“Raksha Bandhan” is a Hindu festival celebrated mainly in the Indian subcontinent, which commemorates the bond of love and protection between brothers and sisters. Sisters tie a bracelet (rakhi) on their brother’s wrist seeking the latter’s lifelong love and security. The sister’s in return get gifts from their loving brothers. The festival is not restricted to only blood relations, but also those who are not biologically related could very well celebrate the festival of Raksha Bandhan with the same enthusiasm and recognition; they just need to have psychological bonding like a brother and sister.
“Raksha Bandhan” is celebrated on the full moon day in the Hindu calendar month of Shraavana (Savan) which coincides with the August month in the Gregorian calendar. The festival is known at different places with different names – Salerno, Silano, Rakri, or Rakhi.
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RAKSHA BANDHAN/RAKHI FESTIVAL 2021
Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi in 2021 will be celebrated on Sunday, August 22. The Purnima (full Moon) Tithi begins at 10:34 AM on 22 August 2021 till 07:40 P.M. on 22 August 2021. The best time for the rituals of Raksha Bandhan is late afternoon (Aparahna) or Pradosha (one and a half hours before and after sunset, consecutively).
WHEN IS RAKSHABANDHAN CELEBRATED?
The festival of Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu calendar month of Shraavana, which is also known as Purnima day. The rituals of Raksha Bandhan are performed after the Bhadra Kaal gets over. Bhadra Kaal is considered inauspicious for performing any religious rituals.
As the Bhadra Kaal remains for the first half of Purnima Tithi; the rituals of Raksha Bandhan must be performed only in the second half of the latter.
“Raksha” is a Hindi word derived from “Rakshika” in Sanskrit, which represents a band or bracelet tied to protect. “Bandhan” on the other hand means “bond” or an emotional connection. The festival is also commonly called as “Rakhi” in Northern India after the name of the amulet or thread which the sisters tie on their brother’s wrist.
LEGEND OF RAKSHA BANDHAN
There are two prime legendary stories in Hindu mythology that are associated with the origin of “Raksha Bandhan”. One is associated with God Indra and the other with Lord Krishna and Yudhisthira.
The first story narrates that once a battle ensued between Gods and demons. The battle lasted for 12 long years and concluded with the victory of demons. Demons captured all three worlds – heaven, earth, and Naraka. Indra, the king of gods was also removed from his throne.
Lost all his powers and kingdom to the demons, Indra sought the advice of Brihaspati, who is believed to be a spiritual advisor for the Gods. Brihaspati advised Indra for performing a ritual and reciting a sacred mantra on full moon day in Shravana month. Thus the ritual followed and mantras were recited by Brihaspati in presence of Indra and other Gods. During the ceremony, a packet of blessings was tied with a sacred thread and kept at the place of rituals.
When the rituals concluded the packet of blessings was tied on Indra’s right wrist by his wife Indrani. Strengthened by the blessings tied to his wrist, Indra fought and regained his kingdom and the three worlds. Since then the festival of Raksha Bandhan is believed to manifest strength, security, and protection.
Another legend of Rakhi is mentioned in Bhavishya Purana. It mentions Lord Krishna telling Yudhisthira about a sacred thread to be tied on the wrist on the full moon day in the month of Shravana to evoke blessings, strength, and protection.
In the ancient text, Krishna has given a brief description of the rituals to be performed. He told Yudhisthira that – on a full moon day in the month of Shravana, during sunrise, a priest should take bath in a river and worship his ancestors and other revered Gods. Krishna further said that on this auspicious day priests should tie a sacred thread to the King’s wrist with blessings to provide strength and protection.
HISTORY OF RAKSHA BANDHAN
The festival of Raksha Bandhan is being celebrated since ancient times. There is various documented evidence to support this claim.
The Rig Veda mentions tying a sacred thread on Indra’s wrist, to give him strength for regaining his throne and the three worlds from demons. The Vedas were written in India between 1500 BCE and 1000 BCE, hence proving the ancientness of the custom of Raksha Bandhan. Later, in the Bhavisya Purana which was completed in the 19th century, Krishna had also mentioned the ritual of tying a sacred thread to the wrist of kings to provide strength and protection.
There is documented evidence to suggest that the festival of Raksha Bandhan evolved with the passage of time and began to be celebrated as a commemoration of emotional and psychological bonding between brothers and sisters.
Another belief about the origin of Raksha Bandhan is that it came to India with the Aryans sometime around 3000 B.C. The Aryans had a tradition of performing yajna (a ritualistic sacrifice) before going on a battle to invoke the blessings of their revered deities. After the yajna and before going to the battle, their wives tied a sacred thread on their wrist, which was believed to bless the warriors with safety and security, ensuring their victorious return.
