Raksha Bandhan, one of the most significant and auspicious Hindu festival, is celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu Luni-solar calendar month of Shravana, which typically falls in the Gregorian calendar month of August. Symbolising the love and the bond between the brothers and sisters, it also demonstrates the brother-sister relationship between two people, not biologically related to each other. Rakhsha Bandhan literally means “bond of protection”. The main significance of Raksha Bandhan is to promise the brother’s love and protection over her sister, in return for his sister’s love, care and affection. It is celebrated by sister tying the Rakhi on the wrists of their brothers, bonding and binding them together. This year, this festival falls on 7th August 2017.
The significance of Raksha Bandhan dates back to our Indian mythology, which shows the celebration of this festival on many different occasions. Also, the history of India is filled with many such incidences where the “symbolism of Rakhi” has been used to avail the bond of sisterly love and brotherly protection between two people. In Nepal, the festival is called Janai Purnima or Rishitarpani, involving a sacred thread ceremony, one observed by Hindus and Newar Buddhist communities.
1.) Mythological Significance of Raksha Bandhan
The following incidents, as recorded in the two most important Hindi holy books determine the mythological significance of Raksha Bandhan:
a.) The great epic of Mahabharata, the wife of Pandavas, Draupadi tied a rakhi on the wrist of Lord Krishna, to signify the bond of sisterly love between the two. Later, Lord Krishna came to Kunti’s aid, extending and fulfilling his brotherly promise of protection, when an attempt to publically humiliate Kunti was made by the Kauravas. This is the most famous episode in the Indian mythology which symbolises the bond between the siblings.
b.) Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana also demonstrates the similar bonding between Goddess Lakshmi and King Bali. After Vishnu won the three worlds from King Bali, the King requested the God to stay with in his palace, underworld. Goddess Lakshmi did not like the palace or his new found friendship with Bali, and hence in order to convince the king, she tied a rakhi on his wrist and accepted him as her brother. King Bali asked her as to what she desired for a gift. Goddess Lakshmi asked for her husband be free from Bali’s request, to which the King happily consented and accepted Goddess Lakshmi as his sister.
Draupadi tying Rakhi on Krishna's hand.
2.) Historical Significance of Raksha Bandhan
The following incidents, as recorded in the Indian history determine the historical significance of Raksha Bandhan:
a.) One of the controversial historical account in the history is of Emperor Humayun and Queen Karnavati. When Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of the king of Chittor, realized that she could not defend against the invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun. The Emperor, according to one version of the story, set off with his troops to defend Chittoor. He arrived too late, and Bahadur Shah had already captured the Rani's fortress. However, historians argue that the above account may have never happened in the history. They generate skepticism on the grounds on the fact that the Humanyun’s own memoirs do not mention of this record anywhere. Also, at the same time, this incident is used by many leaders to comment upon the Hindu-Muslim ties of ancient India.
b.) The great Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore used the symbolism of Rakhi to generate the love, unity, and togetherness amidst the people of Bengal. When the Britishers came out with their policy of “Divide and Rule” and divided Bengal in 1905, Tagore organized the movement of “Rakhi”, to define brotherhood. However, Tagore's Raksha Bandhan-based appeals were unsuccessful. Bengal not only was split during the colonial era, one part became modern Bangladesh and predominantly Muslim country, the other a largely Hindu Indian state of West Bengal. But, till today, many parts of Bengal celebrate this festival by tying Rakhi on the wrists of their neighbors and close friends.
To mark the importance of this culture against the Britishers, Tagore composed a beautiful poem on Rakhi, marking its importance-
One of Tagore's poem invoking Rakhi is:
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.
Modern Day Celebration
The significance of Raksha Bandhan can be seen in its Sanskrit translation where it literally means "the tie or knot of protection". The word Raksha means protection, while Bandhan is the verb to tie. It is an ancient Hindu festival that ritually celebrates the love and duty between brothers and their sisters. The sister performs a rakhi ceremony, prays to express her love and her wish for the well-being of her brother; in return, the brother ritually pledges to protect and take care of his sister under all circumstances.
Days before Raksha Bandhan, sisters flock to shop to buy rakhis. Some of them make their own rakhis, out of the sacred red thread. A rakhi might be a simple thread or intricately woven, colourfully-designed ones as well. Traditionally, the brothers also shop for the gifts or a simple, thoughtful token of love for their sisters.
On the eve of Rakhi, brothers and sisters sit together. Sisters tie rakhis on the wrists of their brothers, praying for their well-being, safety and success. Brothers shower their love, care, and the promise of looking after their sisters by giving them gifts, as a token of affection. The lighting of the lamp, or diya, signifies the attribution to the fire deity, Agni Dev.
A formal Aarti plate for Raksha Bandhan.
Henceforth, above instances and incidents describe the historical and mythological significance of Raksha Bandhan, thus showing how intricately it is woven into the parts of Indian history and mythology.