Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Raksha Bandhan (the bond of protection in Hindi) or Rakhi (राखी in Devanāgarī) is a Hindu festival and also Sikh festival, which celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. It is celebrated on the full moon of the month of Shraavana and in 2007 it falls on August 28.
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. The brother and sister traditionally feed each other sweets. It is still celebrated today, and the brother and sister have to treat each other well for the day.
It is not necessary that the rakhi can be given only to a brother by birth; any male can be "adopted" as a brother by tying a rakhi on the person, that is "blood brothers and sisters", whether they are cousins 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. Rani Karnavati of Chittor sent a rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun when she was threatened by Bahadur Shah of Mewar. Humayun abandoned an ongoing military campaign to ride to her rescue.
The rakhi may also be tied on other special occasions to show solidarity and kinship (not necessarily only among brothers and sisters), as was done during the Indian independence movement.
Origins:-The origin of the festival is mostly attributed to one of following mythological incidents:
1. Indra's fight with Vritra - Indra, the king of devtas (gods), had lost his kingdom to the asura (demon) Vritra. At the behest of his Guru Brihaspati, Indra's wife Sachi tied a thread around her husband's wrist to ensure his victory in the upcoming duel.
2. Draupadi and Krishna during the Rajsuya yagya - After Shishupal's death, Krishna was left with a bleeding finger. Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, had torn a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around Krishna's wrist to staunch the flow of blood. Touched by her concern, Krishna had declared himself bound to her by her love. He further promised to repay the debt manifold. Many years later when Draupudi was about to be shamed by being disrobed in front of the whole court by her evil brother-in-law Duryodhana, she called on Krishna to help her, and he did by divinely elongating her sari so it could not be removed.
Rani Karnawati and Emperor Humayun:-One of the earliest origins of Raksha Bandhan in documented history can be traced to the medieval era. During this period the Rajputs were fighting Muslim invasions. Rakhi at that time was a spiritual symbol associated with protection of the sister. History has it that when Queen Karnawati the widow of the then 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 touched by the gesture, accepted the rakhi thereby accepting Queen Karnawati as a "sister" and immediately started off with his vast troops to protect Queen Karnavati.
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.
The History of Raksha bandhan:
There are many references to the significance of the Rakhi festival in Vaishnava Theology.
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.
Krishna and Draupadi:-
Another incident is the one that concerns Krishna and Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. She had torn a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around Krishna's wrist to stop the flow of blood Krishna was so touched by her action that he found himself bound to her by love. He promised to repay the debt and then spent the next 25 years doing just that. Draupadi in spite of being married to 5 great warriors and being a daughter of a powerful monarch only trusted and depended wholly on Krishna.
King Bali and Goddess Laxmi:-According to another legend the Demon King Bali was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu had taken up the task to guard his kingdom leaving his own abode in Vaikunth. Goddess Lakshmi wished to be with her lord back in her abode. She went to Bali disguised as a Brahmin woman to seek refuge till her husband came back.
During the Shravan Purnima celebrations, Lakshmi tied the sacred thread to the King. Upon being asked she revealed who she was and why she was there. The king was touched by her goodwill for his family and her purpose and requested the Lord to accompany her. He sacrificed all he had for the Lord and his devoted wife.
Thus the festival is also called Baleva that is Bali Raja's devotion to the Lord. It is said that since then it has been a tradition to invite sisters in Shravan Purnima for the thread tying ceremony or the Raksha Bandhan
Yama and the Yamuna:-According to another legend, 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 that whoever gets a rakhi tied from his sister and promised her protection will become immortal.
Raksha Bandhan celebrations in India:-While Rakhsa 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.
Tying of rakhi:-Perhaps the single most important way of celebrating Raksha Bandhan is by tying the rakhi. A sister ties a rakhi to the wrist of her brother. The tying of a rakhi signifies her asking of her brother for his protection and love for the sister. The brother in turn, accepts the rakhi, confirms his love and affection for his sister and shows this with gifts and money. It is a family event where all members of family, dressed in finery, gather and celebrate. The tying of rakhi is followed by a family feast.
Rakhi Purnima:-Rakhi is celebrated as Rakhi Purnima in North India as well as in parts of Northwest India. The word "Purnima" means a full moon night.
Nariyal Purnima:-In western India and parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and Karnataka, 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 fisherman, who depend on the sea for a living, make an offering to Lord Varuna so that they can reap bountiful fish from the sea.
Avani Avittam or Upakarman:-In southern parts of India including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, this day is celebrated by the Brahmin community as Avani Avittam. This day is the traditional day of the beginning of Vedic studies. As part of the Upakarman ritual, they also change their sacred thread or yajnopavitam, the Sanskrit word for the thread. It is also called "janeyu" in Hindi, "poonool" in Tamil, "poveeth" in Bengali, and "jhanjyam" in Telugu.
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.
CONCLUSION:-Any Indian festival is incomplete without the typical Indian festivities, the gatherings, celebrations, exchange of sweets and gifts, lots of noise, singing and dancing. Festivals are the celebration of togetherness the celebrations of being on of the family. Festival of Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan is one such major occasion.
It is the celebration of brothers and sisters. It is one festival that primarily belongs to the North and Western regions of India but celebrated throughout the country with the same verve. Regional celebrations may be different but Raksha bandhan has become an integral part of those customs
As per the traditions, the sister on this day prepares the pooja thali with diya, roli, chawal and rakhis. She worships the deities, ties Rakhi to the brother(s) and wishes for their well being. The brother in turn acknowledges the love with a promise to be by the sisters' side through the thick and thin and gives her a token gift.
The festival has been celebrated in the same way with the same traditions for centuries. Only the means have changed with the changing lifestyles. This too to make the celebrations more elaborate.
This is the day that still pulls the siblings together. The increasing physical distances evoke the desire to be together even more. They try to reach out to each other on the Raksha Bandhan day. The joyous meeting, the rare family get-together, that erstwhile feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood calls for a massive celebration.
The sisters tie that thread of love to their brothers amongst chanting of mantras, put roli and rice on his forehead and pray for his well being. She bestows him with gifts and blessings. The brother also wishes her a good life and pledges to take care of her. He gives her a return gift. The gift is the physical acceptance of her love, reminder of their togetherness and a symbol of his pledge. The legends and the reference in history repeated, the significance of the festival is emphasized.
Well that is kind of an end to the rituals but the celebrations actually start after that. For the parents, it is a family reunion. Tasty dishes, wonderful sweets, exchange of gifts and sharing of past experiences.
For those who are not able to visit each other, rakhi cards and e rakhis and rakhis through mails perform the part of communicating the rakhi messages. Hand made rakhis and self-made rakhi cards are just a representation of the personal feelings of the siblings.
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