Rakhi Festival (RakshaBandhan)
Raksha Bandhan History
RakshaBandhan or Rakhi Festival, is counted among the prominent Indian festivals, celebrated all over the world with unspeakable merriment. The festival rejoices the impeccable bond shared by a brother and sister; it speaks volumes about this loving relationship that cultivates, evolves and uplifts overtime. The fest is distinctive from any other, where a brother vows to be with his sister, to guard her in any situation; with a unique message ‘I’m with you’, not ‘I own you’, signifying equality in our culture.
The festival got its name from Rakhi; that is actually a sacred thread of protection embellished with the love and affection of a sister for her brother. The day is celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan around July – August in India. Since Rakhi Festival (Rakshabandhan) is celebrated as per the Hindu calendar the dates usually vary year after year. The name itself is a giveaway; ‘Raksha’ implying protection and ‘Bandhan’ signifying the bond meaning “the tie or knot of protection”. Like all the major festivals of India, the occasion of Rakhi cuts across barriers like religion, caste, colors and is celebrated with lot of fanfare and excitement among the people of India.
This unifying factor is what makes Rakhi Festival (Raksha Bandhan) one of the most unique celebrations that is witnessed anywhere in the world. Though in appearance, Rakhi is a mere loose thread, but it is considered stronger than iron chain as it binds two siblings in a pious bond of love, where in a sister ties the thread on her brother’s wrist, with faith that it will safeguard him from miseries; while the brother sworns to protect his sister from anything/everything that may come as a harm to her. Rakhi festival also has a social significance because it underlines the notion that everybody should live in harmonious coexistence with each other.
Ritual: On the day of Rakhi a sister prepares a pooja thali that includes; sweets, diya and the Rakhi. The sister affectionately puts kumkum/tika and rice on brother’s forehead, then ties a Rakhi on the wrists, turns Arti around, feeds him sweet. The brother in return showers gifts on his loving sister and vows to protect her through thick & thin. Even if distance separates the brother and a sister, all efforts are put in place to reach out to each other on the auspicious day of Rakhi. If the sister and brother are geographically separated, the sister may mail the rakhi ahead of the Raksha Bandhan day, along with a greeting card or letter wishing her brother well.
Related Festivals: Apart from Rakkhi, there are two occasions when people celebrate the festival in similar fashion. In most parts of North India, people celebrate Bhai-dooj on second day of Holi.
Here every ritual is followed, except tying of Rakhi. Much like it, Bhai-dooj is also celebrated on third day of Diwali too, also known as Yam-Dwitiya commemorating the affection between Yamraj and his sister Yamuna.
Rakhi Celebrations: Many different traditions are followed during the day of Raksha Bandhan. Some of the special ones include:
West India: Nariyal (Coconut) Poornima is celebrated specially in Maharashtra, on the day of Rakhi Festival (Raksha Bandhan). Coconuts are thrown in to the sea as a mark of respect and offering to Lord Varun.
South India: In the Southern part of India, the day of Raksha Bandhan is celebrated as Avani Avittam. This day is auspicious especially for the Brahmin community as they change their religious symbol of janoi (holy thread) amidst chanting of mantras.
North India: Rakhi Poornima also called Kajri Navami and Kajri Poornima is a celebration in North India when wheat is sown. Bhagwati is worshipped and the farmers seek her blessings for a good crop. In Jammu, it is a common practice to fly kites on the occasions of Rakhi Festival (Raksha Bandhan). Haryana celebrates the festival with its own additions: people observe the festival of Salono, where priests solemnly tie amulets against evil on people’s wrists. The similar ritual is followed in other parts of the country.
Rakhi ceremony was initiated long back in 1905 by Rabindranath Tagore in Shanti Niketan and the custom is still followed religiously by the students of Shanti Niketan.
Historical Relevance: There are several legends about the origin of this festival that long back to antiquity, let’s have a look at them:
King Bali and Bhagwati Lakshmi:
The tale of King Bali and Bhagwati Lakshmi epitomizes the pious bond of Raksha Bandhan. It is considered as the oldest and most authentic basis of the festival. As per the legend, Demon King Bali, the grandson of Prahlad was a true devotee of Bhagwan Vishnu. With the Lord’s blessings, he had become invincible in the battle field and managed to defeat all Devas. The entire heaven, especially Lord Indra, became apprehensive about his increasing strength. At last, Bhagwan Vishnu incarnated as Vaman (dwarf) on earth, to rescue Indra and other Devas from their plight. King Bali had the reputation of being a generous and good king. Using this quality and swearing him in a sacred oath, Vaman asked for land which could be covered in three strides (steps).
