Raksha Bandhan, the Tie of Protection, has been invoked across centuries by women seeking protection from brothers for themselves or for their families. Long before Siblings Day made its appearance, Raksha Bandhan has been a festival, celebrating the special relationship between a brother and a sister.
Also called Rakhi Purnima or simply Rakhi, it is celebrated on the day of Shravan Purnima, the full moon day of the month of Shravan. This year, it falls on 29 August. It’s very meaning is the ‘tie of protection’.
By: Madhuri. Y
Rakhi – Tie of Protection
Rakhi is believed to have originated as an amulet, carrying women’s prayers to guard the men at war. Later, it evolved into its current form. Symbolising love and duty between a sister and her brother, it can be tied by sisters to siblings, cousins or even unrelated males, symbolising the same vows.
When a sister ties a Rakhi to her brother’s wrist, she shows her love towards him and prays for his well-being. At the same time, it is symbolic of the brother’s love and his vow to protect her.
Celebrated primarily by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, today it is also celebrated across religions that have been in close contact with these religions.
Home-made or store-bought, a Rakhi is a thread, usually colourful with amulets or other decoration on top. Today, people venture out to buy watches and bracelets in place of the simple thread. After performing the Aarti – ritual rotation of a lamp around the brother’s face – the sister puts Tilak on the brother’s forehead and ties the Rakhi to his wrist. She then prays for his well being and offers sweets to him. And it’s time for the brother to offer her the gift –
small or big – he has bought for her.
The Rakhi is worn on the day of Raksha Bandhan while some retain it for a few days. Today, it is a thriving industry with Rakhis reaching distant shores from sisters to brothers in different nations.
The Bengal split and Rakhi
When Bengal was to be divided by the British, Rabindranath Tagore began Rakhi Mahotsavs to symbolise unity and brotherhood between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal.
The celebrations eventually proved unsuccessful as Bengal was divided into West Bengal in India and East Bengal, now known as Bangladesh.
A Rakhi poem from Tagore:
The love in my body and heart For the earth’s shadow and light Has stayed over years.
With its cares and its hope it has thrown
A language of its own Into blue skies.
It lives in my joys and glooms
In the spring night’s buds and blooms
Like a Rakhi-band On the Future’s hand.
Yashoda is said to have tied an amulet of Raksha Bandhan on Krishna’s wrist, according to the Vishnu Purana. She is said to have prayed thus:
May the lord of all beings protect you,
May the one who creates, preserves and dissolves life protect thee,
May Govinda guard thy head; Kesava, thy neck; Vishnu, thy belly;
The eternal Narayana, thy face, thine arms, thy mind, and faculties of sense;
May all negativity and fears, spirits malignant and unfriendly, flee thee;
May Rishikesa keep you safe in the sky; and Mahidhara, upon earth.
Draupadi and Krishna
Draupadi tears a piece of her sari to bandage Krishna’s finger when he cuts it during Shishupal’s beheading. Krishna vows to protect her and wraps her in endless cloth during the Vastra haran in the Mahabharata.
Bali and Goddess Lakshmi
After Vishnu in his Vamana avatar sends Bali to the underworld, Bali requests him to stay in his palace to which Vishnu agrees. But Goddess Lakshmi who wishes to return to Vaikunta, ties a Rakhi to Bali and as a gift, asks him to set Vishnu free from his request. Bali agrees.
Queens and kings
Queens, particularly, Rajput queens were said to send Rakhis to neighbouring rulers to symbolise a brother-sister relationship.
According to history, King Pururava with the Greek name Porus was defeated by Alexander. An unverified story tells us that Alexander’s wife Roxana sends a Rakhi to Porus with the request not to harm Alexander. During the battle, when Porus is about to kill Alexander, he sees the Rakhi on the latter’s wrist and leaves him alone.
Yet another account is of the Mughal emperor Humayun. Unable to protect her kingdom from Bahadur Shah, the sultan of Gujarat, the widowed Rani Karnavati of 51 Chittor, sends a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun. But Humayun’s troops reach too late to save the Rani’s fortress or the Rani herself. Rani Karnavati had committed Jauhar – burning to death. Humayun, nevertheless, defeats Bahadur Shah and hands over the kingdom to the Rani’s son, Vikramjeet Singh.