By Swami Harshananda
Bhrātṛ-dvitiyā literally means ‘second day devoted to brothers’.
Festivals are a part and parcel of popular religion in every society. One of the comparatively minor festivals generally tagged on to the major festival Dīpāvalī, is Bhrātṛ-dvitīyā, also known as ‘Yama-dvitīyā’. It occurs on the second day of the bright half of the month Kārttika (generally in November).
The legend goes that on this day, Yamunā, the river goddess, invited her brother Yama (the god of Death) to her house and entertained him with a feast to show her sisterly affection. On this day sisters invite their brothers to their houses and feed them sumptuously. Brothers on their part give them presents. It is a day of joy of reunion of sisters and brothers who may be living and establishing their own families in distant places after their marriage.
Worship of Yama, the god of Death and of Citragupta, his chief lieutenant are sometimes performed. Worshiping and entertaining an image made of flour or cowdung, which represents a brother living in a far off place, is also observed in some regions. Persons living on the banks of the river Yamunā are expected to bathe in the river on this day, before observing the rituals connected with this festival. Prayers are offered by the sisters for the long life and freedom from dangers for their brothers.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore