On Saturday 29 August Hindus all over world will be celebrating Raksha Bandhan, also known as Rakhi.

Raksha Bandhan is a festival which celebrates the bond of affection between brothers and sisters. It is a day when siblings pray for each other’s wellbeing and wish for each other’s happiness and goodwill. It is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Sravana in the lunar calendar.

The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie. Traditionally, during the festival sister’s tie a rakhi, a bracelet made of interwoven red and gold threads, around their brothers’ wrists to celebrate their relationship. Brothers in return make a promise to their sisters to protect them from all harms and troubles and the sisters pray to God to protect their brother from all evil.

Traditional stories state that rakhis are blessed with sacred verses and are encompassed by them.

Rakhi - The bond between brother and sister
Rakhi – The bond between brother and sister

Sometimes rakhis are consecrated in rice and grass before they are given, and they are traditionally tied by people familiar with the Vedas.

Following these customs the rakhi is believed to remove sin from one hand and provide safety to the other. The protection offered by a rakhi is believed to remain for a year.
Although the majority today consider Raksha Bandhan as a day to celebrate the sacred relation of a brother and a sister, historically there have been examples where rakhi has just been a raksha or protection. It could be tied by a wife, a daughter or mother. The Rishis (sages or saints) tied rakhi to the people who came seeking their blessings. The sages tied the sacred thread to themselves to safe guard them from the evil. It is by all means the ‘Papa Todak, Punya Pradayak Parva’ or the day that bestows boons and end all sins as it is mentioned in the scriptures.

The ritual of Rakhi tying has become so important that come what may, brothers and sisters try to visit each other’s place on this particular day in order to bring back the oneness of the family, binding the family together in an emotional bond of love.

In ancient times a woman tied a ‘rakshaa’ on her husband’s wrist to protect him from evil. Gradually this changed; she tied a ‘rakshaa’ on her brother’s right wrist, to protect him from evil influence and those factors which may taint his character, and to strengthen the bond of sibling love between them. On the occasion of Rakshaa Bandhan she visits her brother’s home and performs his ‘pujan’ by applying kumkum and rice grains on his forehead. In return the brother gives her a gift and vows to protect her too. The ‘rakhi’ for rakshaa bandhan itself ranges from a coloured cotton string to exquisitely decorated balls of various sizes and materials such as fluffy cotton, ‘zari’ paper, tinsel, beads and so on.

Raksha Bandhan originated from a host of ancient beliefs, people continue this tradition with undying faith. For instance the Krishna Draupadi story, according to Hindu mythology, is deemed

krishna draupadi perhaps the most popular rakhi story
Krishna and Draupadi – Perhaps the most popular story of the origin of rakhi

Krishna was hurt when he killed the evil king sari in a battle. It was Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas, who tore a piece of cloth from her sari to tie on his wound. This lovely gesture touched Krishna, and he blessed her saying ‘Akshayam’ meaning ‘May it be never ending’. This led him to protect Draupadi’s honour by providing her unending threads for saree during her ‘vastraharan’ in dhritarashtra’s court by the Kauravas, an instance that is found in The Mahabharata. Thus, Krishna saved her from embarrassment. A true brother is protecting his sister from every aspect!

Another popular myth of Rakhi according to Vedas is Sachi tying thread of protection on Indra’s wrist to have him secured from defeats. It is believed to be a reason possible for the birth of the Raksha Bandhan episode since the time of the battle between demons and gods. There is also a myth that Yam and his sister Yamuna, who were siblings, were the epitome of fraternal love. Yamuna had tied rakhi to Yama praying for his immortality. Impressed by her sister, Yama stated that whenever someone’s sister ties rakhi on the brother’s wrist is praying for protection, the brother will be blessed with longevity and immortality.

Besides, King Bali and Lakshmi’s deep, pious bonding is another instance of Rakhi. Once when she was alone in Vaikunth, she went to Bali seeking shelter while her husband was away, in disguise. On Shravana Purnima, she had tied a yellow thread to Bali, who helped her in time of distress and sacrificed all that he had for her. However, apart from mythological accounts, there are some historical accounts. According to that it is known to us that Rajput queens used to practice the custom of sending rakhis to neighbouring rulers to foster fraternal ties and ensure peace between regions.

One such legendary reference is that of Alexander the Great and King Puru’s battle when Roxana (Alexander’s wife) had sent a Rakhi to Puru asking him not to harm her husband. Puru did respect her request. Similarly the incident of Rani Karnavati of Chittor sending Rakhi to Humayun asking for protection during the invasion of Bahadur Shah, was honoured by Humayun.

Apart from this, it was the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore who was known to have initiated the tradition. Tagore started the trend of tying rakhis to one another to put an end to communal riots. Both, the man and woman tied rakhi on each other’s wrist. It was meant to symbolise unity and mutual respect for each other’s religion.

In the Northern part of India, Rakhi is also well known as Kajri Navami or Kajri Purnima when people pray to Goddess Bhagwati as they believe it to have originated from the said goddess. The festival also derives its source from Lord Varuna. It is known as Nariyal Purnima according to one of the mythological references which has coconut being offered to Varuna, the sea-god.
This festival has evolved over the years to encompass the importance of many people in Hindu society, yet foremost it continues to honour and uphold the relationship between a sister and brother.

It is a significant festival in the Hindu calendar, followed eight days later by Janamashtami.

Happy Raksha Bandhan to all our Hindu readers!