Raksha Bandhan: Celebrate brother-sister bonds with Hindu tradition

Young boy and girl, India, stand close together as girl ties threaded bracelet onto boy's wrist

A sister ties a rakhi onto her brother’s wrist for Raksha Bandhan. Photo by Yogesh Kumar Jaiswal, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 29: A promise for protection, blessings for a healthy life and home-baked sweets color the joyful Hindu holiday of Raksha Bandhan, an ancient festival that celebrates the bond between brother and sister. Weeks in advance, girls and women flood marketplaces in search of rakhi, or sacred threads, to tie on their brothers’ wrists; men hunt for chocolates, jewelry, clothing and more, in hopes of finding the perfect gift for their sisters. Treats are prepared and, on the full moon day of the Hindu month Shravana, in India, boys and girls young and old turn to their siblings and renew the bond.


Intricate peach-colored threads and beaded designs on bracelet

Rakhi threads. Photo by Santanu Vasant, courtesy of Flickr

From Sanskrit for “the tie or knot of protection,” Raksha Bandhan ritually celebrates a unique bond. To begin ceremonies, which are often carried out in the presence of several other family members, a sister ties rakhi on her brother’s wrist and declares her love for him. She prays for his well being and applies a tilak, or colorful mark, on his head. In return, the brother pledges to protect his sister—under all circumstances. Siblings then partake in desserts and prepared treats, and a brother gives his sister her gift(s).

What is a rakhi? A rakhi is a type of bracelet—intricately designed or simple, expensive or handmade—tied onto a brother’s wrist by his sister. The fragile thread of rakhi represents the subtle yet impermeable strength that exists between siblings—and the duty of the recipient to protect the giver. The sacred relationship between brother and sister is considered unparalleled, as even when a woman marries, her brother’s duties as protector do not cease. (Wikipedia has details.) On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

Rakhi DIY: Eager to make your own rakhi? Check out YouTube videos on paper quilled rakhi, beaded rakhi and felt rakhi, for do-it-yourself instructions.


This year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will grant up to 51,000 women and girls insurance in Varanasi, while urging others to give their sisters the insurance as a gift for Raksha Bandhan. (India Today has the story.) Any woman tying a rakhi on a BJP member’s hand may receive the insurance as a return gift, reported Hindustan Times. Organizers have expressed hope of enrolling at least 11,000 women in each assembly constituency across India during the Raksha Bandhan program.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

10 years: New Orleans and the decade since Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans buildings underwater, view from above

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, much of the city remained submerged underwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23: Ten years ago, in a season of record-breaking storms, dangerous weather over the Bahamas created a tropical cyclone or hurricane. Days later, Katrina headed toward Florida and strengthened immensely, hitting southeast Louisiana on August 29 and destroying coastlines through Texas.

In just a few days, the vast tropical storm had killed more than 1,800 people in seven states, destroyed $108 billion of property and left entire cities displaced. Now, a decade later, photographers are capturing remnants of the storm so unparalleled that its destruction still has left some neighborhoods, roads and community systems devastated in the region. The hurricane exceeded the National Weather Services’ annual budget and permanently retired the meteorological use of the name “Katrina” is still being examined by scientists, journalists, civil engineers and government officials.

vietnamese american catholics worship in New OrleansOne of those research projects was covered in The New York Times on Sunday—a study of the exceptional resilience of the Vietnamese-American community on the eastern edge of New Orleans. In the 2010 ReadTheSpirit American Journey series, Editor David Crumm reported from that same community in New Orleans that was rebuilding from Katrina even at that 5-year anniversary. In the Sunday NYTimes, scholar Mark VanLandingham reported on research into the cultural strengths of this community, which was one of the first of the poorer neighborhoods to rebuild after the disaster.

Man and woman walking through chest-deep water, carrying backpacks

Residents of New Orleans make their way through Hurricane Katrina’s floods. Photo by Chris Graythen, courtesy of Flickr


The death toll of Katrina was spread across seven U.S. states, but in Louisiana alone 1,577 perished as a result of the hurricane. When the levee system calamitously failed, thousands were left vulnerable, and an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.

Did you know? Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23 and dissipated on August 31, 2005.

Beyond the $108 billion in property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast’s highway infrastructure and 30 oil platforms were destroyed. (NPR examines further.) Hundreds of thousands were left unemployed, and approximately 1.3 million acres of forest land were ravaged. Extensive beach erosion, the overrun of local marshes and oil spills were just a few of the environmental damages caused by Katrina. (Wikipedia has details.) Upward of 70 countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance after the hurricane, and several charitable organizations—such as the American Red Cross, Feeding America, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—provided assistance to storm victims.

