India is a country flooded with spirituality, culture, heritage, traditions, myths, emotions, and faiths. These festivals and events have become navigators of the great Hindu culture and traditions. One such tradition which is celebrated as a festival is Raksha Bandhan popularly called as Rakhi. This is the festival of brother and sister. This festival is celebrated on Shravan Pournima.
Purnima, the day when Moon is in all its glory, is a sight that takes ones breath away. Not only does this day of full Moon (Purnima) affect the water bodies like making big waves, it also affects the mind and soul of humans. Hindus consider full Moon day or Purnima as very auspicious and many follow the process of fasting during Purnima days. As per Hindu Calendar, Purnima occurs every month and each Purnima has a specific significance. Lord Vishnu (all his avatars) is the leading deity worshipped during Purnima days.
Fasting On Purnima
Fasting on Purnima is considered to be a very holy act. The level of fasting varies from person to person. Fasting duration lasts from sunrise to sighting of the Moon. While some may go to extremes and restrain from even water consumption, most settle with milk and fruits. Other food items such as nuts and Sabudana (Sago) can also be consumed. The items that should not be consumed on this day are rice, grains, pulses, and cereals. The main deity worshiped on this day is Lord Vishnu (and his avatars). Performing Satyanarayan Puja is a very commonly followed practice in South Indian states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. After the day’s Puja, the fast comes to an end by seeing the Moon and having the Prasad (holy food).
What is Rakhi?
Rakhi is a popular festival celebrated across the country especially in North India, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Like Holi and Diwali, Rakhi is also celebrated as a national festival. Irrespective of caste and creed people from all walks of life participate in this festival. It is celebrated on the full moon day (Sravana Poornima or pournami or purnima) of the lunar Month Sravana. The festival is also called as Rakhi Poornima, Nariyal Poornima, Kajari Poornima, and Sravana Poornima according to the celebrations in different states.
On the occasion of this festival generally we observe sisters tie the sacred thread called Rakhi to the wrist of their brothers, in turn brothers give gifts to their sisters and exchange sweets to mark the occasion. While etymology of the word Rakhi could not be traced, the word Raka in Sanskrit is referred to as a woman, full moon day, sentiment, affection. Perhaps, women tying the sacred thread (Rakhi) on the full Moon day on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan out of sentimental affection to their brothers connect to the meaning of the word Raka. In India we find people from all walks of life meet the President and Prime Minister on this occasion and tie Rakhi to their hands and exchange greetings. We also find people sending Rakhis to the army jawans (soldiers) on this occasion.
Generally, the fancy Rakhis and delicious sweets are prepared long before the Shravana Purnima. According to the Indian tradition, the family members get ready for the rituals early in the morning.
Sisters prepare the puja thali which consists of roli, tilak, Rakhi threads, rice grains, aggarbattis (incense sticks), diyas and sweets.
After offering the rituals to the deities of the family, the sister perform aarti of their brothers and ties Rakhi on their wrist. Then, they put kumkum powder on the forehead of their brother and offer sweets.
All these rituals take place amid the chanting of following mantras :
“*Suraj shakhan chhodian, Mooli chhodia beej*
Behen ne rakhi bandhi / Bhai tu chir jug jee”
Which means “The sun radiates its sunlight, the radish spreads its seeds, I tie the rakhi to you O brother and wish that may you live long.”
After her prayer for a long life for her brother, she says that she is tie the ever-protective Raksha to her brother’s wrist and chants:
येन बद्घो बली राजा दानवेन्द्रो महाबल: ।
तेन त्वामपि बध्नामि रक्षे मा चल मा चल ।।
“_Yena baddho Balee raajaa daanavendro mahaabalah_
tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshe maa chala maa chala”
This means,” I tie you the rakhi that was tied to king Bali, the king of Demons, O Rakhi I pray that you never falter in protecting your devotee.”
Origin and History of Raksha Bandhan
While exact origin of the festival Rakhi could not be traced, there are certain historical and mythological references that connects to the festival of Raksha Bandhan. It also seems to have roots in the ancient rituals and tradition of India.
Indra–Sachi Devi–Brihaspathi: It is said as per Bhavishya Purana that, Indra the King of Devathas was advised by Deva Guru Bruhaspathi to wear a Raksha Bandhan as a protection against enemies (Demons) when he was getting defeated at the hands of Vritra. Accordingly Sachi Devi (consort of Indra) and Brihaspathi tie the Raksha Bandhan to Indra on this full moon day in the month of Sravana.
