Raksha Bandhan: A Symbol of Mutual Dependence and a Mark of Respect


Raksha Bandhan, or simply Rakhi, is an Indian festival around the tying of a thread or bracelet on the wrist as a form of bond between brother and sister, observed both before and after she gets married thereby marking her continued relationship with her natal home and brothers. Different versions of this rule are traditionally performed in northern India, western India, Nepal, and some Hindu, Jain and Sikh emigrants from the India subcontinent since the 19th-century.

According to the Hindu lunar calendar, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the last day of the month of Shraavana, which typically falls in August. On this day, sisters of all ages tie a  rakhi to their brothers, affirming the bond and support of their brothers. They receiving a return gift from their brothers. The word "Raksha Bandhan," comes from Sanskrit, it means, "the bond of protection, obligation, or care."


Raksha Bandhan Traditions

The typical Raksha Bandhan festival as observed between brother-sister starts with the sister(s) selecting a colorful rakhi, a form of the woven bracelet, ahead of the festival. On the day of the festival, she meets her biological brother(s), cousins, or adopted a brother-like friend, along with the whole family. In parts of north India, women may travel to visit their brothers, typically their natal homes. She ties the rakhi on his wrist on the Raksha Bandhan day. After the band is in place, the brother and the sister pray. The sister applies a tilak (tikka), a colorful mark on the forehead of the brother. After the tilak, she performs an aarti wishing him a long healthy life. In return, the brother pledges to protect her and take care of his sister under all circumstances. The brother may give his sister(s) gifts or some money, and they may also feed each other with sweets, dry fruits, and other seasonal delicacies.

According to Jack Goody, these traditional rituals connote "a symbol of mutual dependence and a mark of respect" between the brother and the sister. The brother, states Goody, may wear the Rakhi thread for many weeks through the Diwali, or just for the day or two. Among women and men who are not blood relatives, they also celebrating this Raksha Bandhan festival, which have cut across caste and class lines, and Hindu and Muslim divisions. Raksha Bandhan is also celebrated by Hindu communities in other parts of the world.

"While traditional North Indian families do not have a Father's or Mother's Day, or even the equivalent of Valentine's Day, there is a Sister's Day, called Raksha Bandhan, ..."
Anthropologist Michael Jackson 


About Rakhi and Raksha Bandhan in Hindu mythology

King Bali and Goddess Lakshmi

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 newfound 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 is freed from the request that he lives in Bali's palace. Bali consented, as well accepted her as his sister.

Santoshi Maa

Ganesha had two sons, Shubha and Labha. The two boys become frustrated that they have no sister to celebrate Raksha Bandhan with. They ask their father Ganesha for a sister, but to no avail. Finally, saint Narada appears who persuades Ganesha that a daughter will enrich him as well as his sons. Ganesha agreed and created a daughter named Santoshi Maa by divine flames that emerged from Ganesh's wives, Riddhi (Amazing) and Siddhi (Perfection). Thereafter, Shubha Labha (literally "Holy Profit") had a sister named Santoshi Maa (literally "Goddess of Satisfaction"), to tie Rakhi over Raksha Bandhan.


Yama and the Yamuna

According to another legend, Yama, the god of Death, had not visited his sister Yamuna for 12 years. The Yamuna was sad and consulted Ganga. Ganga reminded Yama of his sister, upon which Yama visits her. The Yamuna was overjoyed to see her brother and prepared a bounty of food for Yama. The god Yama was delighted and asked the 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. 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.

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.

Rajendra Prasad, the first president of the Republic of India celebrating Raksha Bandhan at the presidential palace, Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi, 1953








About Rakhi and Raksha Bandhan in Indian History

  1. 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. In the Battle of the Hydaspes, when Porus saw the rakhi on his own wrist and restrained himself from attacking Alexander personally.
  2. 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, realized that she could not defend against the invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a rakhi to Emperor Humayun. 
  3. In the 18th century, states Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Sikh Khalsa armies introduced the term Rakhi (Raksha Bandhan) as a promise of protection to peasant farmers from Afghan invaders, often in exchange for sharing a small cut of their farm produce.
  4. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the founder and ruler of the Sikh Empire, and he observed Raksha Bandhan festival. His wife Maharani Jindan sent a Rakhi to the ruler of Nepal, who accepted her as sister and gave her refuge in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal in 1849 after the collapse of the Sikh Empire and annexation of its territories by the British.

A girl is tying a rakhi (a Rakshasutra) around her mother's wrist as part of the celebration Rakshbandhan in a village Lahree, Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh, India.


Rabindranath Tagore and the Bengal partition of 1905

Rabindranath Tagore 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. 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. 

Source: Wikipedia

Raksha Bandhan: A Symbol of Mutual Dependence and a Mark of Respect

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