How Did Raksha Bandhan Originate?
Raksha Bandhan – the festival of tying the knot of amity, brotherhood, and long life, is a symbol of seeking divine bliss. Not for the ‘self’. But for the man on whose wrist the thread is tied. ‘Raksha’ is the word for protection. ‘Bandhan’ is the bond. So it signifies the bond of protection. The protection is from the dark hands of the evils and against all perils. The protection that connotes – not just physical, but the spiritual one as well. In modern day we celebrate the occasion by brothers gifting their sister’s something. But, there is more to this day that you need to know.
Raksha Bandhan, which falls on Saturday, 29 August, is an ancient Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. On an auspicious day, sisters tie a thread (Rakhi) on the wrist of brothers, expressing the love for them and pray for their well-being. Brothers, on their part, promise to protect them from all evils. The ritual is marked by the exchange of gifts. Brothers offer gifts to sisters and the latter feeds them sweets. Raksha Bandhan is celebrated as the day where a sister ties a thread around her brother’s wrist as a symbol of protection while he promises to protect and take care of her.
The festival nurtures a rich heritage of legendary traditions, some rooted back to the ages of the great epics. In the Hindu tradition, the Rakshaa has indeed assumed all aspects of protection of the forces of righteousness from the forces of evil. Like all festivals, the festival of rakhi has numerous tales associated with it. Here are few more things you need to know about this auspicious occasion. The origin and the legends:
How Did Raksha Bandhan Originate
1. Krishna and Draupadi
One about Hindu mythological characters Krishna and Draupadi is very popular. Perhaps the most popular of the rakhi stories in our mythology is that of Lord Krishna and Draupadi — the wife of the five Pandavas. An incident in their lives finds a mention amongst the various stories of the Mahabharata. According to one version on a Sankranti day, Krishna managed to cut his little finger while handling sugarcane. Rukmini, his queen immediately sent her help to get a bandage cloth while Sathyabama, his other consort rushed to bring some cloth herself. Draupadi who was watching all of this rather simply tore off a part of her sari and bandaged his finger. In return for this deed, Krishna promised to protect her in a time of distress. He kept his vow in all circumstances.
The word he is said to have uttered is ‘Akshyam’ which was a boon: ‘May it be unending’. And that was how Draupadi’s sari became endless and saved her embarrassment on the day she was disrobed in full public view in king Dhritarashtra’s court.
2. A tale of almighty Indra
Another story believes that demons won the war and captured heaven. Once, Indra, the king of heaven was confronted by the demon king – the Daitya-Raja – in a long-drawn battle. At one stage, the Daitya-Raja got better of Indra and drove him into the wilderness. Indra, humbled and crestfallen, sought the advice of Brihaspati, the Guru of Gods. The Guru told him to bide his time, prepare himself and then take on the mighty demon. He also indicated that the auspicious moment for sallying forth was the Shraavana Poornima. On that day, Shachee Devi, the wife of Indra, accompanied by Brihaspati tied Rakhi around Indra’s right-wrist. Indra then advanced against the Daitya-Raja, vanquished him and re-established his sovereignty. Thus, the story shows that the Lord Indra, who was unhappy about this, complained to Brihaspati (guru of the gods), who then prepared a Raksha sutra and told him to wear it for protection.
3. Origin From Mahabharat
The promise of protection was seen in the Mahabharat too. It is believed that once Lord Krishna cut his finger and was bleeding profusely. Seeing this, Draupadi tore a part of her sari and tied it around his finger. This is believed to be the reason why he saved her during her cheerHaran by Kaurava.
According to the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pancha Pandava (the five brothers belonging to the family of king Pandu), asked Sri Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, how best he could guard himself against impending evils and catastrophes in the coming year. Krishna advised him to observe the Rakshaa Ceremony. He also narrated an old incident to show how potent the Rakshasa is. It went like this.
4. Alexander the Great and King Porus
Though in principle Raksha Bandhan is an observance between biological siblings of the opposite sex, the legends, and history of India are rife in stories where a woman has tied the knot of Raakhi to a stranger man.
A story is told of Alexander’s wife approaching his mighty Hindu adversary Porus and tying Rakhi on his hand, seeking assurance from him for saving the life of her husband on the battlefield. And the great Hindu king, in the true traditional Kshatriya (those who belonged to the brave warrior class) style, responded; and as the legend goes, when Porus raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the Raakhi on his own hand and restrained from striking.
So, Rakhi saved Alexander The Great’s life. When he had invaded India, his wife Roxana had sent a rakhi to the Katoch King Porus and he had vowed to protect her and her husband. So, on the battlefield when he was about to kill Alexander he saw the rakhi and refrained from killing him.
5. Ganesh and his sister Manasa
Now even though this tale has no basis in the Hindu scriptures, the take of the birth of Santoshi Maa has been linked to the festival of Raksha Bandhan. Popularized by the 1975 Bollywood film Jai Santoshi Maa, the tale goes somewhat like this: On an auspicious day, Lord Ganesha’s sister Manasa visits him to tie him the rakhi. On seeing this, Ganesha’s sons — Shubha and Labha — begin insisting on having a sister. Giving in to their demands, Ganesha creates goddess Santoshi from the divine flames that are said to have emerged from his consorts — Riddhi and Siddhi.
6. Demon King Bali and Goddess Laxmi
Another mythological story links the festival with demon king Bali and Goddess Laxmi. According to the story, Laxmi’s husband Vishnu was asked by Bali to live in his palace, which Laxmi did not want. She tied a thread on Bali’s wrist and thus made him her brother. When Bali asked her what she wants in return, the Goddess asked him to free Vishnu from the moral binding of staying in his palace, which Bali granted. King Bali was a pious devotee of Lord Vishnu. Lord Indra felt so insecure that he was bound to plead with Vishnu to help him to save his throne. Acting on Indra’s request, Vishnu overthrew Bali beneath the earth.
When Bali asked Lord Vishnu about the treatment meted out to him, the latter blessed him with the boon of immortality along with the promise that he would take care of his kingdom. True to his words, Lord Vishnu left “Vaikunthdham” to safeguard Bali’s kingdom. Goddess Laxmi, the wife of Lord Vishnu, paid a visit to Bali, disguised as a poor Brahmin lady, and requested him for a shelter. She regarded Bali as her brother and therefore tied a Rakhi on to him on the “Shravan Poornima” day. When Bali expressed his desire to give her some gifts, she disclosed her identity and added that she came here because Lord Vishnu is here to guard Bali’s kingdom. So if it is feasible for him he should send Lord Vishnu back to “Vaikunthdham”. Raja Bali immediately requested Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi to return.
7. Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun
The history of Raksha Bandhan is quite deep-rooted and is connected to several mythological and historical stories. The most popular one is linked to the story of Rani Karnavati of Chittorgarh and Mughal King Humayun. Chittorgarh was once attacked by Bahadur Shah and it was not possible for widowed Rani Karnavati to save her empire from the mighty force of Bahadur Shah. She sent a rakhi to Humayun and pleaded to save her and the empire. Overcome by emotions, Humayun, along with his force, immediately rushed to Chittorgarh to protect the queen. Though he could not save Karnavati as she and all other women folk there had committed suicide before he could reach, Humayun fought against Bahadur Shah and saved Chittorgarh from his invasion. Later, he handed over the empire to Karnavati’s son Vikramjeet Singh.
So, When Chittor was ruled by the Rajputs, the kingdom had a widowed queen, Rani Karnawati. When Bahadur Shah of Mewar decided to attack Chittor, Rani Karnawati sent a Rakhi to Humayun, the Mughal ruler, asking for his help. Humayun was touched by this gesture as he was aware of the significance of Rakhi in the Hindu community. Humayun reached Chittor with his army to protect Karnawati. But unfortunately, by the time he reached Chittoor, all the Rajput women had already killed themselves by committing mass suicide (satis) to save their honor.
8. The Rabindranath Tagore’s spirit of Raksha Bandhan
The Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore used the occasion of the Raksha Bandhan as a community festival to spread the nationalist spirit among people from different ethnic backgrounds. Thus siblings or not, the spirit of the thread of brotherhood and chaste love extends far beyond the biological association. Today it’s common to see females tying a rakhi around the wrist of boys and men without sisters. Even a number of women may tie the rakhi around the Prime Minister’s wrist (unless the Prime Minister be a woman), and similarly, soldiers can expect to have women tie rakhis around their wrists.
Thus Raakhi has become a social recognition of a man acquiring a sister or the other way round. Sister or brother in every respect, except in biological fact. And this is what the spirit of Raksha Bandhan today has turned out to be. A symbol of universal brotherhood and goodwill. So if you are a sensible girl with an inclination of seeking male friends yet not intending to tie the nuptial knot, this knot of brotherhood is an excellent idea to be indulged in. This is how the society can live and prosper amidst all kinds of challenges either from within or without. Especially, various types of internal stresses and strains which are generated in the body-politic of a nation because of ever-changing economic, political and other factors can be overcome only on the strength of this inner flow of mutual affection and amity.
9. Lord Yama, the God of Death and his sister the Yamuna
According to another legend, the ritual of Raksha Bandhan would be followed by Yama, the Lord of Death and Yamuna, the river that flows in India. The story goes that when the Yamuna tied a rakhi to Yama, the lord of death granted her immortality. And so moved he was by the gesture, he is said to have declared that any brother who has tied a rakhi and offered to protect his sister would also become immortal.
So, the tale is all about, Lord Yama, the God of Death, had a sister the Yamuna. On every “Shravan Purnima”, she used to tie a sacred thread (Rakhi) on her brother’s wrist. Since then it became a tradition for sisters to tie Rakhi to their brothers on this day praying for their long and healthy life. The brothers, in turn, bestow blessings on their sisters.
This is how Raksha Bandhan came into being in the ages of old Hindu mythology and has transcended into the modern ages acquiring more of new and modified customs with itself. So come and exploit the auspicious occasion to recharge your sense and sensibility towards the society at large with the true spirit of service and sacrifice. For it is where lies spiritual fulfillment of human life.
So, these are some you may or may not have heard. Everyone loves a good story and when it is about a festival it’s even better, isn’t it? So here they are — stories of Raksha Bandhan from history and mythology so you can tell your kids about why we celebrate this festival.