Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan is the festival of brothers and sisters- the special bonding that is shared by siblings. There is this ritual of tying rakhi to brother’s wrist by sister on the day of Raksha Bandhan festival. There are many stories behind this simple act of tying the sacred rakhi thread on brother’s wrist and giving it the huge meaning of lifelong pledge for protecting one’s sister. However, if we go by the mythological stories depicted in the Hindu sacred texts, we come to know that raksha bandhan (literally meaning bond of protection) was not only meant for brothers and sisters. It was a bond of protection between any one person and the other be it a sister, mother, wife, friend or oneself!
History of Rakhi- Tying of Raksha Bandhan Thread
Bhavishy Purana, one of the 18 Puranas of Hindu religion, has a reference of a war among Gods and demons where Lord Indra who was leading Gods’ army was about to be defeated. Indra went to Brahaspati (the Guru of Gods) for a solution who suggested him to tie a holy thread on his wrist after being empowering it through sacred hymns (mantras) on the day of Shravan Purnima. Indra’s wife Indrani is said to have tied this powerful sacred thread on his wrist on the prescribed day. This protected Gods from demons and they emerged as winners.
Not only Purana, the great epic Mahabharata too mentions the sacred thread which we call rakhi these days. It is written in the Mahabharata that during the war among Kauravas and Pandavas, Yudhishthir- the eldest of five Pandava brothers- asked Krishna to provide him with divine protection from all the evils surrounding the atmosphere. Krishna advised him to observe raksha bandhan by tying sacred thread on his wrist. Mahabharata also mentions Draupadi, the queen of Pandava, to have tied rakhi on the wrist of Krishna. Tied by the vow of protecting her, Krishna saved Draupadi from ‘Cheer Haran’ when Kauravas tried to uncover her body off clothes. Kunti, the mother of Pandavas, too tied rakhi to her grandson Abhimanyu to protect him during the great war of Mahabharata.
Not only in ancient mythological stories, Rakhi finds its place in ancient and medieval history of India too. One of the Raksha Bandhan legends tells us that when Alexander the great came to India in 326 BC in order to make it a part of his kingdom, the brave King Porus resisted him.
Seeing the bravery of Porus, Alexander’s wife Roxana got frightened and wanted to do something for the safety of her husband. Thus, she sent Porus a rakhi and requested him not to harm Alexander. During battle, Porus did not kill Alexander and lost the battle of the Hydaspes River. However, he gained the respect of Alexander after whose death Porus became a very loyal Macedonian satrap.
In medieval India, Maharani Karnawati of Chittaur in Rajasthan sent a rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun after being threatened by Bahadur Shah of Mewar. Humanyun, despite being a Mughal, knew the value of rakhi as a request for protection from a brother. He left Delhi and marched towards Chittaur to save Karnawati. However, he could not reach there on time and the Rajput Rani had committed Jauhar (ancient tradition of burning self in fire to save one’s honour).
In modern times too, we get certain examples of Raksha bandhan celebration as a festival of promoting faith in society rather than only among brothers and sisters. Rabindranath Tagore had started ‘Rakhi Utsav’ in Shantiniketan in order to promote the feeling of unity and commitment among all members of society to protect each other. On this occasion, anyone from gathered public at Shantiniketan tie rakhi to any other person promoting the feeling of trust and peaceful coexistence. The tradition continues till date as people tie rakhis to their neighbours and friends.
Legends of Rakhi/ Raksha Bandhan
Apart from the mythological stories and historical incidents which see rakhi as a festival of protection from loved ones, there are many other legends and folklores about Raksha Bandhan festival that establish it as a festival of brothers and sisters. From among these stories, the legend of Yama and Yamuna is very popular.
Rakhi Legend of Yama and Yamuna
Yamuna who was the sister of Yama- the Lord of Death- tied rakhi to Yama and bestowed immortality. Yama, moved by this act, granted a boon thar a brother who gets a rakhi tied from his sister and promised her protection will become immortal. This story is also applicable to Bhai Dooj, another festival of brother and sister when a sister worships her brother by putting a ‘Tika’ or ‘Tilak’ (a mrk made on forehead with vermilion, kumkum or chandan/ sandalwood paste). In West Bengal, sisters sing this hymn while marking a tika (called phota in Bengali) on brother’s forehead
Jamuna deye Jam ke phota, aamra di bhai ke phota,
Jam jemon amar, amader bhai jeno emon amar hoye.
As Yamuna marks a tilak on Yama’s forehead, we too mark a tilak on our brothers’ forehead. As yama is immortal, may our brothers too become immortal.
Rakhi Legend of Lord Vishnu and King Bali
Lord Vishnu was too impressed by the might of demon king Bali who was the grandson of Bhakt Prahalada, Vishnu’s great devotee. Lord Vishnu promised Bali his divine protection and immortality and to keep this promise, Vishnu left his abode and in order to guard Bali became his doorman. The wife of Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi wanted to bring lord Vishnu back to his divine abode and thus she disguised herself as a brahmin woman and went to Bali. She asked for protection from him till her husband returns and Bali granted her wish by allowing her to stay into his palace. On the day of Shravana Purnima, Lakshmi tied a cotton thread on Bali’s wrist. Bali was pleased and asked her for a gift. Then Lakshmi pointed towards the doorman revealing her real identity. She asked Bali to let go her husband, lord Vishnu. Bali, tied with his promise, had to ask Vishnu to go back to his abode. However, he made them promise to visit his palace every year on Shravan Purnima. Thus, on Rakhi Purnima, sisters go to their brother’s place, tie rakhi and have food with them.
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