond I think.

    @Bhavya thanks a lot.

    @Nituscorner thankyou, onek din dhore bloghopping korini, pujor por theke ekebare time pacchina, I am itching to hop to your blog asap!

    @Lin Floyd I have grown up an only child as well, and can very well understand what you mean. Fortunately, I am extremely close to my cousins, which helps.

    @Priyanka Khot thanks

    @gigi-Hawaii we do change with times and new traditions evelve, but a few of the older ones are so close to heart, that its not easy to let go of them

    @Margie thanks

    @Sandhya hope the confusion is cleared now. My daughter wont allow a scissor anywhere near her hair. We all have similar rituals isnt it..just that the times we celebrate them are different..

  10. Sujata,we celebrate BHAIYA-DOOJ in North India but here Assamese people don't observe it...but i do make my kids observe this(only twice till now) and the whole family enjoys .Your kids are adorable,my daughter too hates trimming her hair .Sujata thanks for such a lovely description and sharing your kids cute pictures of Bhai-Phota celebration.

  11. Hi Kavitha,

    Never heard of this custom, but it sure sounds fun! Thank you for enlightening me on this tradition.

    Another way to celebrate sibling love!:)

    Sharon (There's a great handmade giveaway going on at The Keybunch courtesy Kye Designs)

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  13. ahhh i loved this. Happy Diwali to you and your family.

  14. Oh, Kavita! Thanks for sharing a lovely tradition, it sounds (and looks) wonderful. It also brings back memories of my brother's and my close relationship. We fondly and laughingly announce to all that we are each other's BEST FRIEND. By the way, he is a year & 10 months younger than I am.

  15. @Kavita thanks, I love this tradition a lot and missed it way too much as a kid, being an only child, I got rare chances of celebrating this festival with my cousin. Put up your daughter's pic somewhere, I would love to see her.

    @ Sharon Colaco D'Souza thank you very much for liking the post Sharon

    @ NISHANT NISCHAL thanks a lot for appreciating the post.

    @Kathy thank you

    @Dellgirl thankyou nothing like it if siblings grow up to be the BEST FRIENDS!!

  16. one of the highlights of our growing years used to be Bhai phota.... our sister used to give us the phota and then mama used to cover over for lunch and we used to go pishier bari hopping for dinner.
    At the end of the day we used to collect quite an booty

    Nice to see the young guy in the picture .. proud and confident!

  17. Haven't celebrated bhai-phota for some years now as my brother and I rarely meet around this time. But I do remember the gifts I got with much fondness!
    And instead of 'doi', we use ghee. Which drips all over the forehead and makes a major mess. And stinks too. Doi, I guess is better.

  18. very informative,, the brother sister relation is always the most precious one...

    ur post reminded me of the day, when it was rakshabandhan.. and our parents were coercing us to do the things traditionally, my sister was already very angry at tht, and we had this stupid camera which doesnt work most of the time, and our father made us pose in the rakhi typing post for half and hour after which my sister cried a lot..

  19. This is so lovely!!!
    Thanks you for sharing this. I'm very interested about indian culture and traditions. That's another reason why I love this blog.

  20. You made me so nostalgic. Remembered all those years when I eagerly waited for this day (only because this was the only time my younger cousin agreed to touch my feet...all the other cousins were much older to this was indeed special).

    Now they are scatterred all over the world...and all we do is call or mail each other on this day. I hope the "photas" of yesteryears will keep them healthy and well...for the years to come.

  21. @SumanDebRay in calcutta still this day is the best of all the festivals in terms of eating and collecting bounty!!

    @Aparna rakhis we can send, but to send a phota would require a digital imaging of our thumbprint on the screen and perhaps the bro can touch his forehead onto the comp screen and voila we have a bhai phota!!

    @Uncommon sense didnt i say it just the way it happens!! it happened at your place as well, the smile for the camera and then angry words!!

    @Lazyking thanks

    @Scribbler Amen to that!!

  22. Very lovely post! Thank you for sharing this tradition. I love it. My brother and I have always shared a close relationship and now my son and daughter does, too. My son says it's nice to have somebody you always know is there with unconditional love. It's so true.

  23. oops the feast of 'Raksha Bandhan' already over?
    didnt even know that ...

    they look cute in picts ..

  24. Nice pics and description of a tradition. Only knew of Raksha Bandhan and Bhai dooj. Thanks for sharing.

  25. I lived for years in close touch with the Bengali community, but was not aware of this festival. Thanks for filling the gap.

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  27. Oops, had a typo!

    Hi, Kavita, just popping back in to see what's new and to say have a wonderful week.

    I wanted to see how you are, what you're doing and to wish you a happy week ahead.

    Do you do Halloween or do you skip that one? What are you and the kids doing this year?

    Have a good week, Kavita!