Bhai Phonta is a Bengali Hindu festival, usually celebrated two days after the Kali Puja, where the sisters mark the foreheads of their brothers with sandalwood paste and pray for their safety, well being and success.Both of the siblings exchange gifts and blessings. The festival is similar to Bhai Dhooj in northern India, Bhai Tika in Nepal and other parts of eastern India and Bhau Beej in western India.
According to Rig Vesda, Yama and Yamuna were twins (brother and sister) born to Surya. In their earthly incarnations, Yamuna once longed to see her brother and invited Yama to her house. When Yama, the god of death visited his sister, his sister prayed for his well being. The other legends regarding the origin connect Vishnu, Krishna and Mahavira. However, according to folklorist and social historian Shailendra Haldar, due to various societal changes with the advent of agriculture, the sisters began to pray for their brothers safety, well being, and success. The bhai phonta festival is rooted in that social practice. According to the Bengali Hindu lunar calendar, the festival is celebrated on the second day of the Shukla paksha of the month of Kartik in late autumn. Sometimes it is also celebrated on the first day of the Shukla paksha.
The sister put a mark of sandalwood paste mixed with curd on her brother forehead with her left hand little finger thrice. The rhyme has different variations in different family traditions. After, that the sister places paddy grains and durba i.e. tender shoots of grass on her brothers head. During this time, conch shells are blown and the women ululate. After that the sister blesses her brother if she is elder to him. Then the sister hands her brother a dish of traditional Bengali sweets and gifts. The brother in turn showers his sister with gifts. Typical bhai phonta breakfasts consist of luchi and alur dam and an assortment of traditional sweets. The bhai phonta lunch is usually an elaborate affair with delicacies like hilsa, pabda, chicken or mutton. In Bengal, every year sweetmeat makers come up with new offerings alongside traditional ones. The price of fish and sweets go high during this festival. Sometimes hilsas are imported from Bangladesh in order to meet the demand. Bhai phota holds a very important place in Bengali Hindu culture. Sisters usually consider it to be the most important event of the year. In 2009, Railway minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee skipped a cabinet meeting to celebrate the festival along with her family members.