Lord Sri Krishna–Yudhistira: It is said that Lord Sri Krishna had advised Yudhistira (Dharma Raja) to get a Raksha Bandhan tied to his hand as a protection against the impending evils.
Krishna and Draupadi : Krishna considered Draupadi his sister. When Krishna cut his finger while beheading Shishupal, Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of her sari and bandaged his cut. Krishna said that with this loving act, she wrapped him in debt and he would repay each “thread” when the time arrives. Indeed, whenever Draupadi needed Krishna’s protection she fervently prayed for his help, he came to the rescue and gave her unlimited cloth. This is one of the stories of the origin of the Raksha Bandhan festival.
Santoshi Ma: Ganesh had two sons, Shubh and Labh. On Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh’s sister visited and tied a Rakhi on Ganesh’s wrist. The two boys become frustrated that they have no sister to celebrate Raksha Bandhan with. They ask their father Ganesh for a sister. Finally, saint Narada appears who persuades Ganesh that a daughter will enrich him as well as his sons. Ganesh agreed, and created a daughter named Santoshi Ma by divine flames that emerged from Ganesh’s wives, Rddhi (Amazing) and Siddhi (Perfection).
Thereafter, Shubh Labh (literally “Holy Profit”) had a sister named Santoshi Ma (literally “Goddess of Satisfaction”), who loved and protected each other.
Bali Chakravarthi & Goddess Lakshmi: It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi had tied the Raksha Bandhan on this day of Sravana Poornima to King Bali (Bali Chakravarthi) in her efforts to make Lord Vishnu return to his abode Vaikunta while he was managing the affairs of Bali’s kingdom.
Alexander–Porus: It is said that when Alexander got defeated at the hands of the great Hindu King Porus (Purushotham), Alexander’s wife tied Raksha Bandhan to Porus to protect her husband from getting slained at the hands of Porus.
Rani Karnawathi–Emperor Humayun: It is said that historically this tradition of Raksha Bandhan was in vogue even during Mughal Period. During the days of Emperor Humayun, it is believed that Rani Karnawathi (Queen of Chittor) had sent a Raakhi to emperor Humayun in order to get protected from the invasion of Bahadur Shah.
Rabindranath Tagore : Interestingly, Rabindranath Tagore linked Raksha Bandhan not merely to brother and sister, but to the entire humankind as such through his poems and works. He invoked Rakhi to inspire love, respect and solidarity amongst Indians under the British rule. Tagore started celebrating Rakhi Mahotsavas in erstwhile Bengal, which came to be identified as a symbol of unity of Bengal. In certain pockets of Bengal, people still tie Rakhis on the wrists of their neighbours and friends
These references show that the festival of Rakhi and the tradition of Raksha Bandhan is an Aryan tradition which is not of recent origin.
While Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in various parts of South Asia, different regions mark the day in different ways.
The people of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, celebrate Raksha Bandhan with Janopunyu (Sacred Thread).
In the state of West Bengal and Odisha, this day is also called Jhulan Purnima.
In Nepal, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on shravan purnima. It is also called Janaeu Purnima. Nepalese people enjoy this festival, eating its special food “Kwati”, a soup of sprout of seven different grains.
In Maharashtra, the festival of Raksha Bandhan is celebrated as Narali Poornima.
In the regions of north India, mostly Jammu, it is a common practice to fly kites on the nearby occasions of Janamashtami and Raksha Bandhan.
In southern and central parts of India including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, TamilNadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha, Shraavana Poornima day is when the Brahmin community performs the rituals of Avani Avittam or Upakarma.
Gamha Purnima is celebrated in Odisha. On this date, all the domesticated Cows and Bullocks are decorated and worshipped.
Jandhyala Purnima is observed on the full moon day (Poornima) in the month of Shraavan in AndhraPradesh & Telangana.
Message of Rakhi Festival
Apparently, Raksha Bandhan symbolizes the unmatched bondage of love, care and respect between a brother and a sister which is renewed through the Rakhi festival. But in a broader perspective the festival of Rakhi (Raksha Bandhan) conveys an intrinsic message of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Raksha Bandhan escalates the need for both men and women, young and old to cultivate pious feelings for each other and live in a harmonious co-existence as brothers and sisters in the society. Thus the festival of Rakhi conveys a message that has socio spiritual significance underscoring the need for nurturing of positive qualities, purity in thought, word and deed.
Om Sahanaa Vavatu
Saha Veeryam Karavaavahai
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
May the Almighty protect us together! May He nourish us together! May we work together uniting our strength for the good of humanity! May our learning be luminous and purposeful! May we never hate one another! May there be peace, peace, and perfect peace.