Examples of Rakhi.
|Official name||Raksha Bandhan. रक्षा बन्धन রাখী বন্ধন|
|Also called||Rakhi or Rakhri|
|Observed by||Religious festival:' Hindus and Jains. Multicultural: Sikhs,Buddhists, Christians and Muslims.|
|Celebrations||Religious: Sister-Brother get together, tie Rakhi on wrist, perform aarti, mark tilak, brother promises to protect sister, sister feeds brother, brother gives gift, hugs. Multicultural: tying Rakhi, giving gifts, honoring relationships of siblings.|
|Date||Purnima (full moon) of Shravana श्रावन पुर्णिमा শ্রাবণ পূর্ণিমা|
|Related to||Bhai Duj; Bhai Tika|
|Part of a series on|
The festival is a Hindu festival and is also a secular festival which celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters. The festival is also popularly used to celebrate any brother-sister relationship between men and women who are relatives or biologically unrelated.
The festival is also celebrated by many communities as a secular festival. This secular aspect is observed among all people, irrespective of their religion, in West Bengal and Punjab. Various fairs are held in Punjab to mark the occasion.
On Raksha Bandhan, sisters tie a rakhi (sacred thread) on her brother's wrist. This symbolizes the sister's love and prayers for her brother's well-being, and the brother's lifelong vow to protect her. The festival falls on the full moon day (Shravan Poornima) of the Shravan month of the Hindu lunisolar Nepali calendar.
Raksha Bandhan is primarily observed in India, Mauritius and major parts of Nepal. It is also celebrated by Hindus in parts of Pakistan, and by some Non Resident Indian people and Non Resident Nepali around the world.
- 1 Religious festival
- 2 Multicultural festival
- 3 Regional variations
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Raksha Bandhan as a religious festival focuses on performing the aarti and saying prayers prior to tying the rakhi. The prayers draw inspiration from the Hindu scriptures. The other religious feature is the application of the tilak on the forehead of the person wearing the rakhi.
Raksha Bandhan in Sanskrit literally means "the tie or knot of protection". The word Raksha means protection, whilst 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, then 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. It is one of the several occasions in which family ties are affirmed in India.
The festival is also an occasion to celebrate brother-sister like family ties between cousins or distant family members, sometimes between biologically unrelated men and women. To many, the festival transcends biological family, brings together men and women across religions, diverse ethnic groups and ritually emphasizes harmony and love. It is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Śrāvaṇa, and typically falls in August every year.
Description and rituals
The festival is marked by the several rituals, which vary regionally within India. Typical rituals include:
- Prepare for Raksha Bandhan
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, ahead of Raksha Bandhan. The gift from the brother can be a simple thoughtful token of love, and may be more elaborate.
- Rakhi ritual
On the morning of Raksha Bandhan, the brothers and sisters get together, often in nice dress in the presence of surviving parents, grandparents and other family members. If the sister and brother are geographically separated, the sister may mail the Rakhi ahead of the Raksha Bandhan day, along with a greeting card or letter wishing her brother well. The ritual typically begins in front of a lighted lamp (diya) or candle, which signifies fire deity. The sister and brother face each other. The sister ties the Rakhi on her brother's wrist.
- Prayer, aarti, promise and food
The key rituals of Raksha Bandhan. In the first image, the 'Rakhi' is evident on the brother's wrist.
Once the Rakhi has been tied, the sister says a prayer for the well being - good health, prosperity and happiness - for her brother. This ritual sometimes involves an aarti, where a tray with lighted lamp or candle is ritually rotated around the brother's face, along with the prayer and well wishes.
The prayer is a self composed note, or one of many published Rakhi poems and prose. One of the earliest examples of a Rakhi prayer is found in Book V, Chapter V of Vishnu Purana; it is the prayer that Yasoda says while tying a Raksha Bandhan amulet on Krishna's wrist. An abridged form of the prayer is:
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.
After the prayer, the sister applies a tilak (Tikka), a colorful mark on the forehead of the brother. After the tilak, the brother pledges to protect her and take care of his sister under all circumstances.
- Gifts and hugs
The brother gives his sister(s) gifts such as cards, clothes, money or something thoughtful. The brother may also feed his sister, with his hands, one or more bites of sweets, dry fruits and other seasonal delicacies. They hug, and the larger family ritually congratulate the festive celebration of brother-sister love and protection.
The brother(s) wear the Rakhi for the entire day, at school or work, as a reminder of their sister(s) and to mark the festival of Raksha Bandhan.
