Raksha Bandhan (रक्षाबंधन) is a Hindu festival, which celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. The literal meaning of Raksha Bandhan is 'the bond of Protection'. It is celebrated on the full moon of the month of Shraavana.
The festival is marked by the tying of a rakhi, or holy thread by the sister on the wrist of her brother. The brother in return offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her as she presents sweets to her brother. The brother and sister traditionally feed one another sweets.
It is not necessary that the rakhi be given only to a blood brother; any male can be "adopted" as a brother by tying a rakhi on the person, irrespective of whether he is cousin or a good friend. Indian history is replete with women asking for protection, through rakhi, from men who were neither their brothers, nor Hindus themselves.
In Vaishnava theology there are many references to the significance of the Rakhi festival. Many of these significant historical facts are still not known or recorded.
Krishna and Draupadi
According to the legend,Krishna loved Draupadi so much, that he called her 'sakhi'. Draupadi too had a lot of faith on Krishna. She prayed to him with utmost devotion. During the great battle of Mahabharata, Lord Krishna threw a celestial weapon at Shishupala, in order to punish him for numerous sins. During the act of hurling the Sudharshan Charka from his index finger, Krishna hurt himself. On seeing blood drops, Draupadi immediately rushed to protect her Lord. She tore off a piece from her sari and wrapped it around his finger, stopping the bleeding. Krishna was touched by her gesture of devotion and pure love. He asked her what would she like in return of this favor. Draupadi, like a true sister, just asked for the Lord's holy presence in her life forever. From that moment onwards, Lord Krishna has been with Draupadi like a shadow protecting her from every small and big trouble. When the Kauravas tried to dishonor Draupadi through “Cheer Haran” (removing her sari) in a hall of people, she Prayed to Krishna continuously. The lord took care of her honor and punished the sinners during the battle of Mahabharata.
This story is a reflection of the pure bond between a brother and sister. The thread of Rakhi and the story of Krishna and Draupadi tells us about the element of faith and emotional security amongst siblings . It teaches us a valuable lesson about our own relationship with God. Draupadi gave to Lord Krishna one small strand from her sari. In return, Lord Krishna gave Draupadi an endless, infinite sari, one which could never be removed. Every brother is like Lord Krishna when it comes to their sisters. They want to take care of their sister's honor and protect her from all the perils of the world.
King Bali and Goddess Laxmi
In accordance to a fable the devil King Bali was a great follower of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu had undertaken the task to watch his kingdom leaving his own dwelling in Vaikunth. Deity Lakshmi desired to be with her lord back in her dwelling. She went to Bali concealed as a Brahmin woman to look for shelter until her husband came back.
On the day of Shravan Purnima celebrations, Lakshmi tied the blessed thread or Rakhi to the King. And later when she was asked she exposed who she was and why she was there. The king felt warmth by her benevolence for his family and her reason and requested the Lord to go along with her. He gave up all he had for the Lord and his dedicated spouse.
In consequence, the occasion of Raksh Bandhan is too called 'Baleva' that is Bali Raja's loyalty to the Lord. It is believed that since that day it has been custom to request sisters in Shravan Purnima, to tie the thread or Rakhi.
Yama and the Yamuna
It is said that the Raksha Bandhan was a ritual followed by Lord Yama (the Lord of Death) and his sister Yamuna. Yamuna tied rakhi to Yama and bestowed immortality. Yama was so moved by the serenity of the occasion that he declared thar whoever gets a rakhi tied from his sister and promised her protection will become immortal.
The origin of this festival is usually traced back to the historical incidents of Indra’s fight with Vritra-Indra that resulted in Indra’s loss. Then, his wife had tied a thread around his wrist and empowered it with divine powers to make sure Indra emerged victorious in the duel that followed.
Rani Karnawati and Emperor Humayun
The story of Rani Karnavati of Chittor and Mughal Emperor Humayun is the most significant evidence of this in history. During the medieval era, around the 15th century, there were many wars between the Rajputs, Mughals and Sultans. Rakhi at that time meant a spiritual binding and the protection of sisters was foremost. When Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of the king of Chittor realised that she could in no way defend the invasion of the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a rakhi to Emperor Humayun. The Emperor was so touched by the gesture, that he abandoned an ongoing military campaign to ride to her rescue.
Alexander The Great and King Puru
One of the oldest legendary references to the festival of Rakhi goes back to 300 B.C. At this time Alexander the Great, was invading India. Alexander was shaken by the fury of the Indian king Puru in his first attempt. Upset by this, Alexander's wife, who had heard of the Rakhi festival, approached King Puru. King Puru accepted her as his sister and when the opportunity came during the war, he refrained from fighting Alexander. In the war, when Alexander fell from his chariot and King Puru was about to slay him, King Puru saw the Rakhi on his wrist and he drew his sword back.
Raksha Bandhan celebrations in India
While Raksha Bandhan is celebrated all over the country, different parts of the country mark the day in different ways. These celebrations happen to fall on the same day, and may not have anything to do with Raksha Bandhan itself or Rakhi.
Rakhi Purnima : Rakhi is celebrated as Rakhi Purnima in North and South India. The word "Purnima" means a full moon night.
Grahma Purnima : Rakhi is also celebrated as Grahma Purnima in Orissa. On this date all the domesticated Cows and Bullocks are decorated and worshipped. Various kinds of country-made cakes called "Pitha" and sweets "mitha" are made and distributed within families,relatives and friends.
Nariyal Purnima : In western India and parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Goa this day is celebrated as Nariyal Purnima. On this day an offering of a coconut (nariyal) is made to the sea, as a mark of respect to Lord Varuna, the God of the Sea. Nariyal Purnima marks the beginning of the fishing season and the fishermen, who depend on the sea for a living, make an offering to Lord Varuna so that they can reap bountiful fish from the sea.
Janyo Punyo : The people of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, celebrate Raksha Bandhan and Janopunyu(जन्यो पुन्यु) on the Shravani Purnima, it is a day on which people change their janeu जनेयु or जन्यो (sacred thread). On this day the famous Bagwal fair is held at Devidhura in district Champawat. Punyu in Kumauni means Purnima or full moon it is the purnima in which the sacred thread Janeu or Janyo is ceremonically changed. The Raksha Bandhan celebrations are same as in all across North India.
Kajari Purnima : In central parts of India such as Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkand and Bihar this day is celebrated as Kajari Purnima. It is an important day for the farmers and women blessed with a son. On the ninth day after Shravana Amavasya, the preparations of the Kajari festival start. This ninth day is called Kajari Navami and varied rituals are performed by women who have sons until Kajri Purnima or the full moon day.
Pavitropana : In parts of Gujarat, this day is celebrated as Pavitropana. On this day people perform the grand pooja or the worship of Lord Shiva. It is the culmination of the prayers done through out the year.