At a time when India is witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases, festivals remind us of the good times and help us take our mind off health issues which have battered mankind in the last four-five months.
As the country celebrates Raksha Bandhan on August 3, it’s the right time to take a look at the concept and sentiment behind the festival, which highlights the cultural beauty and integrity of India.
Raksha Bandhan has a multifarious association with mythology, history and our colonial past. Here’s a collection at the legends of Rakhi from different eras:
Rakhi and the colonial past Of India
In 1905, when the Partition of Bengal divided the nation, Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore started Rakhi Mahotsavas to celebrate Raksha Bandhan and strengthen the bond of love and togetherness between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal. He also urged them to protest against the British. The partition may have divided the state, but his tradition continues in parts of West Bengal, with people tying rakhi on neighbours and close friends’ wrists.
Tagore penned the following as symbolism of Raksha Bandhan:
“Our pre-destined identity
You boast of the strength to slice across!
Are you that mighty?
Our wreck or salvage plight,
All in your hands, so you think!
Your arrogance at its height!”
Rakhi and the history of India
When Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BC, his wife Roxana sent Porus, the king of the Pauravas, a sacred thread and asked him not to harm her husband on the battlefield. In the Battle of the Hydaspes, when Porus saw the rakhi on his own wrist, he restrained himself from attacking Alexander. Even though Porus lost the battle, he won Alexander’s respect and honour, who not only reinstated him as satrap (governor) of his own kingdom, but also granted him dominion over lands to the south-east extending until the Hyphasis (Beas).
After the death of her husband Rana Sanga, queen Karnavati, became the official of Mewar and ruled it in the name of her elder son Vikramjeet. When Bahadur Shah of Gujarat attacked Mewar for the second time, the queen began looking for support from other kingdoms. Karnavati at the time wrote to Mughal Humayun for help, sending him a rakhi and sought protection. Despite Humayun’s father Babar defeating Rana Sanga in 1527, and the Mughal emperor himself being in the middle of another military campaign, he abandoned everything to pay attention to Mewar to help Karnavati.
The Mughal emperor was heartbroken when he couldn’t make it on time. The Rajput army was defeated in Chittor, and Rani Karnavati immolated herself in the Rajput custom of Jauhar. Later, Humayun restored the kingdom to Karnavati’s son, Vikramjit.
Rakhi and the epic of India
One of the most popular Indian mythology legends is that of Lord Krishna and Draupadi – wife of the five Pandavas. On Makar Sankranti, as Krishna bled profusely after cutting his little finger, Draupadi cut off a part of the loose end of her sari and tied it on his finger. Krishna then promised to protect her. Krishna helping Draupadi was immortalised in mythology. At her unceremonious cheerharan (disrobing), her sari keeps getting extended, which is how he answers her call for help.
Rakhi and the mythology of India
Do you know that the first raksha bandhan was celebrated by husband and wife?
It sounds surprising, but the essence of this festival first came into existence when during a war between the Devas and the Asuras (demons), Lord Krishna asked Lord Indra’s wife to tie a protective thread on the wrist of Lord Indra. This happened on the day of shravan poornima and the day is celebrated as Raksha Bandhan from then on.
When Yama, the God of Death, did not visit his sister Yamuna, the river goddess sought help from river Ganga for 12 years. Upon a reminder about his sister by Ganga, Yama decided to visit Yamuna. Being overjoyed by her brother’s arrival, Yamuna prepared a bountiful feast for Yama and tied a rakhi on his wrist. Delighted, he asked his sister what she wanted as a gift. All she wished for was her brother to visit her soon. Moved by his sister’s love, he blessed her with eternal life, and so Yamuna, the longest and the second-largest tributary of river Ganga, flows tirelessly today.
From a simple sacred thread called kalawa, to modern-day e-rakhis sent to brothers staying in different citiesd, the tradition continues in present-day India with full swing and fervour. Raksha Bandhan celebrations may have drastically evolved from the Vedic era but it continues to strengthen the bond even in present times.