by Mayuri Soni
Ever since I was a child, every time August came around, I knew it meant two things for sure. It meant, we would be celebrating our National Independence Day and of course Raksha Bandhan.
So what is Raksha Bandhan? In Sanskrit, it translates to “the tie or knot of protection”. It is an ancient practice where the sister ties a Rakhi for her brother, a way of expressing her love and well wishes for her brothers being. The brother then makes a promise to always protect her. In many homes, including ours, Rakhi is not only for siblings by birth, but for cousins and friends who share a close brother/sisterly bond.
On that day
The sisters usually prepare the puja thali, which consists of moli, tilak, Rakhi threads, rice grains, saffron, incense sticks, diyas and sweets. The sister then performs the ‘aarti’ and ties the Rakhi on her brothers’ wrist. After that she puts the tilak on her brothers forehead and offers some sweets.
In return, her brothers promise to do all he can to protect her. He also presents a token of his affection as a Rakhi gift.
Myths and Origins
There are many stories on why we celebrate Raksha Bandhan. The following are just a few;
Once, Lord Indra stood almost vanquished in a long-drawn battle against the demons. Lord Indra’s wife Sachi consulted Bhagavan Vishnu, who gave her a sacred cotton thread. Sachi then tied the holy thread around Indra’s wrist, blessed with her prayers for his well being and success. Lord Indra then successfully defeated the evil and recovered Amaravati.
Another story tells us about how when Bhagavan Krishna cuts his finger while beheading Shishupal, Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of her sari and bandaged his cut. Lord Krishna, then said that with this loving act, she wrapped him in debt and would repay each “thread”. In many occasions, when Draupadi was in danger, she would pray to Bhagavan Krishna for help and He always came to protect her.
Thus, Raksha Bhandhan symbolizes all aspects of protection of the good from evil forces. Even in the great epic Mahabharata, we find Krishna advising Yudhishtthir to tie the puissant Rakhi to guard himself against impending evils.
Rakhi in History
Raksha Bandhan is an ancient tradition, hence it is not surprising that many history books speak about this auspicious celebration.
For instance, Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Nobel Laureate for literature, used the concepts of Raksha Bandhan and Rakhi, to inspire love, respect and a vow of mutual protection between Hindus and Muslims during India’s colonial era. He arranged to celebrate Raksha Bandhan to strengthen the bond between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal, in hopes that this would bring them together to protest the British empire.
Even much before that, according to one legendary narrative, when Alexander The Great invaded India in 326 BCE, 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.
Rakhi to me
When I was younger, I remember thinking this was similar to a friendship bracelet for my brothers. I did not, at that age, fully appreciate what it symbolizes. I just enjoyed the festivities of it, sweets and all.
Now that I am older, and away from home, Rakhi means so much more. It means I am saying, and he is saying, you are in my thoughts and I pray for the best for you. We are still there for each other even though we can’t see each other.
I guess as children, we play and do not think that in the distant future, we may not see each other as often. I think that is why Raksha Bandhan is so much more meaningful to me now. Although we are far apart, I know that my brothers will always have my back 😉