This is about one of the most important and widely celebrated festivals of India. When I’d decided that this year I’d do posts about my country I’d thought I would go about it systematically. First I’d put in somethings about Hinduism, then some basics about the lunisolar calender we follow, etc. But before I could really get down to it, the Rakshabandhan Day was here so I decided to do a post on this first.
Rakshabandhan falls on the Full Moon day of ‘Shravan’ month, which is a month of the rainy season. In some parts of the country it falls in the middle of the ‘shravan’ month whereas for the others it marks the end of the said month, depending upon whether the month starts from a Full moon or a New moon.
Rakshabandhan or Rakhi is a festival of brothers and sisters. On this day the sister ties a ‘Rakhi’ or the holy thread on to her brother’s wrist and prays for his prosperity and long life and the brother vows to look after his sister and protect her from harm all his life. This essence of the festival strengthens the bond between the siblings as they take out the time to visit each other for the Rakhi tying ritual, exchange gifts and sweets and spend time together. It’s fun time for the kids as they get to wear new clothes, get gifts, and enjoy themselves. The young ones forget all their quarrels and fights that they normally indulge in on other days and declare a temporary cease-fire for the day which I’m sure brings a huge relief to the parents. This festival becomes more relevant where older brothers and sisters are involved who due to their busy schedules are unable to spend enough time with each other on normal working days. For those living in different cities or even countries it’s time for sending those Rakhis via the post or courier services who come up with special packages for the festival, to deliver the Rakhi safely to the brothers.
Exactly how or when this festival began , no one can tell for sure but there are many tales related to the festival.
There is one about king Bali and Goddess Lakshmi. Lord Vishnu(Goddess Lakshmi’s husband) had sent the noble king Bali to the Patal-lok( the underworld) in his Vaman Avataar and blessed him with the same riches that the Gods enjoyed in the heavens. King Bali complained that since he has been banished to the underworld, he would be unable to have his darshan(see him for prayers) Lord Vishnu promised to stay back as the gatekeeper of his kingdom. Many years passed and he did not return to his abode. Goddess Lakshmi got worried for her husband as it would also disrupt the working of the world. She went to king Bali and tied him a rakhi. Bali asked what could he give her as a gift( Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and riches), she asked him to give her husband back to her.
Then there is the one about Lord Krishna and Draupadi, whom he considered his sister. One day when Lord Krishna was injured in the battle and his finger bled profusely, Draupadi promptly tore off the end of her saree and tied it to the wound to stem the bleeding. And Krishna saved Draupadi’s honor when the evil Duryodhana asked his brother Dushashan to pull off her saree in the presence of a full court which also included her five powerless husbands, the Pandavas. As Dushashan pulled the saree, it lengthened into yards and yards of fabric until he could pull no more.
Then there is another story where, Queen Karnavati of Chittor sent a Rakhi to the then Mughal emperor Humayun and asked for his help when her kingdom was attacked by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah. Humayun, immediately, set off to help the queen but arrived too late. The queen’s forces had been defeated. She and the women of the fort committed ‘jauhar’ i.e. threw themselves into a burning pyre to protect their honor and the men donned saffron clothes and rode out on a suicidal charge against the enemy.
Every region of the country has many more tales and folk-lores related to this festival. And this is one festival that is celebrated across all religions, because this is a people’s festival that binds them together, brings them close to each other and is not constrained by the doctrines of any religion.
Below are some pictures from last years Rakshabandhan when,after many years, all the brothers and sisters of my father-in-law were able to get together,from all parts of the country, to celebrate the festival. Most of the time one or the other would not be able to make it.
three sisters(standing), three brothers and two sisters-in-law(seated)tying Rakhi
one whole generation-3 sisters, 3 brothers and 2 sisters-in-law