Image Courtesy : Kolkata Pages
Bhai phonta is a Bengali Hindu festival where the loving sisters (both older and younger) pray for the health, wellbeing and success of their brothers. It is celebrated one or two days after Kalipuja.
In this auspicious occasion the sisters mark the forehead of the brothers with sandalwood paste and curd and chant the mantra of wellbeing. The custom also involves exchanges of gifts both ends. This festival is very similar to Bhai Dhooj celebrated in northern India, Ningol Chakkouba in NorthEast India, Bhai Tika in Nepal and many other parts of eastern India and Bhau Beej in western India.
The History and Origin
As Rig Veda has it, Yama and Yamuna were twins (brother and sister) born to Lord Surya. In their earthly incarnations, Yamuna was longing to see her dear brother and invited Yama to her house. When Yama, the god of death visited her, she prayed for his well being. The other legends that concern the origin of bhai phonta connect Vishnu, Krishna and Mahavira.
However, according to Shailendra Haldar, the folklorist and social historian, due to various societal changes along with the advent of agriculture, the sisters started pray for their brothers’ safety, well being as well as success. The bhai phonta festival originates from that social practice.
ভাইয়ের কপালে দিলাম ফোঁটা, যমের দুয়ারে পড়ল কাঁটা।
যমুনা দেয় যমকে ফোঁটা, আমি দিই আমার ভাইকে ফোঁটা॥
যমুনার হাতে ফোঁটা খেয়ে যম হল অমর।
আমার হাতে ফোঁটা খেয়ে আমার ভাই হোক অমর॥
This is the most common Bengali chant that the sisters repeat thrice while marking the forehead of the brothers. This chant varies from family to family and place to place.
The chant literally translates to:
“I am marking the forehead of my brother and thereby stopping Yama (the god of death) from taking him away from me.
Yamuna marks the forehead of her brother and I mark the forehead of my brother.
With the ritual Yamuna made Yama Immortal,
And with this I pray that my brother becomes immortal too!”
Though the prayer of bhai phonta rotates around the immortality of the brother, today it is seen as a way to wish long life and success to the beloved brother.
Typical breakfasts for bhai phonta include luchi and alur dam and a various traditional sweets. The bhai phonta lunch is a very elaborate affair with typical Bengali delicacies like hilsa, pabda, chicken or mutton.
The gift giving is very unique. Usually in other part of the country, any festival that involves brother and sister, the brother is on the giving end and the sister is on the receiving end. However, Bengal, with all its uniqueness challenges this stereotype. Here both the brothers and sisters buys and exchanges gifts with each other.
The festival marks the end of a month long festive season in Bengal that starts with Mahalaya, closely followed by the biggest celebration of the region- Durga Puja, then Lakkhi Puja and Kali Puja. All the schools and colleges open the next day and life falls back to usual schedule.