We celebrate ‘Raksha Bandhan’ every year. The ritual is observed on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan’. This day is also known as ‘Rakhi Poornima’ or ‘Shravan Poornima’. The word ‘poornima’ means a full moon night. This day has a great significance on everybody’s life. Let’s revisit our history and mythology once more.
Like all Indian festivals, this too has a myriad of stories and legends regarding its origin. Some of these stories can be traced back to Indian mythology and even the puranic times. Raksha Bandhan is also referred to in the epic tale of Mahabharata when Lord Krishna advised Yudhishthir to perform the ceremony to protect himself and his people from war. Kunti (the mother of Pandavas) tied a rakhi to her grandson Abhimanyu and Draupadi tied a rakhi on the wrist of Lord Krishna.
This day is also celebrated as the birthday of maa santoshi. Ganesh had two sons, Shubh and Labh. On Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh’s sister visited and tied a rakhi on Ganesh’s wrist. Feeling deprived, the sons immediately began pressing Ganesh and his two wives, Riddhi and Siddhi, for a sister. Finally, Ganesh conceded the demand, and Santoshi Ma (literally the Mother Goddess of Satisfaction) was created by divine flames that emerged from Riddhi and Siddhi.
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-robbing”) 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.
Bhavishya Puran is a tale about the war that took place between the demons and the gods. The king of demons Brutra was approaching and the gods lead by Indra were about to face defeat In this crisis, Indira visited Guru Brihaspati to resolve the problem Brihaspati asked Indra to tie a sacred thread on his wrist which would evoke powers by sacred mantras on Shravan Purnima. It was this sacred thread that lead Indra to victory.
According to this legend, a battle was being fought between the deities and the demons during the hindu month of Shravana on a full moon day. It is said that the demons were in a dominating position and this troubled Lord Indra. His wife Indrani, unable to see his husband saddened over losing the battle, prayed to God and prepared a sacred thread which she tied on the right wrist of her husband. As a result, not only did Lord Indra end up winning the battle but also escaped from it unhurt.
- 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 the festival is also called Baleva which means Bali Raja’s devotion to the lord. This thread was yellow that made yellow Raksha Bandhan popular among brothers and sisters. 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.
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.
The pages of Indian history testify that the Rajput and Maratha queens have sent Rakhis even to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, have protected their Rakhi-sisters at critical moments and honored the fraternal bond. 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.
- 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.
- Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun
One Islamic Scholar believes that Raksha Bandhan grew in popularity after Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of Chittor, sent a rakhi to the Mughal emperor Humayun when she required his help. 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 dishonour while the men broke into the gates 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 RAKHI DAY:
- 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. Rakhi is celebrated as Rakhi Purnima in North India. The word “Purnima” means a full moon night.
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.
Rakhi is also celebrated as ‘Gamha Purnima’ in Odisha. 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 Oriya Jagannath culture, the lord Krishna & Radha enjoy the beautiful rainy season of Shravana starting from Shukla Pakhya Ekadashi (usually four 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.
In southern & Central parts of India including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha, 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.
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.
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 (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 central parts of India such as Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkand and Bihar this day is celebrated as Kajari Purnima. It is an important day for the farmers and women blessed with a son. On the ninth day after Shravana Amavasya, the preparations of the Kajari festival start. This ninth day is called Kajari Navami and varied rituals are performed by women who have sons until Kajri Purnima or the full moon day.
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.
- 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. Prayers & puja of Lord Krishna & Radha are performed there. Sisters tie rakhi to Brothers and bestow immortality. Political Parties, Offices, Friends, Schools to colleges, Street to Palace celebrate this day 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)
NEW AGE RAKHI:
- Rabindranath Tagore & Rakhi
Tagore’s vision of celebrating Raksha Bandhan was totally different. According to him Rakhi is not only a festival of the siblings but it’s a celebration of mankind and of humanity. He promoted the concept of unity and harmony among all members of the society. He believed that it is the responsibility of all the members of the society to help and protect each other and encourage a harmonious social life. For him Rakshabandhan festival is the celebration of fellow feeling and concern. Especially in today’s context Tagore’s vision is very much applicable as it teaches us to think and care for others. The history behind this festival dates back to the year 1905 when the British empire decided to divide Bengal, a state of British India on the basis of caste and religion. That time Rabindra Nath Tagore arranged a ceremony to celebrate Raksha Bandhan to strengthen the bond of love and togetherness between the
Hindus and the Muslims of Bengal and together fight against the British empire. He used the platform of Raksha Bandhan to spread the feeling of brotherhood. It was his vision to spread the nationalist spirit among people from different ethnic groups. His literary works have always transcended race, gender, religion and geographical boundaries. In his works and his beliefs he has always felt that it is important to have freedom of mind irrespective of race, religion and culture.