In 1829, the young girls belonging to the Rajput clan initiated the custom of tying Rakhi to the soldiers, giving them the title of their brothers and seeking protection and safety in return. The ritual was followed on the full moon day in the month of Shravana, as narrated in the historical documents.
RAKSHA BANDHAN SIGNIFICANCE
The festival of Raksha Bandhan is of great religious and cultural significance. The custom of tying the “Raksha” has been followed since ancient times and is mentioned in many religious texts. Tying of Raksha to the wrist of a King or his patrons is believed to bless the latter with protection, security, and strength.
The ritualistic custom of tying Rakhi by the priest is a part of every Hindu ritual or worship and is practiced widely even today. Every Hindu puja (worship) concludes only with the priest tying “Raksha” on the wrist of those present, in exchange of gifts or other articles. This reflects the bond which the priests and their patron share with each other i.e. priest as someone who blesses and his patron as someone who is supposed to financially support the priest in return. This signifies the culture of Hindu society and the relationship shared among its different classes.
“Raksha Bandhan” also signifies the brother-sister bond in Hindu society. It reflects the obligation of a brother as the protector of his sister and also reaffirms the emotional and psychological bond between the two.
The festival also promotes peace and harmony in society, as in a wider perspective it reduces the incidents of crime against women. As the ritual is practiced widely, more men and families have started to respect women and have also begun to recognize the latter’s security as their prime obligation.
Another most important significance of Raksha Bandhan is that it gives the married women a reason to return to their parent’s home in the month of Shravana (Savan). Savan is a season of joy, as it marks the arrival of monsoon and earth abounds with greenery. Young girls and children play on swings hanging from a tree and enjoy the cool breeze. Therefore, the festival of Raksha Bandhan gives a chance to the women to return to their homes in the joyful month of Savan.
HOW IS RAKSHA BANDHAN CELEBRATED?
Raksha Bandhan is an important festival celebrated mostly in the northern parts of India. It has also expanded to central and western India. Hindus who have migrated out of India celebrate the festival, though privately.
It is primarily a festival to celebrate the special bond shared by brothers and sisters, thus the rituals revolve around them. It is celebrated by the girls and women with much enthusiasm and joy. They start preparing for the festival days in advance; purchasing rakhi and sweets for their brothers. Those who are not able to meet their brothers on the day of Raksha Bandhan send their rakhi by post or courier.
There is a custom of married women visiting their parental home for celebrating Raksha Bandhan. The women are escorted to their parent’s house on the day of Rakhi or in advance. The respective brothers too start buying gifts for their loving sister or sisters.
On the day of Raksha Bandhan, the sisters prepare a puja ki thali (veneration plate) consisting of rakhi, kumkum (a kind of powder), rice grains, Diya (small clay lamp), and sweets. After performing puja (worship) of their deities, the sisters perform aartis of their brothers and tie rakhi in their right wrist. After the initial rites are performed, the sisters offer sweets to their brothers and get money and other items as gifts in return.
MODERNIZATION/URBANIZATION OF RAKSHA BANDHAN FESTIVAL
During the ancient days, Raksha Bandhan was a custom or ritual rather than a festival. “Raksha” thread was tied to the wrist of soldiers by their wives, to bless them with safety and victory. Priests used to tie Raksha to the kings wishing them longevity, strength, and protection. Though the ritual was performed occasionally throughout the year, it always held special significance if performed on full moon day in the month of Savan.
Sometimes around the 20th century, the ritual became popular among common Hindu families, who started celebrating it to commemorate the bond of love between a brother and sister. Today the festival is most popular among girls and women, who celebrate it with their respective brothers and families. In ancient times it was the priest who prepared the “Raksha” thread, by using natural materials like – thread, cotton, paper, etc, but today the “Raksha” or “Rakhi” is commercially prepared and sold.
Today thousands of types of Rakhis are sold in the market, ranging from low cost to a few costing a couple of hundred rupees. The modern celebration of Rakhi is also greatly influenced by the Indian film industry. Indian films have always portrayed the festival as resembling a special bond between brothers and sisters.
More social interaction between the families in modern times has also led to the widespread of the festival and its celebration. Today, those who are not related by blood also celebrate Raksha Bandhan following the same rituals. Today the girls tie rakhi not only to their brothers but also to someone whom they respect and love as their own brother.
These days, the festival is celebrated across the demographic divisions of religion or caste. It has gained some popularity even among the Muslim community and Hindu girls tie rakhis to the Muslim boys voluntarily, to indicate communal harmony.
The festival has spread to southern India as well, where it was almost absent before. But due to the consistent efforts of some volunteer groups or organizations, it is gaining popularity. Various organizations or Nongovernment Organizations recognize Raksha Bandhan as a tool to promote social and religious harmony.