“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.
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 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: