Bhai Tikka in Pictures

“Bhai Tikka” marks the final day of Tihar. I believe you could literally translate the holiday as bhai (brother) tikka (blessing); it is a day where sisters celebrate their brothers to ensure their long life and to thank them for the love and protection they give. As part of the festivities lots of good food is prepared for the brothers, and their sisters give them packages of sweets and nuts. There is a special puja, with a seven colored tikka and flower garlands. In return the sisters receive gifts or money from their brothers, and the whole ceremony acts as a strengthening and renewal of the brother-sister relationship.

A Tibetan dipection of Yama

A Tibetan depiction of Yama (Yamaraj)

I had a less detailed “origin story” for Bhai Tikka here before, but a friend sent me a good link, with a nice explanation: “Legend holds that when the Kirati King Bali Hang fell mortally ill, his sister Jamuna looked after him and guarded him. When Yamaraj, the God of Death, came for Bali Hang’s soul, Jamuna pleaded to wait until she finished worshipping her brother; that is, until Panchami (Bhai Tika). She then conducted a long and elaborate ceremony for her brother, and performed the same for Yamaraj. She also put forth some conditions: that Yamaraj should not take Bali Hang until the tika, which she had smeared on his forehead, fades away; until the water sprinkled on her brother dries; and until the makhmali flowers wilt. Over the years Yamaraj sent his messengers to inspect the flowers, and when the next Bhai Tika puja arrived Yamaraj admitted that he had lost Bali Hang’s soul to his pious sister and granted him long life.”

The article goes on to explain the individual elements of the ritual: “To begin

The elephant-headed god Ganesh-- one of the most famous images in Hindu iconography

The elephant-headed god Ganesh-- one of the most famous figures in Hindu iconography

the ceremony, the sister draws three mandaps or boundaries at a designated place. The mandaps are made for Lord Ganesh, Janmaraj (the God of Birth), and Yamaraj. The sister then performs the puja of the deities after which the brother is requested to sit on the mat for the tika ceremony. Special offerings are placed in front of him. While intoning a protective spell, the sister pours a circle of oil and holy water from a copper pitcher around his body as a boundary over which death and evil spirits cannot pass. Then, kneeling before him, she worships him with the offerings of flowers, nuts, fruits, and rice amidst flaming wicks and incense. She then breaks walnuts before applying the actual tika. The most important act is applying the special bhai tika—called saat rangi tika (seven colored tika), consisting of the colors of the rainbow. This is applied on top of a white base on the brother’s forehead. Creating the tika begins… [when the sister] applies the tika base (made from rice paste). The seven colors are dabbed on top of the base with her fingers… [or with a little stick.] Then, a flower garland is put around brother’s neck as the sister prays for his long life, happiness and continued prosperity.”

This year AS organized a small gathering for people who wanted to participate in Bhai Tikka. Usually one would tikka their “own” (biological) brothers as well as male cousins (cousin-brothers). AS’s “own” brother and cousin-brother live nearby, but for many their “own” sisters and brothers are far away. Being the tight-knit community that we are, long lasting friendships can grow into a brotherly/sisterly relationship anyway, and so we expanded the definition of “sister” and “brother” for this event.

We didn’t have garlands, but we made do with what we did have. Below are some pictures of the event:

The "puja platter"...with the seven different colors for the tikka

The "puja thaal"...with seven different colors for the tikka

AS rubs oil on P's head

AS rubs oil on P's head with a banana leaf

AS sprinkles water three times in a clockwise motion around P's head

AS sprinkles water three times in a clockwise motion around P's head

"Old Neighbor" puts tikka on P as other "sisters" get ready to put tikka

"Old Neighbor" puts tikka on P as other "sisters" get ready to put tikka

"Sisters" do an aarti for P's long life...

"Sisters" do an aarti for P's long life...

Two "brothers" with colorful tikkas

Two "brothers" with colorful tikkas

"Sisters" and "brothers"

"Sisters" and "brothers" post-tikka

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9 responses to “Bhai Tikka in Pictures

  1. The multi-color tikkas look pretty great.

    Is Raksha Bandhan celebrated in Nepal?

  2. According to P– yes it is celebrated in Nepal, and sisters can gift raksha to brothers, but it isn’t as “big” of an event as it is in India. I think since the “main” brother worship holiday in Nepal is Bhai Tikka many people don’t feel the need to do so much during the other holiday.

  3. At first I thought I must have read this post already since the pictures looked so familiar. :)

    The tikkas are really cool. Is there significance to the number of colors or the order of application or anything? I’ve never seen the multi-color before, it’s really beautiful.

    Also, I think I noticed that you and P didn’t give each other the tikkas. In Pakistan, there’s a big thing about not calling spouses (or potential spouses) bhai or behan – brother or sister. It’s even said that a marriage will be dissolved if the bhai/behen is used. I assume that would apply to more overt gestures like tikkas and raksha bhandhan if they were around in PK too, and I wondered if this or something like it was the reason you and P didn’t tikka each other? (or maybe you did and I missed it.)

  4. GoriWife, so after you asked your question I sent a few emails to some friends to try and find the answer… no one seemed to really know the reason, but then “Old Neighbor” send me a link to a magazine for expats in Nepal which explained everything very nicely (I added quotes from the article above). Although there is no explanation for why there are 7 colors or if there is significance for each specific color, the article does note that it is the “most important act” of the ceremony and said the tikka has a specific name “saat rangi tika” that consists of all the “colors of the rainbow.” I’ll ask around and see if I find out anything else.

    As for the relationship thing– you are definitely right! I’m not allowed to put tikka on P, because of our relationship. Most people call P “P-dai” giving the “older brother” suffix for a little added respect, and I remember once near the beginning of our relationship I jokingly referred to P as “P-dai” (since everyone else was doing it) and got the sense that it was certainly “not cool” to do that, and not to do it again.

    Having no “own” brothers myself (minus cousins, who would probably find all this kinda weird anyway), I thought that I could put tikka on P’s younger brother, since he is practically my brother-in-law, but I was told that I couldn’t because he isn’t “my own” brother, he’s P’s brother and the relationship is through P. Our friend D wouldn’t take a tikka from me because his original relationship is through P so my relationship is more like a “sister-in-law.” Likewise, I declared I couldn’t give a tikka to N because my original relationship is through my good friend AS, so he is more like my “brother-in-law.”

    Although… now that I think about it… AS tikked P for the past two years, so that means I’m already her sister-in-law, and she changed our primary relationship! But it’s already messed up, because N was P’s “fake mama” (uncle) at the Bratabandha… so I don’t know how we are “related” anymore!

    Anyway, the relationships are complicated! All I know for certain is that I can’t call P “dai” and I can’t give him tikka… I guess that is why it is easier to stick to my “own” brothers…

  5. lol. I am the youngest of 9 so I have plenty of people I guess…

  6. a wonderful blog! congratulations!
    could you help with an info?
    I am trying to remember the name of the puja when the rice sprouts are offered, which are grown in the dark. thanks
    barbara

  7. @Barbara: the ‘puja’ you are talking about is “Dashain”. It is one of the big festival celebrated in Nepal.

    • I was going to mention Dashain, but then figured that Barbara had lived in KTM for so long (8 years I think) that she would have know that one, and perhaps there was a more specific puja. Are there no other puja’s that sprout seeds in the dark as part of the ritual?

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