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Why is Raksha Bandhan so special?


The beauty of Indian culture with all its festivals, customs, rituals, traditions and deep philosophy is designed to nurture relationships. The importance of relationship is amply demonstrated and stressed as foremost in its Indian scheme of living ~ be it the relationship of parent-child, teacher-student, husband-wife, brother-sister, humans-other beings, mankind-universe and even the primary relationship between man and GOD.

There is a festival, tradition, custom, ritual and social practice for each of these relationships. Also, there is a specific name for each relationship along with a role prescription. There is a different name for each relation in an Indian family. A ‘kaka’ is different to a ‘Mama’ or ‘Masa’ and a ‘Jeth’ is different to a ‘Devar’ yet they are all ‘uncles’ to a child. Watch the teleserial ‘Yeh Rishta kya kahelalata hai’ on Star Plus and you will know about the names of these different Indian relationships. The Indian literature and legends abound with examples of such relationships and role-models.

The entire gamut of relationships is thus systematized in the Indian family system. Customs like the Raksha Bandhan is just proof of that, where sisters tie the sacred Rakhi thread on their brothers’ right wrists and pray for their long life. ‘Raksha’ means ‘protection’ and ‘bandhan’ means ‘bond’ making this a unique festival in India which glorifies all relationships, especially that of a special brother-sister relationship. On this day brothers and sisters reach out to show their love, affection, care, respect and togetherness to strengthen the emotional bonding of the family. This inimitable custom has become a festival emphasizing that everybody should live in harmonious coexistence with each other.

A Sanskrit subhashita (saying) highlights this harmonious relationship when it expands:

“This person is my kin and that one is alien,” such a thought occurs only to the narrow-minded people. To the broad-minded persons the whole world is a family.”

The bond of brother and sister is so engrained in Indian culture that we don’t hesitate to call an unknown lady as ‘Behenji’ or call a man ‘Bhai saab’. Sometimes the suffix ‘bhai’ is part of the name for people from certain regions of India.

This custom is celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan in India and this year it falls on 5th August. The shravan month is a pious month and a full moon in this month is considered very holy. It is celebrated in different ways for different reasons in east, west, north and south of India. In the west, this festival is known as Nariyal Purnima marking the beginning of the fishing season.

In the south this festival is called Avani Avittam – an important day for the Brahmins where they change their holy thread (upav?ta) taking a vow to perform their duties with good conduct as prescribed in the Vedas. In the north, it is called Kajri Purnima or Kajri Navami, when wheat or barley is sown and prayers are done by farmers to seek mother earth’s blessings for a good crop. In the east, the ‘Rakhi Utsava’ is continued till date by the students of the universal school Shanti Niketan School, as it was initiated by the great Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. But mainly this festival is where siblings show their love and affection by tying a sacred thread of protection.

Raksha bandhan in the past…

The tradition of thread (rakhi) tying still continues though it originates from legends that goes back to thousands of years. The Raksha Bandhan custom finds mention in the great epics and the Puranic literature. Historically the same customs were practiced as mentioned in the Bhavishya Purana; in the story of King Bali and Goddess Lakshmi and that of Yama and the Yamuna; in the Mahabharata epic where Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas tied rakhi to her grandson Abhimanyu and where Draupadi to Lord Krishna. In the medieval period Rani Karnavati of Chittor sent a rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun when she was threatened by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and it so happened that Humayun came to her rescue abandoning an ongoing military campaign.

This delicate and artistic thread of Rakhi is thus considered stronger and symbolic of the indissoluble bond of love and trust between a brother and sister. Relationships are an important part of life that needs to be treasured.

Our relationships with others are like bridges and we can’t afford to burn those bridges. This bond (bandhan) of protection (Raksha) is only to reinforce this bridge from time to time. We ‘protect’ a thing only if we ‘value’ it. As the famous quote by Anthony J. D’Angelo goes: “The most important things in life aren’t things”, relationships are certainly the treasures in this world.

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