According to him, if we can think beyond our religion and caste then only we can become true human beings. So to spread this message of love he thought Raksha Bandhan to be the most appropriate day to spread this message. Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan started congregations like Rakhi Mahotsavas. This invoked trust and feeling of peaceful coexistence. The festival for them is a symbol of harmony. The tradition continues as people tie rakhis to the neighbors and close friends. It is a festival denoting National sentiments of harmony. So if we look in to the actual significance of this festival in today’s world, which is full of crisis and strife, these kinds of rituals, hold the key to peaceful existence. The auspicious day of Raksha Bandhan can be used as a potent tool for social change, which could ultimately envelop everyone in a permanent bond of love and friendship. Tagore used white threads for Raksha Bandhan thus made white Raksha Bandhan popular among Friends.
In its initial days it’s celebrated as a day to signify the sacred relationship between a brother and sister. It’s a social bonding aimed at peaceful co-existence. The festival is marked by the tying of a rakhi, or holy thread, by the sister on the wrist of her brother. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her.
Traditionally, the sister does not eat anything before tying the rakhi; she breaks her fast by accepting some sweets from her brother after the ceremony. The brother, on his part, gives her some money or a gift according to his means. During the two festivals “Raksha Bandhan (or ‘Rakhi’)” and “Bhaidooj” sisters and brothers show their love and respect for each other by tying a thread around their sibling’s right wrist.
Raksha Bandhan has evolved over time with its meaning and significance. In old days it was considered a brother should take vow to protect his sister by all means and for that reason we celebrate this day once in a year when our sisters tie threads in our hands. The brother in return presents a gift. That value still hold good with some additional possibilities.
On this holy day school children visit our president to tie thread at Rashtrapati bhavan. We have partly extended its significance from brother sister relationship to other areas too. Now we need to extend our traditional values to every corner and every object that needs protection. Yes, I mean it. Not only brothers and sisters but every other object (living or non-living) that needs protection should come under it.
I’d like to remind you a very nice concept of ‘Vriksha Raksha Bandhan’ which is already into practice in some areas now. We talk about Vriksha Raksha Bandhan when we observe our natural environment in danger. It is a ritual (mostly among educates mass in urban areas) to protect our trees. It’s heartening to see school children coming forward and tying threads on trees. They pledge to take care of one tree each. This consciousness from school days will definitely help them become responsible citizens when they grow to their adulthood. I don’t think anybody will have a second opinion our environment (both tress and animals inclusive) needs protection.
With all these additional possibilities, it’s our social responsibility to provide mutual protection with changing times. It’s often assumed sisters to be always responsible and brothers to be less careful. So, sisters always take care of their brothers but not the vice versa. If that’s true, why do brothers tie thread asking their sisters to give protection as they always care by default? This is our thought process. It’s not very true. Though the values have not changed over time, we need a change in our mind-set how we visualize things at present.
Why does our love for some never diminish even at the time of distress? On the other hand we don’t like few others even when happy and content. Love is beautiful. It’s really difficult to understand if we don’t experience it in our life. Like beauty we can’t measure love too. It’s eternal. We say, we love our pets, environment and society but we fail to give them protection at the time of need. We love them because of the benefits we get in return. Imagine a time when tress stop producing oxygen; will you love trees? The truth is we love only our own self, our want. That love is so intense that it makes us greedy and selfish.
When people are too selfish in their need, they expect others not to harm them and protect them but they do things just the contrary that put the whole society in danger. We can’t preserve humanity in the absence of social/human values. I’ll give you protection provided you deserve the same. How can i help you unless you help yourself? It’s a time to think who really needs protection. It’s our sisters, brothers or all in the society.
I am taking care of plants and trees in our garden. I’ve also decided to tie RAKHI to all my sisters from coming year as they tie the thread to me. Let’s preserve human values and extend this sacred relationship everywhere.
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