Surely a dwarf could not cover much ground, thought the King, and agreed to his request. At this point, Bhagwan Vaaman took a gigantic form. In one stride he covered the whole of earth. With his second he covered the sky and heavens. “Where should I now place the third stride?” he asked Bali. With humility, Bali bowed, “O Lord, set your foot (third stride) on my head.” Vaman then placed his foot on Bali’s head and drove him down into Patal. Pleased with the demon king’s selfless devotion, the Lord granted him a boon to remain at his doorstep. He disguised himself, as Bali’s doorman in Patal lok, and protected him from all dangers. As a result, Vaikunth was devoid of the Lord and Bhagwati Lakshmi became restless. She visited Patal lok and approached Bali. She tied a rakhi and made him her brother.
Bali warmly asked her what she desired. Lakshmi asked that Vishnu be freed from the request that he live in Bali’s palace. Bali consented, as well accepted her as his sister. To keep his promise, every year, the Lord came back for about four months during the monsoon season.
Yama and Yamuna:
According to another legend; long ago, taking a break from his routine life, Yamraj visited Yamuna, after a long time. Gladdened, Yamuna welcomed her brother with a tilak and prepared luscious delicacies for him. Yamraj was pleased with his sister’s warmth and promised to visit her every year, the same day. The occasion of Bhai-Dooj(third day to Diwali) is a remembrance of their love.
Krishna and Draupadi:
Another great saga pertaining to the legend of Rakhi is the evergreen story of Lord Krishna and Draupadi. It is generally assumed that the original ritual of Rakhi began with Draupadi and Krishn during the epic war, as this story is lot recent compared to others. According to the legend, Krishn loved Draupadi so much, that he called her ‘Sakhi’. Draupadi too had a lot of faith on Krishn. Once king Yudhishtir performed Rajsuya-Yagya, their Shishupal, a cousin of Bhagwan Krishn abused him. Krishn tried to calm him patiently. But Shishupal continued his abusing that made the lord angry; he released his ‘sudarshan-chakra’ and beheaded Shishupal.
During the act of hurling the Sudarshan Chakra from his index finger, Krishn hurt himself. On seeing blood drops, Draupadi immediately rushed to protect her Lord. She tore off a piece from her sari and wrapped it around his finger, stopping the bleeding. Krishn was touched by her gesture of devotion. He asked her what she would like in return of this favor. Draupadi, like a true sister, just asked for the Lord’s holy presence in her life forever. From that moment onwards, Lord Krishn has been with Draupadi like a shadow protecting her from every small and big trouble.
When the Kauravas tried to dishonor Draupadi through “Cheer Haran” (removing her sari) in a hall full of people, she prayed to Krishn continuously. The lord took care of her honor and punished the sinners during the battle of Mahabharata.
King Porus and Alexandar’s wife:
Another Rakhi tale comes from the battle between Alexander the Greek King, and Porus, the Hindu king. Wife of Alexander sent a sacred thread to Porus, asking him not to harm her husband in battle. In accordance with Hindu traditions, Porus gave full respect to Rakhi. In the battlefield, when Porus was about to deliver a final blow on Alexander, he saw the Rakhi on his hand and restrained himself from attacking Alexander personally. There are lot differences regarding the outcome of the battle, but for sure, Alexander lived due to his wives wiseness and Porus’ commitment and the honour he kept.
Humayun and Rani Karnavati:
During the medieval period, we come across a new dimension of Raksha Bandhan, when the Mughal emperor Humayun received Rakhi from Rani Karnavati of Chittor. In 16th century the sultan of Gujarat, bahadur Shah attacked the kingdom of Chittor. To save her kingdom from the invader, Rani Karnavati sought help from the Mughal emperor Humayun and sent the sacred thread (Rakhi) for him. Humayun is said to been touched by the bond and marched to protect the kingdom of Chittor. Though Humayun marched towards Chittor to help the distressed Rani but he could not reach at the right time and the Rani, along with other Rajput ladies committed Jauhar to save their honor.
The skeptics though doubt the genuineness as there are some claims that say Humanyun was in a dilemma whether to fight a Muslim ruler, or to support a hindu sister. Whatever the truth is, it is evident that he honored karnavati’s rakhi.
Raksha bandhan if taken in true sense has a much broader perspective; the festival encompasses true sense of peace and brotherhood. The values propagated by the occasion if inculcated by all human beings can bring the much-needed relief from the ongoing violence and mistrust.