Raksha Bandhan: History, Significance and Purpose
The chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. ‘Raksha Bandhan’ or ‘Rakhi’ is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bonding by tying a holy thread around the wrist. This thread, which pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments, is rightly called the ‘Rakhi’. It means ‘a bond of protection’, and Raksha Bandhan signifies that the strong must protect the weak from all that’s evil.
The ritual is observed on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan, on which sisters tie the sacred Rakhi string on their brothers’ right wrists, and pray for their long life. Rakhis are ideally made of silk with gold and silver threads, beautifully crafted embroidered sequins, and studded with semi precious stones.
The Social Binding
This ritual not only strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters, but also transcends the confines of the family. When a Rakhi is tied on the wrists of close friends and neighbors, it underscores the need for a harmonious social life, where every individual co-exist peacefully as brothers and sisters. All members of the community commit to protect each other and the society in such congregational Rakhi Utsavs, popularized by the Nobel laureate Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.
The Friendly Knot
It won’t be wrong to say the fashionable friendship band in vogue today is an extension of the Rakhi custom. When a girl feels a friend of the opposite sex has developed a kind of love too strong for her to reciprocate, she sends the guy a Rakhi and turns the relationship into a sisterly one. This is one way of saying, “let’s just be friends”, without hurting the other person’s soft feelings for her.
The Auspicious Full Moon
In Northern India, Rakhi Purnima is also called Kajri Purnima or Kajri Navami, when wheat or barley is sown, and goddess Bhagwati is worshipped. In Western states, the festival is called Nariyal Purnima or the Coconut Full Moon. In Southern India, Shravan Purnima is an important religious occasion, especially for the Brahmins. Raksha Bandhan is known by various names: Vish Tarak – the destroyer of venom, Punya Pradayak – the bestower of boons, and Pap Nashak – the destroyer of sins.
Historical occurrences and mentions
1. Krishna and Draupadi
Another incident from the epic Mahabharat concerns Krishna and Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. She had once torn a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around Krishna’s wrist to staunch the bleeding from a battlefield wound. Krishna was touched by her action and declared her to be his sister, even though they were unrelated. He promised to repay the debt and then spent the next 25 years doing just that. Draupadi, in spite of being married to five great warriors and being a daughter of a powerful monarch, trusted and depended wholly on Krishna. Krishna repaid the debt of love during the “Cheer-Haran” (literally “clothing-removing”) of Draupadi, which occurred in the assembly of King Dhritarashtra when Yudhisthira lost her to the Kauravas in gambling. At that time, Krishna indefinitely extended her saree through divine intervention, so it could not be removed, to save her honor. This is how he honored his rakhi vow towards Draupadi.
2.King Bali and Goddess Laxmi
According to a legend the Demon King Bali was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu had taken up the task to guard his kingdom leaving his own abode in Vaikunth. Goddess Lakshmi wished to be with her lord back in her abode. She went to Bali disguised as a woman to seek refuge till her husband came back.
During the Shravan Purnima celebrations, Lakshmi tied the sacred thread to the King. Upon being asked, she revealed who she was and why she was there. The king was touched by her goodwill for his family and her purpose and requested the Lord to accompany her. He sacrificed all he had for the Lord and his devoted wife.
Thus devotion to the Lord. It is said that since then it has been a tradition to invite sisters in Shravan Purnima for the thread tying ceremony or the Raksha Bandhan
3. Yama and the Yamuna
According to another legend, Raksha Bandhan was a ritual followed by Lord Yama (the Lord of Death) and his sister Yamuna, (the river in northern India). Yamuna tied rakhi to Yama and bestowed immortality. Yama was so moved by the serenity of the occasion that he declared that whoever gets a rakhi tied from his sister and promised her protection, will become immortal.
Alexander the Great and King Puru
According to one legendary narrative, when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BC, Roxana (or Roshanak, his wife) sent a sacred thread to Porus, asking him not to harm her husband in battle. In accordance with tradition, Porus, a Katoch king, gave full respect to the rakhi. On the battlefield, when Porus was about to deliver a final blow to Alexander, he saw the rakhi on his own wrist and restrained himself from attacking Alexander personally.
4. Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun
A popular narrative that is centered around Rakhi is that of Rani Karnavati of Chittor and Mughal Emperor Humayun, which dates to 1535 CE. When Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of the king of Chittor, realised that she could not defend against the invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun. Touched, the Emperor immediately set off with his troops to defend Chittor. Humayun arrived too late, and Bahadur Shah managed to sack the Rani’s fortress. Karnavati, along with a reported 13,000 other women in the fortress, carried out Jauhar on March 8, 1535, killing themselves to avoid dishonor while the men threw the gates open and rode out on a suicidal charge against Bahadur Shah’s troops. When he reached Chittor, Humayun evicted Bahadur Shah from fort and restored the kingdom to Karnavati’s son, Vikramjit Singh. Although contemporary commentators and memoirs do not mention the Rakhi episode and some historians have expressed skepticism about it, it is mentioned in one mid-seventeenth century Rajasthani account.
Other festivals on this day
In southern & Central parts of India including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Orissa, this day (i.e. Shravan Poornima day), is when the Brahmin community performs the rituals of Avani Avittam or Upakarma.
This is also celebrated as Shri Baladeva birth Ceremony. Lord Krishna’s elder Brother Prabhu Balarama was born on this Poornima.
2. Raksha Bandhan celebrations in India and Nepal
While Raksha Bandhan is celebrated all over the country, different parts of the country mark the day in different ways.
In Nepal, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on shravan purnima. It is also called Janai Purnima (Janai is sacred thread and purnima means full moon). Janai is changed in this day, in Brahmins and Kshetry families. A sacred thread is tied on wrist by senior family members and relatives. Nepalese people enjoy this festival, eating its special food “Kwati”, a soup of sprout of seven different grains.
3. Rakhi Purnima
Rakhi is celebrated as Rakhi Purnima in North India. The word “Purnima” means a full moon night.
4. Gamha Purnima
Rakhi is also celebrated as Gamha Purnima in Orissa. On this date, all the domesticated Cows and Bullocks are decorated and worshipped. Various kinds of country-made cakes called Pitha and sweets mitha are made and distributed within families, relatives and friends. In Orissan Jagannath culture, the lord Krishna & Radha enjoy the beautiful rainy season of Shravana starting from Shukla Pakhya Ekadashi (usually 4 days before Purnima) and ending on Rakhi Purnima with a festival called Jhulan Yatra. Idols of Radha-Krishna are beautifully decorated on a swing called Jhulan, hence the name Jhulan Yatra.
5 Narali Purnima
In western India and parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Goa this day is celebrated as Narali Purnima. On this day, an offering of a coconut (naral in Marathi) is made to the sea, as a mark of respect to Lord Varuna, the God of the Sea. Narali Purnima marks the beginning of the fishing season and the fishermen, who depend on the sea for a living, make an offering to Lord Varuna so that they can reap bountiful fish from the sea.
6. Jandhyam Poornima
Jandhyam is Sanskrit for sacred thread, and Poornima denotes the full moon in Sanskrit.
The people of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, celebrate Raksha Bandhan and Janopunyu on the Shravani Purnima, it is a day on which people change their janeu जनेयु or जन्यो (sacred thread). On this day, the famous Bagwal fair is held at Devidhura in district Champawat. Punyu in Kumauni means Purnima or full moon it is the purnima in which the sacred thread Janeu or Janyo is ceremonially changed. The Raksha Bandhan celebrations are similar all across North India. The thread changing ceremony is done all over India.
In parts of Gujarat, this day is celebrated as Pavitropana. On this day, people perform the grand pooja or the worship of Lord Shiva. It is the culmination of the prayers done throughout the year.
5. Jhulan Purnima, Poonal/Jandhya Poornima/ Janyu
According to Bengali Culture & Celebration, in the state of West Bengal (India), this day is also called Jhulan Purnima there pray & puja of Lord Krishna & Radha. Sister tied rakhi to Brother and bestowed immortality. Political Parties, Offices, Friends, Schools to colleges, Street to Palace celebrate today with a new hope for a good relationship. Brahmins in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Konkan, and Orissa change their sacred threads on the same day (Janayu, called as Poonal in Tamil, Jandhyam in Sanskrit).
The strong bond represented by Rakhi has resulted in innumerable political ties among kingdoms and princely states. The pages of Indian history testify that the Rajput and Maratha queens have sent Rakhis even to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, have assuaged their Rakhi-sisters by offering help and protection at critical moments and honoured the fraternal bond. Even matrimonial alliances have been established between kingdoms through the exchange of Rakhis. History has it that the great Hindu King Porus refrained from striking Alexander, the Great because the latter’s wife had approached this mighty adversary and tied a Rakhi on his hand, prior to the battle, urging him not to hurt her husband.
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