Raksha Bandhan is undoubtedly one of the most popular cultural festivals in India. Literally translated, raksha means protection while bandhan means bond. The bond of Brother-Sister love is very unique. It is full of love, care, jealousy, hatred, possessiveness, excitement, sharing etc that is hard to find in any other relationship. Rakhi is observed on Shravana Purnima (i.e. full moon day) as per the Hindu calendar in the month of August every year. Rakhi symbolizes the expression of a sister’s love as well as pledge a brother to guard and take care of her under all circumstances. It means that the brother is responsible and committed to protect her sister against all odds throughout the life. On the other hand sister is committed to pray for the longevity, good health and prosperity of her brother. It is a unique festival that celebrates the sacred bond of love between a sister and a brother. Kite flying is also an important part of celebrations on Raksha Bandhan.
Some of the Legendary Stories of Raksha Bandhan
Alexander The Great and King Puru – Alexander, the great (as he was called) was on a mission to conquer the world. On his crusade through the Indian subcontinent somewhere around 300 B.C., King Alexander of Macedonia was shaken by the fury of the Indian king, Puru. It was then that Alexander’s wife, approached King Puru as a sister. On Alexander’s next attempt, King Puru, as a tribute to the sacred bond of Rakhi, did not oppose King Alexander and let him have his way.
Rani Karnawati and Emperor Humayun – One of the most popular tales that come to our minds when we think of Rakhi is that of Rani Karnawati and Emperor Humayun. This dates back to the medieval era when Rajputs were fighting Muslim invasions. When Rani Karnawati, the widowed queen of the king of Chittor realised that she could not defend the invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun. The Emperor, touched by this gesture of sisterly love immediately set off with his troops to defend Chittor’s honour.
Lord Krishna and Draupadi – Legend goes that during the war that Krishna fought and won against the evil King Shishupal wherein he killed Shishupal, Krishna was hurt and and his hand was bleeding. Seeing this, Draupadi tore a strip of cloth from her sari and tied it around his wrist. Lord Krishna, seeing her affections and realising her concerns about him, declared himself bounded by her sisterly love. He also promised that he will be at her side whenever she needed a brother. Many years later, when Pandavas lost Draupadi in a game of dice and Kauravas were removing her sari, Krishna helped her. He did so by continuously adding to the length of her sari and thereby saved her from a public disgrace.
King Bali and Goddess Lakshmi – Mahabali, the demon king was also a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. It was thus that Lord Vishnu, left Vaikuntham, his dwelling to protect Bali’s kingdom. But, Goddess Lakshmi (Lord Vishnu’s wife) became sad because of the Lord having left her alone. So, she went to Bali as a Brahmin woman and took refuge as in the King’s palace. On Shravana Purnima, she tied a Rakhi on King Bali’s wrist. She then revealed her true identity and told the King of her real reason for coming. The king was touched by Her and Lord Vishnu’s good will and affection towards him and his family. Following which Bali requested Lord Vishnu to accompany her to Vaikuntham. It was thus that the festival of Rakhi also came to be known as Baleva (as a reference to Bali’s devotion to Lord Vishnu).
Preparation of Rakhi Festival
Days or weeks before Raksha Bandhan, women shop for Rakhi, the ceremonial thread to tie around her brother’s (or brother-like friend’s) wrist. Some women make their own Rakhi. A Rakhi may be a simple thread, woven and colorful; or a Rakhi may be intricate with amulets and decoration on top of it. Sometimes, a Rakhi may be a fancy wrist watch or men’s wrist accessory in the form of bracelet or jewelry. Rakhi in the form of a colorful woven thread is most common. Typically the brother(s) too shop for gifts for the sister and variety of kites ahead of Raksha Bandhan. The gift from the brother can be a simple thoughtful token of love, and may be more elaborate.
Generally, the fancy Rakhis and delicious sweets are prepared long before the Shravana Purnima. According to the Indian tradition, the family members get ready for the rituals early in the morning. They take a bath to purify mind and body before starting any preparations. Sisters prepare the puja thali which consists of roli, tilak, Rakhi threads, rice grains, aggarbattis (incense sticks), diyas and sweets. After offering the rituals to the deities of the family, the sister perform aarti of their brothers and ties Rakhi on their wrist. Then, they put kumkum powder on the forehead of their brother, offer sweets and pray for long life for her brother. In return, brothers pampers and blesses the sisters and promises to protect her from all the evils of this world. He also present a token of his love and affection as a Rakhi gift. Then peoples tart flying kites. An array of designer kites soar the skyline on Raksha Bandhan. People start flying kites early in the morning and continue until the evening. From dawn to dusk, people of all ages fly kites rejoicing in the spirit of the day. The blue sky is enlivened by colourful and pictorial kites.The rituals performed on Raksha Bandhan and name may differ from place to place but they carry the same aura throughout the globe.