Raksha Bandhan festival is on Sunday August 10th this year.
Hindu Festival of brothers and sisters, Rakhi or Rakhi Purnima is celebrated every year by the symbolic tying of the Rakhi by the sister on the wrist of her brother. It is symbolic of the love and trust that a sister has for her brother who she believes will rush to her aid at all times when needed, a bonding that that re-affirms the unquestionable love that a brother has for his sister to always heed her every wish.
In simple fashion, the Rakhi ceremony is observed by the tika (vermillion paste as a large dot) being applied on the forehead by the sister before she ties the rakhi on her brother’s wrist. The brother in turn by the acceptance of the Rakhi on his wrist mouths his promise that he shall, come what may or whatever else he may want to say to that effect. The brother pops a sweet into her mouth and she into his and both hug each other or if the brother is elder the sister touches the feet of her brother and he blesses her. Thus the simple but meaningful ceremony is complete. All in the presence of the other members of the family and close friends present at home.
The festival is celebrated every year in the Hindu month of Shravan on Purnima or full moon day. For the very rigid followers of auspicious timings and negative periods, the Hindu Panchang or Almanac considers the timing between 1.37 P.M. and 8.57 P.M. to be auspicious, with the timing between 10.07 A.M. to 13.37 to be avoided.
Celebrated mostly in India, Nepal and Mauritius, it is a festival that is popular amongst Hindus, Jains Sikhs and participated in also by Muslims. Historical and mythological stories are linked with this festival too.
In a war with King Bali the demon King, Indra the king of the Gods was defeated and lost Amravati the celestial capitol. Sachi his wife prayed to Lord Vishnu, who gave her a sacred thread to tie on Indra’s wrist. She did so and the rejuvenated king fought again and won back Amravati. This was an early instance of the power of the thread tied with belief on a wrist.
King Bali, the demon king, had requested Lord Vishnu that he kindly accept his invitation and stay with him in his palace which the Lord accepted. Goddess Lakshmi was perturbed and wanting the Lord Vishnu to return to Vaikunth their abode, tied a thread to King Bali and said that he should accept her as his sister which he readily agreed to. As a gift granted by him to her as a sister he readily agreed to let Vishnu return with her back to Vaikunth.
Lord Ganesha had two sons, Shubh and Labh. Since the Lord’s sister came to tie Rakhi to him and they did not have a sister, on the advice of Sage Narada, Lord Ganesha saw to the creation of Goddess Santoshi Maa out of the divine flames from his wives Ridhi and Sidhi. Maa Santoshi became the sister for Shubh and Labh to tie the Rakhi.
In the Mahabharata, Draupadi tied the thread to Lord Krishna and before the war Kunti tied a thread to Abhimanyu her grandson. Both were for protection against evil.
Historically and one of the most touching instances of the bond of Rakhi and possibly reinforcing its truth is the story of Rani Durgavati of Chittor and the Mughal emperor Humayun. Rani Durgavati fearing for the life of her husband and the fate of the kingdom against the evil intent of Bahadur Shah, ruler of Gujarat, just sent a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun the Mughal Emperor to save Chittor and her from Bahadur Shah’s evil designs. Touched by this gesture of faith in him, he immediately rushed out towards Chittor to save her. Unfortunately by the time he could reach Chittor, the ladies seeing no help arriving had resorted to enter the flaming pyre or commit Jauhar and the men had resorted to plunging into a suicidal battle where ultimately Chittor was taken by Bahadur Shah. The emperor plunged into grief on reaching and resolved to amend the situation. He got Bahadur Shah removed and re-instated Rani Durgavati’s son to the Chittor throne.
Raksha Bandhan is today celebrated in its modern format where the brother – sister pair need not be biologically related. The Rakhi is also tied more in gesture of bonding than the relationship of brother and sister as in the case of children tying to elders, women tying rakhis to soldiers, politicians, priests tying to others within the congregation etc.
Rakhis have also gone from the simple thread to the more elaborate attachments to the large and extra large designer rakhis with images of filmy and cricketing heroes accompanying the tying apparatus. From a simple dozen for a few rupees the expensive ones reach a few thousands. The gifts that the brother gives the sister, has also been in the times of inflation nothing less than a hundred rupees on an average and for the rich of course very much beyond.
Hindu festivals have always occupied the Indian psyche, never mind what it means to the pockets of all those who celebrate. Be it the festivities, the new dresses, the sweets and whatever else that goes in the name of celebrations, the occasion calls for spending.
Renewed year after year in an observance, it may just be a meaningless ritual to the world at large, but for those who observe this festival, it is a reaffirmation of faith in the simple act of tying a thread that continues to remain as strong as the mental bond that accompanies the act.