Festivals provide for a great window to discover India’s vast geography, fascinating history and rich culture.

On this day of Raksha Bandhan, here’s a unique brother-sister story with whom the tradition began. The tale will also help your child learn about a great Indian river and give them a peek into the minds of early humans, who spun delightfully interesting stories to explain natural phenomenon.

The story starts with the Great Surya or the Sun, who lived in the Skies along with his family comprising his wife Sanjana, the Goddess of the Clouds, and their twin children Yama and Yami. (Isn’t this great symbollism here? The Sun married to the Clouds? The writer in me just delights at such connections!)

Sun Surya.jpg
Being Married to the Sun can’t be easy!

Now imagine being married to the Sun!

Yeah! Too hot for comfort!

Naturally, Sanjana could not bear to be in such close proximity to the dazzling ball of fire all the time and asked her sister Chaya, her Shadow who looked just like her, to take her place instead. (Another great character-play here – Cloud and Shadow are Sisters! If nothing else, these stories will get your children to become better writers and think through symbols.)

sun and cloud.jpg
Notice how the relationship between Sun, Cloud and Shadow is beautifully woven into the story

So at her request, Chaya comes to live with the Sun to take Sanjana’s place and over time has her own children with Surya.

Now, giving in to the stereotypical image of the stepmother, Chaya treats her stepchildren Yama and Yami differently from her own. Angered by her cruelty, Yama protests and Chaya strikes back with a curse.

Light light finally dawns on Surya, who immediately realises that the lady couldn’t be Sanjana after all, for which mother would curse her own children!

Miffed, Surya marches off to the home of Sanjana’s father, the Heavenly architect Vishwakarma in a fury, and demands that she return to him.

When he finds out that the reason Sanjana had left him was his unbearable radiance, he graciously decides to do away with some of his glow. (Notice how even the Mighty Sun has no qualms about making adjustments to accommodate his wife’s problems 😉

In the meantime, the curse on Yama begins to take effect and he is thrust into the Underworld. As he is the first mortal to enter the Underworld, Yama is declared the God of Death.

Yama’s departure into the Underworld, leaves his sister Yami, distraught and pained. She misses him and cannot bear to be without him.

Pining for her brother, she cries so much that her tears turn into a raging river. This river of tears is the Yamuna.

From the tears of Yami is born the Yamuna

Yami is also then transformed into Yamini – or the Night – so that she can act as a bridge between the last light of dusk and the first light of dawn, that brings fresh hope to those who have little else. (once again, so poignant)

That then is the story of the love between a brother and a sister, with whom begin traditions such as Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj, that celebrate the relationship.

Yamuna on turtle.jpg
If you happen to see such a figruine in a museum, you can identify it is the iconogrphic representation of Yamuna. The Turtle is the symbol of Yamuna

Cannot help adding a tip to help you take notice how writers through the centuries have played upon these characters. In the Mahabharata (my all-time favourite story), Yuddhishtira is the son of Yama while Karna is the son of Surya and the saga continues!

The drama and scale of Indian myths and legends never fail to delight me! I hope you can share in this delight and pass it on to your children.

Ganga Yamuna map.jpg

The Yamuna has been witness to much of India’s fascinating History.

Her banks have given birth to cities and civilizations. Delhi, a child of the Yamuna, has been the canvas upon which a significant part of India’s story has played out.

Her waters kiss the sands of Agra upon which stands India’s most famous symbol, the Taj Mahal.

Within her womb live unique aquatic-life including species of endangered fresh-water turtles. (the Turtle is the Symbol of the Yamuna.) Unfortunately, today like many of India’s rivers, her waters are dying a slow death.

Taj by the Yamuna.jpg
India’s most famous symbol is the on the banks of the Yamuna

Notice how this story can become a window into exploring so much with your child – History, Geography, Wildlife, Environment Protection and more!

So before you pull out those charts and maps to get your children to remember long lists of rivers and mountains and fill them in with a factual over-doze, look out for a story to tell. There is no better hook to learning!


Read A Brother, a Sister and a River of Tears Part II – A Sequel (click here)

Want to read about dramatic sagas that took place on the banks of the Yamuna? Click here.

Interested in more legends and myths about Indian Festivals? Click here.


  1. […] you’ve read the story of the River Yamuna (if you haven’t yet, click here) Here’s the […]

    • Kanakavalli

    • 2 years ago

    Very well written Mallika !

    1. Thanks Kanaka.:)

  2. […] Want to read more about the Yamuna? Click here. […]

  3. […] A Story about Raksha Bandhan; […]

  4. […] Raksha Bandhan and a River of Tears […]

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