Raksha Bandhan is the Hindu festival that celebrates brotherhood and love. It is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Sravana in the lunar calendar.The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie. Traditionally, during the festival sisters tie a rakhi, a bracelet made of interwoven red and gold threads, around their brothers’ wrists to celebrate their relationship.The ceremony or ritual, so to say, on the Raksha Bandhan day revolves round tying of the Rakhi thread. Sisters tie the sacred thread around the brothers’ right wrist, praying for their long life and well-being. Brothers too lavish gifts on their sisters, pledging to protect them and take every care of them. Raksha Bandhan is thus not bound by blood relations. It transcending family barriers and women tie Rakhis to their cousins, friends, and neighbors. In fact, any male member of the society can be ‘adopted’ as a brother by a woman if she ties a Rakhi.
Indian history is replete with stories when a woman has sent a Rakhi and adopted a brother, finding her safety and security at risk. Thus, Rani Karnavati of Chittaur adopted Mughal Emperor Humayun as her brother seeking protection from him by sending him a Rakhi when her territory was under threat. Humayun immediately came to her rescue.
Raksha Bandhan day starts with a festive mood in every Indian home. Rakhis are made or bought a day before the festival. Traditional goodies and dishes are prepared early in the morning. After an early bath, the offering Puja (worshipping of god) takes place. The sister then offers “aarti” (a traditional way of worshipping) to her brother and ties the thread on his right wrist. Traditional “tilak” or vermilion powder on the forehead of the brother is put and the brother blesses the sister. The tradition of giving gifts and presents is also an important part of this festival. The brother gifts his sister a gift after she ties the Rakhi on his wrist. This gift acts as a token of love and affection of the brother towards the sister. Sometimes sisters also demand for a gift of their own choice to keep it as a loving memory of that very day. Nevertheless, giving gifts is not a must tradition. The blessing bestowed by the brother itself is regarded as the biggest gift for the sisters. Treating her brother along with her entire family, with the goodies and eatables that has been prepared follows next. Thus, the normal rituals are followed with great devotion and dedication. The Rakhi celebration differs from region to region.
India shows its unity among diversity in celebrating Raksha Bandhan too. Rakhi is mostly celebrated in the northern part of India. The celebration of Raksha Bandhan is more or less the same in this region. However, the other parts of India celebrate this festival in various other ways. The rituals and customs followed differ with region to region.The festival of Raksha Bandhan is also known as Nariyal Poornima or Coconut Full-Moon Day in Mumbai’s famous beaches. Coconuts are thrown into the sea to propitiate the Sea-God, Varuna, who is the chief object of worship on this occasion. The ‘three eyes’ of the coconut are believed to represent the three-eyed Shiva and hence the religious significance. In fact, Hindus consider it auspicious to break a coconut in front of a deity before embarking upon any important venture.A similar practice is carried in some other places in order to offer Puja to the god of rain and water, Lord Varuna. This festival is called Avani Avittam in South India. This is the time of “Upakarmam,” and is celebrated in various ways. This falls on the full-moon day of the month of Shravan (August-September). It is an important Hindu festival. On this particular day, Hindu Brahmins wear a new holy thread and offer libations of water to the ancient Rishis. The day is also set apart for Brahmins to change their sacred thread they wear.
The festivity of Raksha Bandhan is believed to have mythological origin. A legend has that Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, had torn a strip off her sari and tied it around Krishna’s wrist, which was left bleeding by the chakra (blade) he had used to severe the head of Shishupala during the Rajsuya Yagya. Lord Krishna was so moved by Draupadi’s gesture that he promised to repay this debt manifold. When years later Draupadi was being humiliated in the royal court by her evil brother-in-law Duryodhan (and Dushshashan who was trying to disrobe her), she prayed to Krishna for help and he elongated the sari by his divine powers. Draupadi was saved from being disgraced publicly.
Another legend linked to the origin of Raksha Bandhan is based on Yama (the Lord of Death) and his sister Yamuna. It is believed that Yamuna tied Rakhi to Yama, bestowing immortality on him. Yama was so overwhelmed that he made a declaration that a brother who gets a Rakhi tied from his sister and promises her protection will become immortal.
In yet another poignant instance, a Rajput princess sent a Rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun, enlisting his support against the onslaught of the Gujarat Sultan. Though engaged elsewhere, Humayun hastened to the rescue of his Rakhi sister but to his bitter disappointment found that the kingdom had been seized and the princess had committed “jauhar” to save her honor.