Festivals are the cornerstone of Bharatiya culture. Shravani or Raksha Bandhan has an important place in these festivals. The festival, which has been prevalent since the Vedic era, establishes and restores education, health, beauty and cultural values. It is also celebrated as Sankalp Parv to atone for and protect values of life. This is the basis of the happiness and prosperity of life. Raksha Bandhan is observed on the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shravan, which typically falls in August month of Gregorian Calendar. The word “Raksha Bandhan” in Sanskrit literally means “the bond of protection, obligation, or care,”.
There are two major festivals which are celebrated on the day of Shravani Purnima-Shravani or Upakarma and Raksha Bandhan. Raksha Bandhan means to be bound to protect. The sutra symbolizes the identity of holy love, the unbreakable faith of the brother and sister. This festival of Rakhi is also known as Rakhadi, Saloni, Shravani and many other names.
There are many stories about this festival. It is believed that when the deities continued to be defeated in the Devasura war, Indra expressed his desire to conquer with his Guru Brahaspati and prayed for a solution. Devguru Brahaspati made rakhi of aak fibres on the day of Shravan Purnima and tied it on Indra’s wrist. This defence shield proved to be a boon. Thus, Brahaspati, who tied the first raksha sutra in human culture, was established as Devguru. From then on, the practice of tying the defence thread started.
It was on this day when Indra’s wife Sachi tied a raksha sutra on his arm he was about sent off for the Devasura war. This thread was a symbol of belief and faith. Faith flourished and Indra returned victorious. In ancient times, the wives of warriors used to tie raksha sutras and send them to the battlefield so that they could return victorious. According to another version, God Vamana had obtained Dakshina on the same day by tying a thread for protection to King Bali. In fact, in exchange for this raw thread of Rakhi, Lord Krishna saved the dignity of Draupadi’ by making Draupadi’s saree inexhaustible and unlimited. This can be called the sacred thread and sacred relationship of the brothers and sisters and this is where raksha bandhan came into vogue. The punya tradition appears in various forms in the ancient , medieval and present times.
In the chapter 137 of the Uttara Parva of the Bhavishya Purana, in which God Krishna describes to Yudhishthira the ritual of having a raksha (protection) sutra tied to his right wrist by the royal priest (the rajpurohit) on the purnima (full moon day) of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shravan). In the crucial passage, God Krishna says,
“Parth (applied to any of the three sons of Kunti (also, Pritha), in particular, Yudhishthira): When the sky is covered with clouds, and the earth dark with new, tender, grass, in that very Shravan month’s full moon day, at the time of sunrise, according to remembered convention, a Brahmin should take a bath with perfectly pure water. He should also according to his ability, offer libations of water to the gods, to the paternal ancestors, as prescribed by the Vedas for the task required to be accomplished before the study of the Vedas, to the sages, and as directed by the gods carry out and bring to a satisfactory conclusion the shradh ceremony to honour the deceased. It is commended that a Shudra should also make a charitable offering, and take a bath accompanied by the mantras. That very day, in the early afternoon (between noon and 3 PM) it is commended that a small parcel (bundle or packet) be prepared from a new cotton or silk cloth and adorned with whole grains of rice or barley, small mustard seeds, and red ocher powder, and made exceedingly wondrous, be placed in a suitable dish or receptacle. … the purohit should bind this packet on the king’s wrist with the words,’I am binding raksha (protection) to you with the same true words with which I bound Mahabali King of the Asuras. Always stay firm in resolve.’ In the same manner as the king, after offering prayers to the Brahmins, the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras should conclude their Raksha Bandhan ceremony.”
Rakshabandhan is one of the six festivals celebrated by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
While Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in various parts of South Asia, different regions mark the day in different ways.
In the state of West Bengal, this day is also called Jhulan Purnima. Prayers and puja of Lord Krishna and Radha are performed there. Sisters tie rakhi to brothers and wish immortality. Political parties, offices, friends, schools to colleges, street to palace celebrate this day with a new hope for a good relationship.
In Maharashtra, among the Koli community, the festival of Raksha Bandhan/Rakhi Pournima is celebrated along with Narali Pournima (coconut day festival). Kolis are the fishermen community of the coastal state. The fishermen offer prayers to Lord Varuna, the Hindu god of Sea, to invoke his blessings. As part of the rituals, coconuts were thrown into the sea as offerings to Lord Varuna. The girls and women tie rakhi on their brother’s wrist, as elsewhere.
In the regions of North Bharat, mostly Jammu, it is a common practice to fly kites on the nearby occasions of Janmashtami and Raksha Bandhan. It’s not unusual to see the sky filled with kites of all shapes and sizes, on and around these two dates. The locals buy kilometres of strong kite string, commonly called as “gattu door” in the local language, along with a multitude of kites.
In Haryana, in addition to celebrating Raksha Bandhan, people observe the festival of Salono. Salono is celebrated by priests solemnly tying amulets against evil on people’s wrists. As elsewhere, sisters tie threads on brothers with prayers for their well being, and the brothers give her gifts promising to safeguard her.
In Nepal, Raksha Bandhan is referred to as Janai Purnima or Rishitarpani, and involves a sacred thread ceremony. It is observed by both Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal. The Hindu men change the thread they wear around their chests (janai), while in some parts of Nepal girls and women tie rakhi on their brother’s wrists. The Raksha Bandhan-like brother sister festival is observed by other Hindus of Nepal during one of the days of the Tihar (or Diwali) festival.
Anderson, Leona May; Young, Pamela Dickey (2004), Women and Religious Traditions, Oxford University Press
Apte, V. S. (1959) The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary, Poona: Prasad Prakashan
Melton, J. Gordon (2011), Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations, ABC-CLIO.
Sangh Utsav, Suruchi Prakashan, New Delhi