रक्षा बन्धनAlso calledRakhiObserved byHindus, Jains and some SikhsCelebrationsSister-Brother get together, tie Rakhi on wrist, mark Tilak, brother promises to protect sister, sister feeds brother, brother gives gift, hugsDate
Purnima (full moon) of Shravana
Raksha Bandhan (रक्षा बन्धन) is a Hindu festivalthat celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters; the festival is also popularly used to celebrate any brother-sister relationship between men and women who are relatives or biologically unrelated. It is called Rakhi Purnima, or simply Rakhi, in many parts of India. The festival is observed byHindus, Jains, and many Sikhs. Raksha Bandhan is primarily observed in India,Mauritius and parts of Nepal. It is also celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs in parts ofPakistan, and by some people of Indian originaround the world.
Raksha Bandhan is an ancient festival, and has many myths and historic legends linked to it. For example, the Rajput queens practised the custom of sending rakhi threads to neighbouring rulers as token of brotherhood. On Raksha Bandhan, sisters tie a rakhi(sacred thread) on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her. The festival falls on thefull moon day (Shravan Poornima) of theShravan month of the Hindu lunisolar calendar.
Raksha Bandhan in Sanskrit literally means “the tie or knot of protection”. It is an ancient Hindu festival that ritually celebrates the love and duty between brothers and their sisters. The sister performs a Rakhi ceremony, then prays to express her love and her wish for the well being of her brother; in return, the brother ritually pledges to protect and take care of his sister under all circumstances. It is one of the several occasions in which family ties are affirmed in India.
The festival is also an occasion to celebrate brother-sister like family ties between cousins or distant family members, sometimes between biologically unrelated men and women. To many, the festival transcends biological family, brings together men and women across religions, diverse ethnic groups and ritually emphasizes harmony and love. It is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Śrāvaṇa, and typically falls in August every year.
Description and rituals
Women shopping for Rakhi, the ceremonial thread marking brother-sister love, before the Raksha Bandhan festival.
The festival is marked by the several rituals, which vary regionally within India. Typical rituals include:
Prepare for Raksha Bandhan
Days or weeks before Raksha Bandhan, women shop for Rakhi, the ceremonial thread to tie around her brother’s (or brother-like friend’s) wrist. Some women make their own Rakhi. A Rakhi may be a simple thread, woven and colorful; or a Rakhi may be intricate with amulets and decoration on top of it. Sometimes, a Rakhi may be a fancy wrist watch or men’s wrist accessory in the form of bracelet or jewelry. Rakhi in the form of a colorful woven thread is most common. Typically the brother(s) too shop for gifts for the sister, ahead of Raksha Bandhan. The gift from the brother can be a simple thoughtful token of love, and may be more elaborate.
On the morning of Raksha Bandhan, the brothers and sisters get together, often in nice dress in the presence of surviving parents, grandparents and other family members. If the sister and brother are geographically separated, the sister may mail the Rakhi ahead of the Raksha Bandhan day, along with a greeting card or letter wishing her brother well. The ritual typically begins in front of a lighted lamp (diya) or candle, which signifies fire deity. The sister and brother face each other. The sister ties the Rakhi on her brother’s wrist.
Prayer, aarti, promise and foodThe Festival of Raksha Bandhan
1. Tie the Rakhi
2. Wish, do Tilak, promise
3. She feeds him with her hands
4. Hugs and gifts
The key rituals of Raksha Bandhan. In the first image, the ‘Rakhi’ is evident on the brother’s wrist.
Once the Rakhi has been tied, the sister says a prayer for the well being – good health, prosperity and happiness – for her brother. This ritual sometimes involves an aarti, where a tray with lighted lamp or candle is ritually rotated around the brother’s face, along with the prayer and well wishes.
The prayer is a self composed note, or one of many published Rakhi poems and prose.One of the earliest examples of a Rakhi prayer is found in Book V, Chapter V of Vishnu Purana; it is the prayer that Yasoda says while tying aRaksha Bandhan amulet on Krishna’s wrist. An abridged form of the prayer is:
May the lord of all beings protect you,
May the one who creates, preserves and dissolves life protect thee,
May Govinda guard thy head; Kesava, thy neck; Vishnu, thy belly;
the eternal Narayana, thy face, thine arms, thy mind, and faculties of sense;
May all negativity and fears, spirits malignant and unfriendly, flee thee;
May Rishikesa keep you safe in the sky; and Mahidhara, upon earth.
