Family is an integral part for all Hindu festivities and it is one of this family bonding that Raksha Bandhan celebrates.
Literally meaning, the bond that protects, derived from Sanskrit, Raksha Bandhan is an unique ritual carried out generally by a sister for her brother. It is a celebration that rejoices and holds up the bond and love between that of a brother and a sister.
It has also been known to be celebrated amongst the Jains too. This is one festival, which is celebrated by numerous communities with a secular connotation, and this is mostly seen in the states of West Bengal and Punjab.
This beautiful festival of Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi is observed on the Shravan Purnima according to traditional Hindu calendar. As per the Gregorian calendar, it is observed in the full moon day in the month of August. In 2016, Rakhi will be celebrated on the August 18th, a Thursday.
Dates of Raksha Bandhan in the next five years according to the modern day calendar:
- In 2014, the Raksha Bandhan date is Sunday, August 10.
- In 2015, the Raksha Bandhan date is on Saturday, August 29.
- In 2016, the Raksha Bandhan date is on Thursday, August 18.
- In 2017, the Raksha Bandhan date is on Monday, August 7.
- In 2018, the Raksha Bandhan date is Sunday, August 26.
Legends behind Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan
There are couple of pretty interesting legends that are associated with Raksha Bandhan, which are as follows –
According to Bhavishya Purana, in a war fought between Gods and demons, the King of Heavens, Indra, was on the verge of being badly defeated by the demonic Bali, the king of the Asuras. Indra’s wife, Sachi or Indrani, then went to Lord Bishnu to seek suggestion as to how to mitigate this crisis. Lord Vishnu gave her a cotton thread bracelet and assured her that prayers along with the bracelet will bring victory to Indra. Indrani tied it at Indra’s wrist and he emerged the victor and rescues Amaravati from the hands of the demons. Thus it is also noted from this, that Rakhi was not limited between the bonding of a brother and a sister in ancient times, and was used as an amulet.
Again as per Bhavishya Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Lord Vishnu had recovered the 3 worlds from the dominion of King Bali, he requested Vishnu to reside in his abode. Vishnu kept his request and started staying in Bali’s ornate palace. However, Vishnu’s wife Lakshmi was unhappy there and wanted to go back to their own house, Vaikunthadham. She tied a Rakhi on Bali’s wrist and requested him to rid Vishnu of his promise of residing in that palace. Bali respected the Rakhi, and released Vishnu of his promise.
Lord Ganesha, according to legends had 2 sons called Shubh and Labh. On the Raksha Bandhan day, they were deeply distressed to see Ganesha’s sister coming to tie a rakhi on his wrist. The 2 brothers were sad as they had no sisters to pray for them. Narada visited them at this time and requested Lord Ganesha to create a daughter as the daughter will be beneficial for all of them. Thus Lord Ganesha created a daughter out of the divine flame emanated by his wives Ruddhi and Siddhi. She was called Santoshi Ma and literally meant Goddess of satisfaction.
In the tales of Mahabharata, where Draupadi and Krishna were friends, Draupadi took a piece of her saree and tied Krishna’s wound when he killed Shishupala. Thus in the thread he was indebted for life and promised to appear for her whenever she would need him and protect her. Thus during the ordeal when Draupadi was being humiliated, Lord Krishna came to her aid and gave her protection.
According to another legend, the Lord of Death Yama had not seen his sister Yamuna for a while. Yamuna confided of her sorrow to Ganga, who gently reminded Yama about his sister. Thus Yama came to see Yamuna, who tied a rakhi in his hand and Yamuna prepared a feast for him and asked him to come back and see her again.
Rituals of Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan
On the morning of Rakhi or raksha bandhan, the sister and the brother have a cleansing bath and join the rest of the family members for a prayer. They do a arati and then in front of a lamp, the sister ties a rakhi in the wrist of her brother, praying that may he conquer all obstacles and may no evil touch him. This si the reason why, Raksha Bandhan is known as Vish Tarak – the destroyer of venom or the Pap Nashak – the destroyer of sins or the Punya Pradayak – the bestower of boons. After tying the Rakhi, a tilak or a colorful dot is smeared in the forehead of the brother, and the brother pledges to always protect the sister from all evils. A feast is prepared for this observance and brothers and sisters exchange gifts on this auspicious occasion.
Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan in historical aspect
Rakhi since time immemorial has been used for creating a cordial relationship. The Rajput queens used to send Rakhi to the neighboring kings as a token of harmony and to grant them the respect of a sister so that they be protected.
- o As per one extremely interesting historical legend, the Greek king of Macedonia, Alexander the Great attacked India in 326 BCE. Alexander’s wife, Roxana or Roshanak, sent a secret letter to Puru, or Porus the king of Kaikeya, along with a Rakhi to request him not to harm her husband. In the battlefield, when Porus was about to deliver the fatal blow on Alexander, he noticed the Rakhi on his own wrist and dedisted himself by remembering his promise.
- o Another interesting historical account dates back to 1535 Ce when Rani Karnavati , the widow queen of Chittor and Humayun, the Mughal emperor. Rani Karnavati realized that she will not be able to thwart the attack of Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat; she sent a rakhi to Humayun. Humayun immediately set out to defend her, though he was late in reaching and the fort had been ransacked. However, there are historians who have expressed disagreement to this account.
- o Perhaps the greatest historical significance of Rakhi was accorded when the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore used it as the medium of protest for the division of India by the British colonial rulers. The Rakhi was used as a token of bond which proclaimed both the Hindus and Muslims protecting each other. He arranged a ceremony of Raksha Bandhan to strengthen the bond of love and compassion. This was a drive for religious and national integration, meant predominantly for Bengal at that time, which was being split into what is now Bangladesh, a Muslim dominated country based on religion and West Bengal, belonging to India. It is still a major festival in Bangladesh and West Bengal.
- o Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and his wife, the queen Maharani Jindan also fostered harmony with neighboring country Nepal by a Rakhi festival. This bond of Rakhi was honored by Jung Bahadur of Nepal when the Queen flew from Punjab to save her life after the Sikh Empire collapsed and the state was about to be annexed by the British Empire.
Celebrations of Rakhi in various parts of the country
- o The Kumaoni people or the residents of Kumaon of Uttarakhand celebrate this day by changing their sacred thread or the Janeu apart from the tying of the sacred thread of Rakhi. The famous Bagwal fair at Devidhura is also held on this day.
- o In the states of west Bengal and Odisha, this day is also known as Jhulan Purnima and the deities of Lord Krishna and Radha is worshipped.
- o In Maharashtra, the fishermen communities of Koli celebrate this day invoking Lord Varuna for his blessings. Coconuts are thrown in the sea as an offering to Lord Varuna. They also apply vermillion dot in each other’s foreheads as a mark of prosperity.
- o In Haryana and Punjab, people apart from Raksha Bandhan, also celebrate the festival of Salono. It is a day when priests ward evil by trying an auspicious amulet on others wrists.
Significance of Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan
Raksha Bandhan over a period of time, from the bonding between that of a brother and sister has become an icon and a symbol of socio-cultural integrity. It is symbolic with all religious harmony, peaceful coexistence and protection.
In modern times, if the brothers and sisters are unable to visit each other, then they send rakhis for their brothers and vow to be there for each other. It is a ritual worth celebrating.
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