In photographs: Stairs that lead to nowhere—Photographer Seph Lawless and photographer David G. Spielman are two of the artists capturing the 10-year aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with photos that document the crumbling and rotting homes, restaurants, factories and schools of New Orleans. (View Speilman’s black-and-white photos, courtesy of The Guardian, here.) Lawless noted that the “stairs that lead to nowhere” are among the “saddest” images in his collection, left as the only testimony to many homes that once were. (Weather.com has a slideshow of photos.)


Weather photo of white winds over southern U.S. and ocean

Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature turned over the majority of the Orleans Parish public schools to the state Recovery School District. The result is evident in New Orleans today with multiple governing entities and 92 percent of students in charter schools. During the past decade, public education in New Orleans has seen unprecedented growth in student achievement, increasing enrollment and improving standardized test scores. (Learn more here.)

On Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in the streets of Old Towne Slidell, in New Orleans, “Plus 10—A Decade of Resiliency” will mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and celebrate the strength and spirit of the city’s residents.


Since Hurricane Katrina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that there has been development of a prototype storm surge watch and warning system through collaborative efforts. In addition, NHC forecasts have been extended from three to five days; watches and warnings have extended from 12 hours to 48 and 36 hours. (This article from Forbes reports on what has been learned since Hurricane Katrina.) Experts also are working to inform city leaders of approaching storms in a way that would prevent denial and promote action.

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Anniversary: Rastafari, Civil Rights marks birthday of Marcus Garvey

“[Garvey] was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale … to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., June 1965

Painting of dark-skinned man with colorful background and quote

Marcus Garvey Square in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Mark Gstohl, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, AUGUST 17: A Black Nationalist who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., united Malcom X’s parents and now has schools, colleges, highways and buildings honoring him across Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and United States is honored today, on the anniversary of his birth: the birthday of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.

Throughout his life, Marcus Garvey led the Black Nationalist movement by creating the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founding the Negro World newspaper as a major vehicle for communication and launching the Black Star Line, an international shipping company. Through the 1920s, Garvey’s public speeches contained mention of a “black king” who would soon be crowned in Africa and offer deliverance; the Rastafari believe Garvey to be prophetic, foretelling the crowing of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. For the Rastafari, Garvey is still seen as a religious prophet, similar to St. John the Baptist.


Born in Jamaica in 1887, Marcus Garvey learned to read in his father’s library and sought to unite Africans of the diaspora. The UNIA, formed in 1914, was the “broadest mass movement in African-American history,” created with a mission to provide economic and educational opportunities and inspiration for Africans of the diaspora. (Learn more from History.com and Biography.com.) The UNIA developed the Pan-African flag (colored red, black and green) to represent a race and movement. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Garvey worked hard to develop a colony for free blacks in Africa. (Wikipedia has details.) At its peak, the UNIA claimed millions of members.


During his lifetime, Marcus Garvey also faced criticism from many quarters, including from many African-Americans. One of his critics was W.E.B Du Bois. Nonetheless, Garvey’s efforts fueled what eventually became the Civil Rights movement and the concept of a secular organization for blacks. Earl and Louise Little, parents of Malcolm X, met at a UNIA convention in Montreal; the Rastafari continue to view Garvey as a prophet. Garvey died in London in June of 1940.

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesRastafari

The Beatles 50th anniversary of Shea Stadium & Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul album cover (1)John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been making music together since 1957 and had been performing as the Beatles, since 1960. They first hit American shores in early 1964—but the second half of 1965 marked a series of milestones in way the band redefined popular music and pop culture in general. Here are some of the key 50th anniversary dates …

JULY 29, 1965—The Beatles’ movie Help! was released.
AUGUST 13, 1965—The album Help! was released in the U.S.
AUGUST 15, 1965—The Beatles performed for more than 55,000 fans at New York’s Shea Stadium.
SEPTEMBER 13, 1965—The song Yesterday was released in the U.S. as a single.
SEPTEMBER 25, 1965The Beatles cartoon series debuted.
DECEMBER 3, 1965—The album Rubber Soul was released.

New York Daily News front page 1965 after Shea StadiumBy 1965, “The British Invasion” already had landed and “Beatlemania” was sweeping the world. That was last year’s news.

The Beatles were ready to try things they had never attempted—including a dose of LSD slipped to them by a mischievous dentist early in 1965, biographers say. More importantly, by late 1965: They stopped touring for a number of weeks and worked continuously on the album Rubber Soul, which was released before Christmas. Music historians describe the album as the first time in pop music that musicians worked on an album as a fully formed concept—not just a collection of songs. Pop music was moving from short singles and dance tunes to longer collections of music that fans could purchase to listen to at length.

Rubber Soul finally knocked The Sound of Music soundtrack off the No. 1 spot in pop music charts—and, more importantly, inspired the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds. The two bands traded inspirations. For example, Wilson used “found sounds” in his album, including barking dogs. The Beatles then used found sounds in their masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The often-cited Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time has the Beatles’ White Album (1968) at No. 10, Revolver (1966) is No. 3, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) is No. 2 and  Sgt. Pepper (1967) is No. 1.


