By Conchita de Souza
Raksha Bandhan is a less known festival outside of India, but is faithfully celebrated amongst Hindus in the Indian subcontinent and throughout the diaspora. Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the day of the full-moon in the month of Shravan in the Hindu calendar, which is usually around the end of July or early August. This is an auspicious time for Hindus and there are variations of this festival celebrated throughout India.
India, known for having as many festivals as there are days in the year (if not more) celebrates the love between siblings, specifically the bond between a brother and a sister but also between male cousins and female cousins. This festival extends beyond blood and kinship to meaningful friendships shared between others, especially those involving a degree of care.*
A similar festival called Bhai Dhooj takes place soon after Diwali and carries with it the same significance and almost similar traditions (a thread isn't tied, but tilak is applied by sisters on their brother's foreheads).
Origins of Raksha Bandhan
There are different references to the origins of this festival but we will discuss the most prevalent one. Click here if you would like to read more about the different stories in Hindu mythology pointing to the origins of this tradition.
The account from the ancient epic Mahabharata, tells of Lord Krishna receiving a cut to his finger (some accounts have it as his wrist) as he threw his sudarshan chakra (a speared disk with 108 serrated edges) to behead Shisupala, his maternal cousin and a king who had become an arrogant and cruel ruler.
This event was prophesied at Shisupala’s birth, when Lord Krishna healed Shisupala of his deformities and promised Shisupala’s mother that he would forgive Shisupala of his mistakes one hundred times over before he killed him.
Draupadi was Lord Krishna’s close friend and a princess herself (later a Queen). After throwing the chakra, Draupadi was quick and tender to react to Lord Krishna’s cut, tearing off a strip of cloth from her beautiful saree and bandaging it around Lord Krishna’s finger. Lord Krishna was moved by this gesture and vowed to always protect her.
Raksha Bandhan Traditions
In the ancient language Sanskrit, raksha signifies protection and bandhan is the verb ‘to tie’. ‘The knot or tie of protection’ or ‘the bond of security’ are some loose translations that might assist with a general understanding of this festival.
On this day, the ‘sister’ ties a rakhi band or bracelet, usually made of thread, around the ‘brother’s’ wrist as a reminder of the prayers she will offer for her brother’s safety and well-being. The brother in turn offers to protect his sister to the best of his ability and presents his sister with gifts.
Amongst the religious, the tying of rakhi is usually preceded by a puja (prayer) ceremony during which prayers are offered to the gods, and sisters apply teeka (red powder used in religious ceremonies) and grains of raw rice onto the foreheads of their brothers. As is the case with most festivals, a grand meal follows.
Around this time it is not uncommon to see boys and men of all ages with multiple threads tied around their wrist in a colourful fashion.
Nowadays rakhis aren’t just limited to the simple temple threads but are also made from precious metals like gold and silver, for those sisters who wish to take things up a notch or two.
As a side joke and especially amongst the younger population, many men find themselves ‘friend-zoned’ on this day, utterly disappointed by the fact they received rakhi from the women whom they were interested in and with whom they thought that they might have a chance at something more than just friendship. Sorry guys, you should have made your intentions clearer from the outset.
*It must be noted that the concept of ‘siblings’ in India, as well as in many other cultures, is broader than our understanding here in Australia. Many refer to their immediate or more distant cousins as their brother or sister and the term ‘cousin brother’ or ‘cousin sister’ is also used to signify the same.
Featured Image: Indian Express