A prominent Hindu festival celebrated by Bengalis, bhai phonta is an event where the sister prays for her brother's safety, success and well-being and marks this with a 'phonta' (literally ‘dot’) sandalwood paste on his forehead.
Customs and traditions
This event is ceremoniously performed by the loving sister who religiously fasts the entire morning until she applies a ‘tilak’ – which is a paste of chandan (sandalwood), kajal and doi (yogurt). There is also a prescribed method of applying phonta. If the sister is older to the brother, she applies phonta with the little finger of her left hand while if younger, she applies using her right hand. This occasion expressively strengthens the bond between the brother and the sister and builds the affectionate relationship still further.
The sisters invite brothers and the brothers make it a point to remain free from all engagements in order to spend that day with their sisters and other family members. Gift are bought and kept a secret until that day. Sumptuous dishes are prepared. By the end of the morning, houses where festivities are held reverberate with the sound of conch shells.
Meaning and significance
Although a majority of the Hindu festivals and rituals put stress on the significance of family bonding, this festival is marked especially for celebrating the uniqueness of the brother-sister relationship. This auspicious occasion also reveals the importance of siblings in someone's life. The occasion of bhai phonta often provides a golden chance to a woman, bound in the clutches of her day-to-day routine, to go to her native place and meet her parents and siblings. This festival is like a homage to the pious brother-sister relationship, and it strengthens this bond further.
With the passage of time, the festival of bhai phonta has no doubt changed its form, like the use of e-mails, e-greetings, SMS, chocolate and beverage hampers, and so on and so forth. But the basic significance, and the feelings and emotions behind celebrating this wonderful festival are still the same, revealing and rejuvenating the eternal love between a brother and a sister.
Bhai phonta alpana
Alpana, also known as rangoli, aripoma, or kolam, is an ancient Hindu religious floor art and its designs are passed down from generation to generation, with some of them being hundreds of years old. The designs of alpana drawn on bhai phonta are geometric and symmetrical, while some natural elements like flowers and birds may be imported. The main sources of ideas for designs are plant, leaf and flower motifs, animals (cow, elephant, horse, etc.) and birds (swan, peacock).
The material traditionally used is a paste made by mixing crushed rice powder in water. Other materials such as coloured chalk, vermilion, flower petals, grains, poster and acrylic colours, etc. are also used, separately or to further decorate the alpana. These days the designs are further elaborated with paints, stickers, sparkles and other decorative items.
Bhai phonta delicacies
The special puja thali is decorated with various sweets, batasa, roli, rice and coconut. Extravagant dishes are often served for everyone, but the occasion majorly stresses on the sweet tooth, albeit of the brother!
Bhai phonta celebrations
After the bhai phonta ceremonies are over, it is time to have some fun. The whole family indulges in songs, games and merriment. Relatives are invited for a big family get-together over lunch or dinner. Their presence doubles the excitement and people have a good time relishing the best of festive food with near and dear ones.
Nowhere is the bond of brotherly-sisterly love glorified with such grandeur as in India.