Raksha Bandhan: The Festival of sacred thread

Ashok Sharma
India is a famous for various festivals which reflect our rich culture and heritage. There are festivals for almost every religious and social occasion in our country. We have festivals associated with seasons, human bonds, harvest of crops, glory of Gods and Goddesses etc. One such eagerly awaited function named Rakshabandhan, literally meaning the Bond of Protection, is celebrated to mark the unconditional love of brothers and sisters.Primarily a North Indian festival, it symbolises the subliminal bond of unconditional love and affection between a brother and a sister. This day also known as Rakhi Poornima, falls on the Full Moon day,in the Month of Shravan as per Hindu Lunar Calender. This is a secular festival celebrated irrespective of caste, religion, state and is also popular in our neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Mauritius. On this day, sisters tie a sacred thread on the wrist of their brothers,male cousins and adopted brothers who promise them protection from untoward happenings and assure them their unconditional love. The sisters, in turn, pray for the long and happy life of their brothers. This festival is so popular that many Bollywood films are based on the brother-sister relationship with the protagonist conveying the message that he can go to any extent for protecting his sister from untoward happenings. Many Bollywood songs including the popular number ‘ Bhaiya mere, raakhi ka bandhan nibhaana’, meri pyari behniya banegi dulhania,etc are based on this affectionate bond of sibling.
Rakshabandhan which is celebrated in our state, especially in Jammu province, has many legends associated with it.According to the accounts from Mahabharta, one day,Lord Krishna, while in the company of the Pandavas, was flying kites when he happened to cut one of his fingers on the thread.Draupadi, in order to stop the bleeding from Lord Krishna’s finger, immediately tore a piece from her attire and tied it around his finger.Lord Krishna was greately touched by this gesture of love and promised her lifelong protection.It is believed that when the Kauravas were trying to shame Draupadi by stripping her in public, it was that small piece of cloth that Lord Krishna increased in size to cover her while she was being stripped and thus, began the ritual of tying raakhis.According to Bhagvata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Vishnu won the three worlds from the Demon King Bali, the latter asked Lord Vishnu to stay with him in his palace, a request Lord Vishnu granted.But Lord Vishnu’s consort, Goddess Lakshmi didnot like the palace or his newfound relationship with Bali.So she went to Bali, tied him a raakhi and made him her brother.Bali asked her what gift she desired upon which Lakshmi replied that Lord Vishnu be freed from the request that he live with Bali in the palace.Bali consented and accepted her as his sister. According to yet another legend, Lord Yama, the God of Death met his sister Yamuna, the river after twelve long years.Yamuna tied a thread on the wrist of Lord Yama as symbol of eternal love that they had as siblings and asked him to visit her every year.Lord Yama was touched by this gesture and he granted her protection and immortality and promised to bless the brother who protected his sister.According to yet another legend, Lord Ganesha had created Goddess Santoshi out of divine flames as his sons Shubh and Labh had insisted that they wanted a sister.Rakshabandan is celebrated to rejoice this divine relationship between Shubh, Labh and Goddess Santoshi.
There are some Indian legends also associated with this festival.According to one narrative, when Alexander, the Great invaded India, his wife Roxana or Roshnak sent a sacred thread to Porus asking him not to harm her husband in the battle and in accordance with the traditions, when Porus saw the raakhi on his wrist, he restrained himself from attacking Alexander personally.According to another legend, when the widowed queen Rani Karnavati of Chittor realised that she couldnot defend against the invasion by Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, she sent a raakhi to Moghul Emperor, Humanyu who set off with his troops to defend Chittor but he arrived too late and by that time Bahadur Shah had captured the Rani’s fortress.Such is the power and significance of this sacred thread of raakhi
This festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Preparations for the celebration of this festival start many days in advance.Sisters start buying raakhis as per the age and taste of their brothers and their own budgets while the brothers start surveying the markets for gifts to be presented to their sisters on this pious occasion.As the day of Raakhi comes, there is an atmosphere of joy and festivity in each and every household.Brothers and sisters wear new dresses and are in great spirits.Women and girls apply heena and ‘Teera'(made from a herb by crushing it into a paste and mixing citrus juice to the paste) on their palms a day or two before the festival.As it dries , the reddish colour comes up at the palm and the hand where it is applied.On the day of the festival, the sisters take bath,worship the family Deity, perform brother’s aarti and apply tilak, a colourful mark and rice on their foreheads, put sweets in their mouth, tie the coloured sacred thread or amulet around their wrist and pray for their prosperity and long life.Brothers, on their part, present gifts to their sisters and the ritual ends.Brothers continue to wear the holy raakhi till the festival arrives next year.Both brothers and sisters donot eat food till the auspicious time for tying the raakhi arrives.Some girls also tie raakhis to the boys in the neighbourhood adopting them as their brothers and maintain this pious relation throughout life.In fact, this adopted relation is condidered more strong and pious than the blood relation. Those sisters whose brothers are away send their raakhs by post so that it reaches them in time.The men in uniform guarding our frontiers too are not forgotten on this auspicious day and many celebrities and local girls and women tie raakhis on their wrists making them feel at home. Rabindra nath Tagore also started the Raakhi festival in Shantiniketan to give the message of universal brotherhood and humanity. Over the years, there have been many small yet reflective changes in celebrating this festival. These days sisters and friends also tie raakhis to eachother promising eternal love and thus, this festival encompasses a larger perspective including a lifetime practice of moral, cultural and spiritual values.Today people have the option of sending online raakhis and gifts.What is required is just to look for an online store, buy a raakhi or gift, make the payment through Credit card and send it to the brother or sister living thousands of miles away.Then, unlike the past, markets are flooded with raakhis of innumerable designs, shapes, sizes, colours and materials. Children also celebrate this day by flying kites of different colours, sizes and price range.In rural areas, children and the youth enjoy this day by swinging on long cradles tied to the strong branches of trees.
But with the passage of time, the vibrancy, colourfulness and enthusiasm usually associated with this festival a few decades ago are missing.Those were the days when there were only a few means of recreation and transport and life was not so fast and materialistic.People had enough time at their disposal to celebrate the festivals.Such festivals served to break the monotony of routine life, bring the people closure to eachother and celebrate life.It was only during these festivals that people, especially brothers and sisters would meet,share joys and sorrows and then depart again to meet on the eve of next festival.Sisters would come with home cooked food especially Khamires (fermented cakes) and potatoes or keurs and tie raakhis to their brothers while the entire family watched the ritual.It was thought auspicious for the brother to taste the food from his sister’s home.It used to be the occasion when the estranged brother-sister would end all their differences with the sister tying the raakhi around the brother’s wrist.
That fun, frolic and togetherness seems to have been lost somewhere along the course of time thanks to the impact of technology, social media and hectic modern life.Our traditional festivals are, infact degenerating into a mere ritual and losing their charm with the young generation.No wonder, children switch over to mobiles, laptops and other gadgets as soon as the ritual of tying the raakhi is over.It is time to ponder how we can inculcate love and interest in the children for these festivals and to introspect whether more weightage should be given to the monetary value of raakhis or love, affection and sanctity of the festivals,after all festivals are about celebration of togetherness and human relations.
(The writer is serving as lecturer in English, Govt.Hr.Sec.School, Thial (Udhampur)