Real love neither puts up barriers nor harbours any prejudices. Love is the epitome of freedom and power… but only when grounded in purity and principles. The festival of Raksha Bandhan speaks volumes about this loving relationship that nurtures, protects and uplifts. It is the sweetest of festivals – solemn, sacred and simple in that it registers and testifies to the chaste bond between brother and sister, and is perhaps not found in any other civilization in the world. This is a great Indian social bonding and a very special occasion. The thread is symbolic, but the love it carries is noble and deep. The meaning of protection lies in the true love and bonding a brother feels for his sister, not on this day only, but for the whole of life. It signifies, without doubt, that a brother must protect his sister from all evils. It demands that the stronger must protect the weaker.
Rakhi is observed on the full moon day of the month of Shravan, on which sisters tie the sacred Rakhi string on their brothers’ right wrists, and pray for their long life. Rakhis are ideally made of silk, with gold and silver threads, beautifully crafted embroidered sequins, and studded with semi-precious stones.
In Northern India, Rakhi Purnima is also called Kajri Purnima or Kajri Navami, when wheat or barley is sown, and Goddess Bhagwati is worshipped. In Western states, the festival is called Nariyal Purnima or the Coconut Full Moon. In Southern India, Shravan Purnima is an important religious occasion, especially for the Brahmins.
As with any ancient tale, there are multiple sources to the origin of Raksha Bandhan. One of the earliest tales to be linked to this festival is that of Goddess Lakshmi and King Bali. King Bali, under the evil influence of egoism, declared himself God. At that time, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Vaman and asked for three pagas (feet) land from Bali. The Lord, in the form of Vaman, then measured the whole universe by his three pagas. With this, King Bali too became a part of Vaman’s kingdom. Then Bali realised that Vaman was none other than Lord Vishnu. He surrendered at His feet and begged for forgiveness. Lord Vishnu then returned to his kingdom. Bali also requested the Lord to protect his kingdom Himself and the Lord agreed. After some time, Goddess Lakshmi realised that Lord Vishnu had not returned to His abode, even after finishing the task of His incarnation. When she looked at the earth, she found the Lord guarding the kingdom of Bali. She then assumed the form of a little girl and reached the court of Bali, who bestowed upon her a boon and she could therefore ask for anything she wanted. The girl asked for the ‘Lord’ engaged in the security of Bali’s kingdom. Bali understood that the girl was none else but Goddess Lakshmi. He surrendered at Her feet and requested Her, “Mother, who will protect my kingdom if you take the Lord with you?” The Goddess, in the form of the little girl, then tore a piece of cloth from her chunri and tied that on Bali’s wrist, saying now onwards this rakshasutra would protect Bali’s kingdom. Since then, the festival of Raksha Bandhan is celebrated.
Another legend says that once, when Indra was on his way to the battlefield to fight against the demons. Maharishi Narad advised his wife Shachi to take special measures for the protection and victory of her husband. Shachi remembered Lord Vishnu and tied a rakshasutra on the wrist of her husband, Indra. That rakshasutra worked wonders and protected Indra in the battle. The incident strengthened the tradition of celebrating Raksha Bandhan.
But a big question mark was put before this festival in this Kalyuga, when the capitalist and consumerist influence has started decimating human values. Hatred towards the sisters of other brothers, as we have experienced in countless wars, conflicts and riots over the centuries now became the norm. The womenfolk, who used to receive immense respect in our culture previously, are now being publicly insulted. Foreign invaders outraged their modesty and exploited them in the past. The womenfolk gave a new direction to the tradition of Raksha Bandhan for their security. They started tying the rakshasutra on the wrists of their brothers, making them promise to safeguard them from any danger. This developed a new relation between brothers and sisters. Legend has it that the great Hindu King Porus refrained from striking Alexander the Great because the latter’s wife had approached this mighty adversary and tied a Rakhi on his hand, prior to the battle, urging him not to hurt her husband. If this strong bond of Rakhsa Bandhan could result in innumerable political ties among kingdoms and princely states in yesteryears, then it can have the same magical effect in modern times as well. If the Rajput and Maratha queens had sent Rakhis to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, respected their Rakhi-sisters by offering help and protection at critical moments and honoured the fraternal bond, then the same could be accomplished in these turbulent times between Indians. If the Rakhi could help establish matrimonial alliances between kingdoms, then it can certainly bring different communities nearer.
Today, it is all the more important that the culture of brother-sister relationship is strengthened with renewed commitment in order to safeguard the honour and modesty of women, in view of the growing atrocities being unleashed on them. Today, the whole world is in the grip of communal violence, religious fundamentalism and racist hatred. So, this time, when we celebrate Raksha Bandhan, we must pledge to protect not only our own sisters, but also those who belong to others. The ultimate objective of Rakhi becomes futile when a brother loves and adores only his own sister and thinks just the opposite of all the other sisters in the country. A solemn vow to protect our own sister or sisters is a personal responsibility fulfilled; our social responsibility remains incomplete unless we feel duty bound to protect other sisters as well.