Relationships play important role in celebrations, which is the essence of any Indian festival. Each festival brings the family and friends together. This mere coming together is a celebration in itself. The observance of one such relationship is Rakshabandhan - the celebration of the affection and love between a brother and a sister. This relationship is nowhere so celebrated and worshipped as in India.
This is the day when the brothers and sisters pray for each others' well being and wish for each others' happiness and goodwill. The word ‘raksha’ signifies protection and ‘bandhan’ is an association signifying an enduring bond. Therefore, Rakshabandhan, 'a bond of protection', is a pledge from brothers to protect the sisters from all harms and troubles and prayers from the sisters to protect the brother from all evil.
The festival falls on the Shravan Purnima (full moon day in the month of Shravan), which comes generally in the month of August. The sisters ties a ‘rakhi’ — which may be a colourful thread made of silk, a simple bracelet, or a decorative string — around the wrist of their brothers. In ancient times, rakhis were made of a grain of rice tied inside a cloth. The cloth was dyed yellow with turmeric, a colour that signifies auspiciousness.
The rakhis and the sweets are bought and prepared generally before the Purnima. As per the traditions, on the day, the family gets ready for the rituals early. They take a bath to purify mind and body before starting any preparations. After this, the sisters prepare the thali for the puja. It contains the rakhi threads, kumkum powder, rice grains, diva (an earthen or a metal lamp used for worshiping), agarbattis (incense sticks) and sweets. First, the offerings are made to the deities of the family. Then sisters perform arti to their brothers and put tilak and rice on his forehead and ties rakhi amongst chanting of mantras. Then she gives him sweets and gifts. The brother accepts her offerings and vows to take care of her and be by her side in the time of need. As a token he gives the sister a return gift and sweets.
While performing the rituals the sisters chant:
suraj shakhan chhodian, mooli chhodia beej
behen ne rakhi bandhi, bhai tu chir jug jee
the sun radiates its sunlight, the radish spreads its seeds,
I tie the rakhi to you O brother and wish that may you live long
After her prayer for a long life for her brother, she says that she is tying the ever-protective Raksha to her brother chanting:
yena baddho bali raja danavendro mahabalah
tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshe ma chala ma chala
I tie you (the devotee) the rakhi that was tied to king Bali, the king of Demons.
Therefore, O Raksha! Do not ever fail to protect this devotee, do not ever fail.
We learn the origin of Rakshabandhan from Vedas specifically the Bhavishaya Purana (137/20), which explains that once Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, after King Bali’s surrendered unto Him, promised the king that He would personally guard his kingdom in the Sutala planet, which is situated in the lower planetary systems. Later Laxmidevi, while looking for Lord Vishnu, arrived in Sutala planet on Shravan Purnima. She accepted King Bali as her brother by tying a ‘raksha’ on him. In return, Bali asked her to wish for a boon. She requested Lord Vishnu’s return. However, the Lord had pledged to eternally protect King Bali. To resolve his dilemma, Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva agreed to guard King Bali for four months each, while Lord Vishnu would guard him for the auspicious four months known as Chaturmasaya. The festival of Rakshabandhan commenced when Laxmidevi tied the ‘raksha’ on King Bali.
The Bhavishaya Purana also cites a story about the great battle between devas (demigods) and danavas (demons). In the battle the devas, headed by King Indra, was defeated. Indra, humbled and crest-fallen, sought the advice of Brihaspati, the Guru of the demigods. The sage told him to bide his time, prepare himself and then march against his adversary. He also indicated that the auspicious moment for sallying forth was the Shravan Purnima. As the devas prepared to fight again, Sachidevi, King Indra’s wife took a thread, charged it with sacred verses or mantras for protection and tied it on Indra’s hand. Through the strength of this thread Indra conquered his enemies re-established his sovereignty. Since then till today this festival is celebrated.
Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava son, enquires from Lord Krishna on how best he could guard himself against all impending evils and catastrophes in the ensuing year. Krishna advises him to observe the Raksha Bandhan ceremony. Also, during the battle of Mahabharata, Queen Kunti tied a ‘raksha’ on her grandson Abhimanyu to protect him in battle.
It is said that at one time, Alexander’s wife approached the mighty Hindu adversary, Puru, and sought assurance of her husband’s life by tying the Rakhi on Puru’s hand. The story goes that just as Puru raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the Rakhi and refrained from striking.
Mughal Emperor Humayun
A Rajput princess, Rani Karnawati, sent a Rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun, enlisting his support against the onslaught of the Gujarat Sultan. Though engaged in an expedition against Bengal, turned back and hastened to the rescue of his Rakhi sister. But to his bitter disappointment, found that the kingdom had been seized and the princess had committed “jauhar” (suicide) to save her honour.
Owing to its various legends and significance Rakshabandhan is known by different names in different states of India, by different communities. It is called Nariyal Purnima or coconut full moon in the Western Ghats that includes the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. Here Rakshabandhan signifies the beginning of a new season for those dependent on sea. Rakhi Purnima is called Avani Avittam in southern parts of India that is in Kerala, Andhra Peadesh, Tamil Nadu and parts of Orissa and is an important day for the Brahmins. The day is called Upakarmam by the Brahmins. They change their Holy threads on this day. Rakshabandhan day is called Shravani or Kajari Purnima in Madhya Pradesh, chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. Rakshabandhan, here is an important day for farmers and women who have sons.
The rakhi may also be tied by wife, a daughter, a mother, a priest to devotees/congregational members, or well-wishers to each other - offering the blessing of ‘raksha’ (protection), good wishes and love. A bond is thus formed between members of the family and between members of the community. Rakshabandhan is now celebrated all over the world, and reminds people of their eternal duty - to care and to look after each other. In today’s strife-torn world, this simple act of tying the knot of brotherhood will increase the bonds of world peace and universal friendship.
Click here to see a selection of famous Raksha Bandhan Bhajans and Songs