Bhai aur behen, cousins, aunts and nephews, uncles and nieces, close friends, these are just some of the people who celebrate the ancient Indian tradition of Rakshabandhan.
As no doubt all your relatives have reminded you (mine have anyway), Rakshabandhan is just around the corner. And seeing as most of us will be meeting up and tying rakhis/having rakhis tied on our wrists, I thought why don’t we travel down history and find out more about this festival? When did it all start? Why do we celebrate it? What does it represent? And why do the rakhis keep falling off so easily? I hope to find the answers to all this and more, and I would be honoured if you will join me.
So let’s begin.
What is Rakshabandhan?
Rakshabandhan is Hindu festival meant to celebrate the bond between brothers and sisters. It is normally celebrated in Northern India, on the day of the full moon, during the Hindu calendar month of Sravana, which falls during July/August on the Gregorian Calendar.
On this day, sisters of all ages tie an amulet, called a "rakhi" around the wrists of their brothers, say a prayer for their good health and wellbeing, and use red powder to put a mark on their forehead.
In exchange, the brother promises to protect his sister from harm and gives them a gift, usually a sweet, money or some new clothes.
Of course, the festival isn't confined to immediate brothers and sisters only. Like I mentioned before, rakhis can be tied between cousins, aunts and nephews and friends.
The meaning in the word
The festival's name is made up of two words, "Raksha" which means protection or to protect, and "Bandhan" which means to tie, or a bond. (Fun fact: you can find the word Rakhi in the Oxford English Dictionary.)
One of the most important parts of the entire festival, is of course the rakhi. Traditionally, rakhis are made of red and gold threads to symbolise the bonds between brothers and sisters. They can be simple or elaborate, fixed with colourful beads, interesting patterns and other regalia. Nowadays, rakhis come in all shapes, sizes and colours. You can either buy a rakhi, which are sold everywhere in the days approaching the festival, or you can even make your own. There are also e-rakhis, these days.
What happens during the festival?
While the main event of Rakshabandhan is the rakhi tying and exchanging of gifts, it isn't the only part of it. Different families celebrate the occasion in different ways. Some families play games with each other, like dumb charades, or word guessing games. Sometimes, the sisters write a short poem about their "brother" and recite it for everyone to hear. Some families have a large get together, celebrating the day with friends and loved ones.
Rakshabandhan has been celebrated for centuries and has many stories that tell of its origins.
One such story talks about a war between the Gods and Demons. Lord Indra, king of the heavens, fights ferociously with King Bali, lord of the Demons. With no end to the war in sight, Indra's wife Devi Sachi, goes to Lord Vishnu, seeking his blessings. Lord Vishnu gives Sachi a holy bracelet, which she later ties around her husband's wrist. Invigorated, Lord Indra goes on to finally win the war. This story indicates that wives would tie rakhis as a protective charm around their husband's wrists as they went to war. Somewhere along the line, the tradition changed into the celebration of brotherly and sisterly love that it is today.
Another story recounts a tale from the Mahabharat. In it, Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, tore off a piece of her sari to tie around Lord Krishna's wrist, who had hurt himself earlier. This started a sibling bond between the two and Lord Krishna swore to protect Draupadi as his sister.
So bhaiyo, respected beheno and everyone else, I hope you have a wonderful Rakshabandhan, filled with mithai, laughter, and rakhis that don't slip off with a flick of the wrist.