Raksha Bandhan: Significance, Celebration, History and Myths

Raksha Bandhan, or simply Rakhi is a Hindu festival, celebrated in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, notably India and Nepal.Raksha bandhan means “bond of protection”. It is observed on the full moon day of the Hindu luni-solar calendar month of Shravana, which typically falls in Gregorian calendar month of August.

The festival celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters. It is also popularly used to celebrate any brother-sister type of relationship between men and women who may or may not be biologically related. On Raksha Bandhan, a sister ties a rakhi (sacred thread) on her brother’s wrist with a prayer for his prosperity and happiness. This symbolizes the sister’s love. The brother gives her a token gift and a promise to protect her.

Significance

Raksha Bandhan in Sanskrit 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, 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.

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.

raksha bandhan

How Raksha Bandhan is celebrated

Preparation

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 may be intricate with amulets and decorations. Sometimes, a rakhi may be a fancy 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 also shops for gifts for his sister. The gift from the brother can be a simple thoughtful token of love, and may be more elaborate.

On This Day

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 may be intricate with amulets and decorations. Sometimes, a rakhi may be a fancy 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 also shops for gifts for his sister. The gift from the brother can be a simple thoughtful token of love, and may be more elaborate

Prayer Aarti Promises and Food

Once the rakhi has been tied, the sister says a prayer for the well being of her brother – good health, prosperity and happiness. 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

brother and sister

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 circumstance.

And Finally the Gift

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.

Myths about Raksha Bandhan

Indra Dev

According to 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 Bali and recovered Amaravati.

King Bali and Goddess Laxmi

According to Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Vishnu won the three worlds from the demon King Bali, Bali asked Vishnu to stay with him 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 to her. 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

Krishna and Draupadi

In the epic Mahabharat, Draupadi tied a rakhi on Krishna, while Kunti tied her rakhi on her grandson Abhimanyu, before the great war

Yama and the Yamuna

According to another legend, Yama, the god of Death, had not visited his sister Yamuna for 12 years. Yamuna was sad and consulted Ganga. 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 a 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, and made river Yamuna immortal.

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.

 

 

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