Raksha Bandhan is a unique festival of historical significance largely celebrated in India to honour the special bond of love, care, trust, concern and goodwill between brothers and sisters. The festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Shrawan as per Indian Lunar Calendar, corresponding to the month of August (as per Gregorian Calendar). ‘Raksha Bandhan’ is a Sanskrit term in which ‘Raksha’ means protection and ‘Bandhan’ stands for bond or tie.
‘Raksha Bandhan’ is also known as ‘Rakhi Purnima’ – an indication of the fact that the festival is celebrated on a full moon day. The key part of the celebrations consists of the sister tying a decorative thread known as ‘Rakhi’ around the brother’s wrist while chanting prayers for his long life, health and prosperity. The brother reciprocates this gesture by offering gifts and promising lifelong protection to his sister.
The full moon day in the month of Shrawan is regarded as highly auspicious. Mostly celebrated with great pomp and festivities by the Hindus, it is also a major festival for Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. In ancient times, Jain saints followed the ritual of tying a sacred thread on the wrists of their devotees to protect them from evil and bless them with prosperity. Today, the ritual finds manifestation in the Raksha Bandhan festival. Buddhists and Sikhs celebrate this day with the same thread-tying rituals in the name of ‘Janai Purnima’ and ‘Rakhri’ respectively.
The slender Rakhi thread symbolizes the strengthening of the bond of love and understanding between brothers and sisters. In today’s turbulent times, such celebrations that have grown beyond the boundaries of families are socially significant. It is an expression of the hope and vision that with mutual love and trust, people can herald times of peace, harmony and brotherhood.
Rituals and Practices across India
The preparations for Raksha Bandhan begin days before the festival. Sisters shop around for fancy Rakhis made of golden or silver threads and embellished with Rudraksh beads, shiny sequins or semi-precious stones and bright coloured lace.
Festivities begin early morning of Shrawan Purnima. To symbolize the purification of body and mind, everyone starts the day with a refreshing bath. The sisters then proceed to arrange the puja thali or the prayer tray with everything required for the ceremony. It generally consists of tilak (saffron powder that is applied on the forehead at the end of prayers), diyas (small oil lamps), roli (turmeric powder), rice grains (to indicate prosperity), flowers, an assortment of sweets and the Rakhi threads.
Everyone in the family assembles in the prayer room and lights the lamp before the main deity. The sisters then tie the Rakhis on the wrists of their brothers while praying for their well-being. After applying tilak on the forehead of their brothers and offering them sweets, the sisters eagerly wait for their gifts. The brothers promise protection and care to their sisters and then present the gifts. The rest of the family joins in the celebrations by exchanging sweets and good wishes. The Rakhis remain on the wrists of brother for a few days as a token of their sister’s love and their promise of protection.
In some parts of North India such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, Rakhi Purnima is celebrated as Kajri Navami when special prayers are offered to Goddesses and the sowing of wheat begins with prayers for a rich harvest. Here, it is a celebration of the farming community. In Gujarat, Rakhi Purnima goes by the name of Pavitropana. It is the day when people organize grand prayers in honour of Lord Shiva.
In the states along the Western Ghats such as Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat, the day is celebrated as Nariyal Purnima (Coconut Full Moon). People whose livelihood depends on the sea consider this day as an auspicious day to commence a new term of work. In Southern India – especially in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Raksha Bandhan is known as Avani Avittam or Upakarmam. This day is particularly auspicious for Brahmins since it marks the commencement of Vedic studies. This is also the day they change the holy threads tied across their torso.
Legends associated with the festival of Raksha Bandhan
The origin of Raksha Bandhan dates back to numerous stories in Indian mythology. The epic Mahabharatha includes an incident in which Lord Krishna accidently cut his finger while flying a kite. Worried by the sight, Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of cloth from her saree and tied it around his finger. Touched by her love and concern, Krishna promised her the protection of a brother – a promise he fulfilled when the Kauravas tried to disrobe her.
Another story relates how Shubh and Labh – Lord Ganesha’s sons – desired a sister and kept repeating the request to their father. Finally, Lord Ganesha gave in to their appeal and created Goddess Santoshi Maa on the full moon day in the month of Shrawan. This day when the two brothers were blessed with a sister later came to be celebrated as Raksha Bandhan.
Another interesting story behind the origin of Raksha Bandhan can be found in Vishnu Purana. It relates how Lord Vishnu once took up residence in the kingdom of his great devotee, King Bali. Lord Vishnu’s wife, Goddesses Lakshmi, who wanted her husband back in Vaikuntha visited King Bali, presented him with a lovely thread around his wrist and proclaimed that henceforth he was her brother. When King Bali asked what she would like in return, Goddesses Lakshmi requested him to permit Lord Vishnu to Vaikuntha. Her wish was granted and the practice of Raksha Bandhan is said to have originated from this incident.
Another touching story in Indian mythology related to Raksha Bandhan involves the God of Death – Yama – and his sister Yamuna. Unable to meet her brother for over a decade, Yamuna was depressed. Finally, Yama paid her a visit, much to the delight of Yamuna who received her brother with much love and hospitality. Touched by her kindness, Yama asked her to state a wish. When Yamuna replied she wanted the gift of her brother’s love forever, Yama granted her the blessing of immortality. This story is also believed to be the basis of Raksha Bandhan.
Like any other typical Indian festival, Raksha Bandhan too is accompanied by family gatherings, joyous celebration, music, dance, exchange of sweets, and special delicacies. Today, the ritual of tying Rakhi often crosses the boundaries of family, religion, region and language with its sublime theme of brotherhood.
Contributed by Nitha V.
Edited and Published by Team MandirOnline