Myths and parables
The scriptures, epics of Hinduism is peppered with stories of Rakhi and Raksha Bandhan. Some of these include:
According to Hindu scripture Bhavishya Purana, in the war between Gods and demons, Indra - the deity of sky, rains and thunderbolts - was disgraced by the powerful demon King Bali. Indra’s wife Sachi consulted Vishnu, who gave her a bracelet made of cotton thread, calling it holy. Sachi tied the holy thread around Indra wrist, blessed with her prayers for his well being and success. Indra successfully defeated the evil and recovered Amaravati. This story inspired the protective power of holy thread. The story also suggests that the Raksha Bandhan thread in ancient India were amulets, used by women as prayers and to guard men going to war, and that these threads were not limited to sister-brother like relationships.
King Bali and Goddess Laxmi
According to this legend, credited to Hindu scriptures Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Vishnu won the three worlds from the demon King Bali, he was asked by Bali that Vishnu live in his palace, a request Vishnu granted. Vishnu's wife, Goddess Lakshmi did not like the palace or his new found friendship with Bali, and preferred that her husband and she return to Vaikuntha. So she went to Bali, tied a Rakhi and made him a brother. Bali asked her what gift she desired. Lakshmi asked that Vishnu be freed from the request that he live in Bali's palace. Bali consented, as well accepted her as his sister.
Ganesh had two sons, Shubh and Labh. On Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh's sister visited and tied a Rakhi on Ganesh's wrist. The two boys become frustrated that they have no sister to celebrate Raksha Bandhan with. They ask their father Ganesh for a sister, but to no avail. Finally, saint Narada appears who persuades Ganesh that a daughter will enrich him as well as his sons. Ganesh agreed, and created a daughter named Santoshi Ma by divine flames that emerged from Ganesh's wives, Ruddhi (Amazing) and Siddhi (Perfection). Thereafter, Shubh Labh (literally "Holy Profit") had a sister named Santoshi Ma (literally "Goddess of Satisfaction"), who loved and protected each other.
Krishna and Draupadi
Krishna considered Draupadi his friend. When Krishna cut his finger while beheading Shishupal, Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of her sari and bandaged his cut. Krishna said that with this loving act, she wrapped him in debt and he would repay each “thread” when the time arrives. Indeed, whenever Draupadi needed Krishna’s protection she fervently prayed for his help, he came to the rescue and gave her unlimited cloth. This is one of the stories of the origin of the Raksha Bandhan festival.
Yama and the Yamuna
According to another legend, Yama, the god of Death had not visited his sister Yamuna for 12 years. Yamuna, the goddess of Yamuna river, was sad and consulted Ganga, the goddess of Ganga river. Ganga reminded Yama of his sister, upon which Yama visits her. Yamuna was overjoyed to see her brother, and prepared a bounty of food for Yama. The god Yama was delighted, and asked Yamuna what she wanted for gift. She wished that he, her brother should return and see her again soon. Yama was moved by his sister's love, agreed and to be able to see her again, made river Yamuna immortal. This legend is the basis for a Raksha Bandhan-like festival called Bhai Duj in some parts of India, which also celebrates brother-sister love, but near Diwali.
Rakhi and its colour significance
Each colour has a significance in this festival. Tagore used white, so white signifies friendship. Indrani used red for her husband Indra, so red signifies Love and loyalty. The last Orange and Yellow is most popular in India used by Laxmi and Yamuna for their brothers Bali and Yama so this colour is used for brothers.
Raksha Bandhan is viewed as a non-denominational, multicultural event. Priests tie rakhis around the wrists of congregation members. Rakhis are often shared between close friends. Women tie rakhis around the wrists of the heads of state, political party or social leaders. Ceremonies are also held to tie Rakhi around the wrists of soldiers.
The festival honors relationships of siblings and is akin to siblings day observed in the United States. The festival centres on the mutual bond of protection whereby siblings pray for each other's wellbeing.
Accordingly, some Muslims in India view it a secular, multicultural festival, including the Ismaili community, and was observed in Mughal palaces. Raksha bandhan has been adopted by the Christian community who view it as a festival of historical and social importance, and is also traditionally observed as a secular festival by Sikhs, which involves the tying of the rakhi and giving of gifts. The secular aspect of the festival concentrates on the female tying a Rakhi on a male who in turn gives a gift. The religious features of aarti and applying the tilak are not observed.
The multicultural aspects of Raksha Bandhan can be gleaned from history dating back thousands of years. It has many myths and historic legends linked to it. For example, the Rajput queens practised the custom of sending rakhi threads to neighbouring rulers as a token of brotherhood.
Alexander the Great and King Puru
According to one legendary narrative, when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BCE, Roxana (or Roshanak, his wife) sent a sacred thread to Porus, asking him not to harm her husband in battle. In accordance with tradition, Porus, the king of Kaikeya kingdom, gave full respect to the rakhi. On the battlefield, when Porus was about to deliver a final blow to Alexander, he saw the rakhi on his own wrist and restrained himself from attacking Alexander personally.
