Aarti Natarajan Sharma
The festival of Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan is celebrated every year on the full moon day of the month of Shravan in July/August. It is the day when the bond or bandhan between brother and sister is reinforced wherein the brother vows to protect the sister or do her raksha. It is one of the most popular of Hindu festivals and a day of feasting and festivity. This year, the festival of Rakhi falls on 22 August.
The tradition of Rakhi can be traced back to around 6000 years and finds it roots in the Aryan civilization. There are several stories and incidents related to Rakhi in Hindu mythology.
One of the most popular stories is in the great epic the Mahabharata. Once, Lord Krishna’s wrist was bleeding and on seeing this, Draupadi, without a second thought, tore the corner of her expensive sari and tied it around his wrist to stop the flow of blood. Krishna then vowed to protect her and proclaimed her to be his sister. Lord Krishna and Draupadi had a deep emotional bond. When Duryodhana, the Kaurava scion, was attempting to disrobe her in the Royal Court, she invoked Lord Krishna’s help. The result was that though Duryodhana kept pulling at the sari, it seemed to be never-ending and eventually he had to give up. This story is an example of how a brother is supposed to protect his sister against all odds.
Another story talks about the demon king Mahabali, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. His devotion pleased Lord Vishnu and the Lord took the responsibility to protect Mahabali’s kingdom, leaving his usual dwelling place. Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu, was saddened by this. She decided to go to King Bali in the guise of a brahmin woman seeking refuge. She tied a thread on the king’s wrist on the full moon day of Shravana Purnima. When she later revealed who she was, the king was moved by her devotion and affection and requested Lord Vishnu to return to his usual abode with Goddess Lakshmi. It is believed that after this the tradition is to invite one’s sister to tie a Rakhi on the day of Shravana Purnima.
The larger message of Rakhi is that of universal brotherhood. Rakhi is not just tied between blood relatives but by anyone who seeks protection. It is symbolic of a spiritual, platonic relationship between any two people.
In a lot of houses, delicacies are cooked at home and in most offices, leave is granted so that people can perform this ceremony. It is a day for the entire family to meet and rejoice in their familial bonds. Gifts are exchanged and the blessings of the elders are sought.
Rabindranath Tagore had once conducted a mass Raksha Bandhan festival in 1905 after the partition of Bengal where he made Muslim women tie a rakhi to Hindu men and Hindu women tie a rakhi to Muslim men to ensure that the brotherly-sisterly feeling would prevail between the two communities since emotions were at an all-time high.
Among the brahmin community, on Raksha Bandhan, the janeu or sacred thread worn by the men folk is changed on this day amidst the chanting of scriptures. The day is thus considered holy.
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