Unless you’ve seen occasional reruns, perhaps on MTV or the Disney Channel, you may not be aware that the Beatles appeared for several years in a cartoon series, another way they changed popular culture in 1965. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr didn’t like the series when it debuted. Their voices were dubbed by American voice-over experts. The series froze them in a comedic snapshot of Hard Days Night antics. Many years later, they apparently told interviewers that the cartoons were better than they recalled.

But, the series was a milestone: It was the first weekly television series to feature animated versions of real, living people.


Beatles take the field at Shea Stadium in 1965The Beatles performed 10 concerts in their summer 1965 tour, but the Shea Stadium concert was historic.

Network TV icon Ed Sullivan introduced them to the crowd that soon was screaming so loudly that some of the Beatles’ music was nearly drowned out. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame describes the concert this way: The first ever in a major U.S. stadium, and is known as perhaps the most famous Beatles’ concert.

1965 Beatles American tour (1)

The entire tour of the Beatles in the summer of 1965.

NBC News recently reported: It was the largest concert crowd in history at the time and is often cited as the birth of “stadium rock.” The Beatles opened the concert with “Twist and Shout” but it quickly became difficult to hear the band over the screaming fans.

In 1965, The New York Daily News wrote: Our Mets have displayed their antic behavior before some good crowds at Shea Stadium but last night’s turn-away mob of shrieking teenagers tested the solidity of the ballpark as they flocked to see Britain’s mop-top quartet in concert. Scores were injured in the crush or overcome by the humid heat but luckily no one required hospitalization.


In this brief video, you’ll see the Beatles take the stage at Shea Stadium:


Then, once they got going, here’s A Hard Day’s Night from the Shea Stadium performance:

Care to read more?

Beatles expert, educator, musician and journalist Charles Honey writes a five-part OurValues series about the many ways Beatles songs have shaped our lives. Enjoy!

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Categories: Uncategorized

Assumption of the Virgin & Dormition of the Theotokos: A Christian feast for Mary

Painting of tiers of heaven, Jesus and Mary at top, apostles below looking at Mary's empty casket

Francesco Botticini’s The Ascension of the Virgin, 1475-1476 CE. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, AUGUST 15:  Orthodox Christians have been fasting in preparation for the past two weeks; for Western Christians, today’s solemnity emphasizes an infallible dogma: for the billions of Christians worldwide, today is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (or, the Dormition of the Theotokos).

Shared historically by Eastern and Western branches of Christianity is the belief that the Virgin Mary was bodily taken into Heaven at the end of her life on earth. As her son ascended to Heaven after his earthly death, so Mary was assumed into Heaven following her “falling asleep.” Starting August 1, Orthodox Christians began the strict Dormition Fast, in honor of today’s feast; in Eastern Christianity, Mary is often referred to as the Theotokos, or “God-bearer.” Both Eastern and Western Christians popularly observe today’s feast as Mary’s heavenly birthday, while religious parades and festivals celebrate the day. (Wikipedia has details.) In Costa Rica and parts of Belgium, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is combined with Mother’s Day.


Apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into Heaven have circulated since the 4th century CE, and although the Catholic Church interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to this event, there is no specific Scriptural account. Tradition points to Jerusalem as the most likely place of Mary’s death, though at no time in history has Christendom venerated a tomb of the Virgin Mary. In addition, no relic of Mary has ever been found or claimed.

In Catholicism: The Assumption of Mary was widespread belief in Christianity for centuries before being dogmatically defined for Catholicism by Pope Pius XII, in November of 1950. In Pope Pius XII’s Munifecentissiumus Deus, it was declared that the Assumption of Mary was dogma; still, the question of whether or not Mary had died before her Assumption was left unanswered. In Catholicism, either belief—that Mary died before her Assumption, or that she did not—is acceptable. (Get a Catholic perspective from Catholic Culture and Global Catholic Network.)

Did you know? In 588 CE, the Emperor Maurice officially adopted the commemoration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin) into the liturgical calendar of the Byzantine Empire.

In Orthodox Christianity: Eastern Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, and that afterward, Christ received her soul. On the third day after death, Mary’s body was resurrected. In Orthodox tradition, the Dormition of Mary is not defined in dogma, but rather liturgically and mystically. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) In some churches, the service of the “Burial of the Theotokos” is celebrated during an All-Night Vigil.

Interested in prayers, devotions and family-centered activities for today’s feast? Find related items at Women for Faith and Family.

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Categories: Christian

UN International Youth Day: Promoting civic engagement in a pivotal year

“In this landmark year, as leaders prepare to adopt a bold new vision for sustainable development, the engagement of youth is more valuable than ever. At this critical moment in history, I call on young people to demand and foster the dramatic progress so urgently needed in our world.”

-Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Message for International Youth Day 2015

Group of ethnically diverse young people smiling, laughing

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12: In a momentous year for concerns about both the environment and youth—nations around the world are elevating young people and recognizing their crucial role in a sustainable human existence. It’s the United Nations’ International Youth Day.

From New York to the Philippines, from Cuba to Qatar and through India, events aim to engage youth in politics, economics and decision-making. The 2015 theme, “Youth Civic Engagement,” arrives on the 30th anniversary of the first International Year of Youth and two decades after the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth. Today, the World Programme of Action for Youth plays prominently in UN youth development efforts, increasing opportunities for young people to actively participate in society. Live events, videos, Twitter exchanges and more mobilize youth objectives.


Today, the world holds the largest generation of young people in history. Yet as the world rapidly develops and changes, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has voiced the need for young people in both decision-making and the execution of programs and solutions. Social media have allowed immediate sharing of ideas and global communications on grassroots levels.

In December of 1999, the UN General Assembly endorsed the recommendation that August 12 be declared International Youth Day. Later, the World Programme of Action for Youth was created, intending to highlight specific areas of priority such as education, health, hunger and poverty, environment, drug abuse, participation, conflict and intergenerational relations.


UN Headquarters: On August 12, events will be underway at the UN Headquarters. Learn more here.

Organizing an event? Communities, schools, clubs and more can find ideas for celebrating International Youth Day in this toolkit. Events can be registered by sending a email to youth@un.org.

Looking for an event? Check out the official International Youth Day activities map.

Interested in the IYD Digital Surge? Between 9 a.m. EST and 3 p.m. EST, join the Digital Surge, using #YouthDay and #YouthNow. Click here for details.

Searching for inspiration? Inspiring quotes that celebrate youth, spoken or written by world leaders and UN Officials, will be on Twitter @UNYouthEnvoy.

Global Young Leaders in Times Square: From August 3-August 17, a video featuring the faces of youth making a difference in their communities will be featured on the LG screens in Times Square, in New York City.

Who is the Envoy on Youth—and where will he be on IYD? The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, will speak at a Youth Forum in the Philippines on International Youth Day 2015. Alhendawi will also join 1,000 young people for the country’s Youth Day celebrations, meet with government officials and exchange ideas with youth advocates from civil society organizations that represent marginalized sectors.

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Categories: International Observances

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Raising awareness, voices

“The interests of the indigenous peoples must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed. … Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Large group of indigenous adults dressed in traditional costume gather around woman speaking

Photo by International Rivers, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, AUGUST 9: This year, headlines are bursting with news for the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Pope Francis is issuing apologies, Aztec teens are taking hip-hop by storm and recently, IP Day was officially adopted in the Philippines.

Born of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, the UN declared in 1994 that each August 9 would be the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year, efforts will focus on the theme “Ensuring indigenous people’s health and well-being.” (Learn more here.) Events at UN Headquarters and around the world will draw particular attention to healthcare access for indigenous groups.

Interested in viewing the observance at UN Headquarters? Events will take place Monday, Aug. 10, from 3-6 p.m. View the live webcast here.

In December 1994, the General Assembly of the United Nations first announced the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In 1995, the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People launched, ending in 2004; the next year, the second International Decade began, which lasts through 2015. The Decade and the International Day is observed to advance and defend the rights of the world’s indigenous populations, while also recognizing the contributions and achievements of indigenous individuals.


Pope Francis apologizes: Last month, Pope Francis delivered an hour-long speech to indigenous peoples in Bolivia, asking forgiveness for the Church’s sins against Latin America’s indigenous communities and encouraging the crowd to promote environmental change. (CBS News reported.) Human greed has been primary factor in the planet’s destruction, the Pope said, adding that protecting Mother Earth may be “perhaps the most important task facing us today.” In anticipation of the Pontiff’s visit and speech, the Bolivian government declared the day a national holiday, so that everyone could attend.

Aztec teens, Earth Guardians: A 14-year-old Colorado resident and his younger brother have been catching news headlines with Earth Guardians, an environmental nonprofit, and their hip-hop music that inspires youth to tackle climate change. Having been raised with an Aztec understanding of connection with natural surroundings, the 14-year-old urges all young persons to explore their talents and realize awareness of every action—and its impact on the environment.

Senate approves bill: In the Philippines, a bill was recently approved that declared Aug. 9 as National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Read more here.) UN experts advise the government of the Philippines to follow through with its commitments as internally displaced persons still require “more durable solutions” within the country.

In Bangladesh, more than 200 indigenous people recently lined up to appeal to the government that their constitutional rights be recognized. (UCA News has the story.) Persecution and a lack of protection within the legal system were cited issues, and the people also demanded the government to recognize International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

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Categories: International Observances