Another controversial historical account is that of Rani Karnavati of Chittor and Mughal Emperor Humayun, which dates to 1535 CE. When Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of the king of Chittor, realised that she could not defend against the invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun. Touched, the Emperor immediately set off with his troops to defend Chittor. Humayun arrived too late, and Bahadur Shah managed to sack the Rani's fortress. Although contemporary commentators and memoirs do not mention the Rakhi episode and some historians have expressed skepticism about it, it is mentioned in one mid-seventeenth century Rajasthani account.
Rabindranath Tagore and Rakhi
Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Nobel Laureate for literature, invoked Raksha Bandhan and Rakhi, as concepts to inspire love, respect and a vow of mutual protection between Hindus and Muslims during India's colonial era. In 1905, the British empire divided Bengal, a province of British India on the basis of religion. Rabindra Nath Tagore arranged a ceremony to celebrate Raksha Bandhan to strengthen the bond of love and togetherness between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal, and urge them to together protest the British empire. He used the idea of Raksha Bandhan to spread the feeling of brotherhood. In 1911, British colonial empire reversed the partition and unified Bengal, a unification that was opposed by Muslims of Bengal. Ultimately, 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. Rabindranath Tagore started Rakhi Mahotsavas as a symbol of Bengal unity, and as a larger community festival of harmony. In parts of West Bengal, his tradition continues as people tie Rakhis to their neighbors and close friends.
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.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the ruler of the Sikh Empire who actively encouraged inter-faith communication. Accordingly, he observed Raksha Bandhan and his wife Maharani Jindan, reinforced the harmony between the Sikh Empire and Nepal through the Rakhi festival. The bond was honored when Maharani Jindan was given refuge by Jang Bahadur of Nepal in 1849 after the collapse of the Sikh Empire and annexation of its territories by the British. Accordingly, the festival is celebrated across many faiths in the Punjab.
Rakhi with a unique gender twist
In 2015, men tied rakhis on women seeking protection from the ‘misuse’ of section 498A of the Indian Penal Code."Society has gone through massive changes in the last few decades and men are now considered on the same platform with women. Why should laws show a discrimination against them?" asked Amartya Talukdar, founder member of Hridaya, an NGO working for gender neutrality.
While Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in various parts of South Asia, different regions mark the day in different ways.
The people of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, celebrate Raksha Bandhan with Janopunyu (जन्यो पुन्यु). Along with the sister-brother ritual, men change their janeu (जनेयु or जन्यो, sacred thread). The region also marks the day with Bagwal fair at Devidhura in district Champawat.
West Bengal and Odisha(Orissa)
In the state of West Bengal and Odisha, this day is also called Jhulan Purnima. Prayers and puja of Lord Krishna and Radha are performed there. Sisters tie Rakhi to Brothers and wish immortality. Political Parties, Offices, Friends, Schools to colleges, Street to Palace celebrate this day with a new hope for a good relationship.
In Nepal, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on shravan purnima. It is also called Janaeu Purnima (Janaeu is sacred thread and purnima means full moon). A sacred thread is tied on wrist by senior family members and relatives. Nepalese people enjoy this festival, eating its special food "Kwati", a soup of sprout of seven different grains.
This day, in Nepal, people change Janai (जनै), which is a cord made of cotton threads worn diagonally on the torso, a Vedic ritual. People pay homage to deity Shiva and go on pilgrimage to places such as Gosainkunda, Budhanilkantha, Pashupatinath, Kumbheshwor Temple among others.
In Maharashtra, the festival of Raksha Bandhan is celebrated as Narali Poornima. Kolis are the fishermen community of the coastal state. These Kolis offered prayers to Lord Varuna for invoking his blessings. As part of the Rakhi rituals, coconuts were thrown into the sea as offerings to Lord Varuna also they apply vermillion on each other's foreheads as a symbol of prosperity and joy
In the regions of North India, mostly Jammu, it is a common practice to fly kites on the nearby occasions of Janamashtami and Raksha Bandhan. Its not unusual to see the sky filled with kites of all shapes and sizes, on and around these two dates. The kites start appearing in the sky around, (or sometimes even before) one month before the actual date of the festival. As the date grows closer, the number of kites in the sky increases proportionally. The locals buy kilometres of strong kite string, commonly called as "Gattu Door" in the local language, along with a multitude of kites. They are willing to spend more than a couple thousands to buy the things that the need for this kite flying extravaganza. 
Haryana and Punjab
In Haryana and Punjab, in addition to celebrating Raksha Bandhan, people observe the festival of Salono. Salono is celebrated by priests solemnly tying amulets against evil on people's wrists. The day is dedicated to local saints involving devotees receiving such amulets. In Haryana, the festival of Salono also involves sisters tying threads on brothers to ward off evil. Despite the two festivals being similar in its practices, Salono and Raksha Bandhan are distinct observances with the threads tied for Salono being called ponchis.
The sister twist her loving thread "Rakhi" on the wrist of her brother and brother promise to her sister to protect in crisis.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Raksha Bandhan.|
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