Relationships are the essence of any festivity and it holds true for any Indian festival. Each occasion brings the family together which calls for a celebration. Raksha Bandhan is a celebration of one such relation - that of a brother and a sister. This relationship is no where so celebrated as in India. Raksha Bandhan is a festival which celebrates the bond of love between brothers and sisters. It is a day when siblings pray for each others’ well being and wish for each others’ happines.
The festival is also observed by Jains as a religious festival, as on Raksha Bandhan, Jain priests give threads to devotees. The festival is also celebrated by many communities as a secular festival. This secular aspect is observed among all people, irrespective of their religion, in West Bengal and Punjab. Various fairs are held in Punjab to mark the occasion.
On Raksha Bandhan, sisters tie a rakhi (sacred thread) on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her. The festival falls on the full moon day (Shravan Poornima) of the Shravan month of the Hindu lunisolar Nepali calendar.
Raksha Bandhan as a religious festival focuses on performing the aarti and saying prayers prior to tying the rakhi. The prayers draw inspiration from the Hindu scriptures. The other religious feature is the application of the tilak on the forehead of the person wearing the rakhi.
Raksha Bandhan in Sanskrit literally means “the tie or knot of protection”. The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie. It is an ancient Hindu festival that ritually celebrates the love and duty between brothers and their sisters. The sister performs a Rakhi ceremony, then prays to express her love and her wish for the well being of her brother; in return, the brother ritually pledges to protect and take care of his sister.
On the morning of Raksha Bandhan the brothers and sisters get together, often in nice dress in the presence of surviving parents, grandparents and other family members. 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. The ritual typically begins in front of a lighted lamp (diya) or candle, which signifies fire deity.
Once the Rakhi has been tied, the sister says a prayer for the well being - good health, prosperity and happiness - for her brother. This ritual sometimes involves an aarti, where a tray with lighted lamp or candle is ritually rotated around the brother’s face, along with the prayer and well wishes.
The brother gives his sister(s) gifts such as cards, clothes, money or something thoughtful. The brother may also feed his sister, with his hands, one or more bites of sweets, dry fruits and other seasonal delicacies. They hug, and the larger family ritually congratulate the festive celebration of brother-sister love and protection. The brother(s) wear the Rakhi for the entire day, at school or work, as a reminder of their sister(s) and to mark the festival of Raksha Bandhan.
According to Hindu scripture Bhavishya Purana, in the war between Gods and demons, Indra - the deity of sky, rains and thunderbolts - was disgraced by the powerful demon King Bali. Indra’s wife Sachi consulted Vishnu, who gave her a bracelet made of cotton thread, calling it holy. Sachi tied the holy thread around Indra wrist, blessed with her prayers for his well being and success. Indra successfully defeated the evil and recovered Amaravati.
According to this legend, credited to Hindu scriptures Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Vishnu won the three worlds from the demon King Bali, he was asked by Bali that Vishnu live in his palace, a request Vishnu granted. Vishnu’s wife, Goddess Lakshmi did not like the palace or his new found friendship with Bali, and preferred that her husband and she return to Vaikuntha. So she went to Bali, tied a Rakhi and made him a brother.
Ganesh had two sons, Shubh and Labh. On Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh’s sister visited and tied a Rakhi on Ganesh’s wrist. The two boys become frustrated that they have no sister to celebrate Raksha Bandhan with. They ask their father Ganesh for a sister, but to no avail. Finally, saint Narada appears who persuades Ganesh that a daughter will enrich him as well as his sons.
Krishna considered Draupadi his friend. When Krishna cut his finger while beheading Shishupal, Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of her sari and bandaged his cut. Krishna said that with this loving act, she wrapped him in debt and he would repay each “thread” when the time arrives. This is one of the stories of the origin of the Raksha Bandhan festival.
According to another legend, Yama, the god of Death had not visited his sister Yamuna for 12 years. Yamuna, the goddess of Yamuna river, was sad and consulted Ganga, the goddess of Ganga river. Ganga reminded Yama of his sister, upon which Yama visits her. Yamuna was overjoyed to see her brother, and prepared a bounty of food for Yama. The god Yama was delighted, and asked Yamuna what she wanted for gift. She wished that he, her brother should return and see her again soon.
Each colour has a significance in this festival. Tagore used white, so white signifies friendship. Indrani used red for her husband Indra, so red signifies Love and loyalty. The last Orange and Yellow is most popular in India used by Laxmi and Yamuna for their brothers Bali and Yama so this colour is used for brothers.
Another controversial historical account 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.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the ruler of the Sikh Empire who actively encouraged inter-faith communication. Accordingly, he observed Raksha Bandhan and his wife Maharani Jindan, reinforced the harmony between the Sikh Empire and Nepal through the Rakhi festival. The bond was honored when Maharani Jindan was given refuge by Jang Bahadur of Nepal in 1849.
In today’s scenario, the day has a different perspective. The occasion involves a pledge of life-time practice of moral, cultural and spiritual values. The festival of Raksha Bandhan assumes all forms of Raksha or protection. The ritual of Rakhi tying has become so important that come what may, brothers and sisters try to visit each other place on this particular day tin order to bring back the oneness of the family, binding the family together in an emotional bond of love.