After the prayer, the sister applies a tilak (Tikka), a colorful mark on the forehead of the brother. After the tilak, the brother pledges to protect her and take care of his sister under all circumstances.
The sister then feeds the brother, with her hands, one or more bites of sweets (desserts), dry fruits and other seasonal delicacies.
Gifts and hugs
The brother gives his sister(s) gifts such as cards, clothes, money or something thoughtful. The brother may also feed his sister, with his hands, one or more bites of sweets, dry fruits and other seasonal delicacies. They hug, and the larger family ritually congratulate the festive celebration of brother-sister love and protection.
The brother(s) wear the Rakhi for the entire day, at school or work, as a reminder of their sister(s) and to mark the festival of Raksha Bandhan.
A more formal Aarti plate for Raksha Bandhan.
Myths and parables
The scriptures, epics and ancient fiction of Hinduism is peppered with stories of Rakhi andRaksha Bandhan. Some of these include:
According to Hindu scripture Bhavishya Purana, in the war between Gods and demons, Indra – the deity of sky, rains and thunderbolts – was disgraced by the powerful demon King Bali. Indra’s wife Sachi consulted Vishnu, who gave her a bracelet made of cotton thread, calling it holy. Sachi tied the holy thread around Indra wrist, blessed with her prayers for his well being and success. Indra successfully defeated the evil and recovered Amaravati. This story inspired the protective power of holy thread. The story also suggests that the Raksha Bandhan thread in ancient India were amulets, used by women as prayers and to guard men going to war, and that these threads were not limited to sister-brother like relationships.
King Bali and Goddess Laxmi
According to this legend, credited to Hindu scriptures Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Vishnu won the three worlds from the demon King Bali, he was asked by Bali that Vishnu live in his palace, a request Vishnu granted. Vishnu’s wife, Goddess Lakshmi did not like the palace or his new found friendship with Bali, and preferred that her husband and she return to Vaikuntha. So she went to Bali, tied a Rakhi and made him a brother. Bali asked her what gift she desired. Lakshmi asked that Vishnu be freed from the request that he live in Bali’s palace. Bali consented, as well accepted her as his sister.
Ganesh had two sons, Shubh and Labh. On Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh’s sister visited and tied aRakhi on Ganesh’s wrist. The two boys become frustrated that they have no sister to celebrate Raksha Bandhan with. They ask their father Ganesh for a sister, but to no avail. Finally, saint Narada appears who persuades Ganesh that a daughter will enrich him as well as his sons. Ganesh agreed, and created a daughter named Santoshi Ma by divine flames that emerged from Ganesh’s wives, Rddhi (Amazing) and Siddhi (Perfection). Thereafter, Shubh Labh (literally “Holy Profit”) had a sister named Santoshi Ma (literally “Goddess of Satisfaction”), who loved and protected each other.
Krishna and Draupadi
Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in some Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities outside India. Above, Rakhi tied to a man’s wrist inMauritius.
Krishna considered Draupadi his sister. When Krishna cut his finger while beheading Shishupal, Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of her sari and bandaged his cut. Krishna said that with this loving act, she wrapped him in debt and he would repay each “thread” when the time arrives. Indeed, whenever Draupadi needed Krishna’s protection she fervently prayed for his help, he came to the rescue and gave her unlimited cloth. This is one of the stories of the origin of the Raksha Bandhan festival.
In the epic Mahabharat, Draupadi tied a Rakhi to Krishna, whileKunti tied her Rakhi to her grandson Abhimanyu, before the great war.
Yama and the Yamuna
According to another legend, Yama, the god of Death had not visited his sister Yamuna for 12 years. Yamuna, the goddess of Yamuna river, was sad and consulted Ganga, the goddess of Ganga river. Ganga reminded Yama of his sister, upon which Yama visits her. Yamuna was overjoyed to see her brother, and prepared a bounty of food for Yama. The god Yama was delighted, and asked Yamuna what she wanted for gift. She wished that he, her brother should return and see her again soon. Yama was moved by his sister’s love, agreed and to be able to see her again, made river Yamuna immortal. This legend is the basis for a Raksha Bandhan-like festival called Bhai Duj in some parts of India, which also celebrates brother-sister love, but nearDiwali.