Raksha Bandhan, also known as Rakhi Purnima, is celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Shravana (July- August). It is an occasion when women tie Rakhi or amulet on the wrists of their brothers. The word `Raksha` means protection. In scriptures, Raksha Bandhan is described as the `Punya Pradayak`. It represents the day that bestows boons to the generous `Vish Tarak` (the destroyer of venom or the vicious) and `Pap Nashak` (the destroyer of sins).
Origin of Raksha Bandhan
Raksha Bandhan has a historical background. About 3000 B.C. ago Aryans
entered India through the north-western passes and settled in north-western India. They brought with them their traditional custom, Raksha Bandhan. It was a tradition among the Aryans to have a `Yajna` (sacrificial ceremony) before a war to invoke God`s blessing for protection and security. Before the men departed for the battlefield the women-folk tied an anointed sacred thread or amulet. This is how the custom of Raksha Bandhan originated.
Evolution of Rakhsha Bandhan
Later, different ethnic tribes entered India, each with its own traditional customs. This led to a fusion of Aryan and Non-Aryan customs. Consequently, new and modified forms of the various customs came to be followed. In the middle ages, especially in Rajasthan
, it was practised both for imperial alliance and matrimonial alliance. The Sultan of Malwah attacked Marwar and then the Queen of Marwar sent a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun
, to accept her as his sister and to come to her aid. Humayun accepted and responded to her gesture. When he came to Mewar and protected her against the Sultan of Malwah, that particular day of Purnima was celebrated as Raksha Bandhan in Marwar and then all over Rajasthan and, finally, throughout India. This probably was the beginning of a cross-religious observance of this festival. And, even today a lot of non-Hindus follow the custom of Raksha Bandhan.
A popular legend mentions this custom when Alexander invaded India. When Porus, the King of the Punjab, was in a battle with Alexander, the following day was the full moon day of Raksha Bandhan. Porus`s wife visited Alexander secretly and tied a Rakhi on his wrist. Since, Alexander knew of the custom, he asked him to spare the life of her husband, so that she would not become a widow. Alexander gave his word and when the following day Porus was defeated on the battlefield, Alexander spared his life.
Celebration of Raksha Bandhan
Raksha Bandhan is primarily a North and West Indian Festival but is celebrated in other parts of India as well. The Rakhi Purnima is important in more than one way and it is celebrated differently throughout the country. It is called Avani Avittam in South India and it is an important day for the Brahmins. They first take a holy bath and then remove their holy thread (Janeyu) and put on a new one while chanting the Vedic mantras. They take the pledge of Brahmanic rites given in the holy books. The Janeyu or Yagyopavit is a thread of three rounds and represents the vow for adherence to Vedic culture
, observance of Hindu traditions and service to humanity. The ceremony is called Shravani or Rishi Tarpan or Vpa Karma. This ceremony signifies the cleansing of the mind of all-evil. It holds special significance for the Brahmins and for people of higher castes. It is observed in West Bengal
and Southern India. After the ceremony, sweets
made from coconut, like coconut-burfi and sweet coconut rice
, are served.
In North India, Rakhi Purnima is called Kajri Purnima or Kajri Navami. It is a season when wheat or barley is sown. Farmers worship Goddess Bhagwati for a good crop. It is called Saluno in Haryana
. In Gujarat, on the Rakhi Purnima, they offer water and pray to Lord Shiva
for forgiveness. In one ceremony known as Pavitropana, a few twisted filaments of cotton are soaked in panchagaivya (mixture of cow`s ghee, milk, curd, urine and cow-dung). Then, these filaments are fastened around a Shivalinga.
Main celebrations are fairs held at some waterfronts and ceremonial bathing. Such revelry is observed prominently in Maharashtra and Gujarat, where the Sea-god Varuna is main object of worship, for all those who depend on the sea for their livelihood. People gather at the beach and offer nariyal (coconuts) to the sea-god. Coconut has three eyes and is believed to represent the three-eyed god, Lord Shiva. Coconut plays a prominent role in all religious offerings. When embarking upon any new enterprise, coconut is broken before the family deity, the coconut-water is splashed on the idol and pieces of coconut are distributed. Hence, the day is called Narial Purnima. This is a full-moon night and coconuts are offered to the sea to appease its fury. It marks the end of heavy monsoon and after the Narial Puja, fisherman go out fishing. People living far from the seacoast offer coconuts to rivers, lakes and tanks.
Hindu married women gather together, eat and enjoy, play games, sing and dance and put kumkum tilak on each others forehead as symbols of good luck. Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi, the more popular of the two festivals is a sister`s day when brothers and sisters reaffirm their bonds of affections. Sisters tie colourful threads or Rakhis on their brother`s wrists. The brothers in turn promise to protect their sisters and give them gifts. The value of these gifts is not counted in material wealth but is symbolic. These Rakhis range from simple threads to expensive gold-plated jewellery. Those families in which the relation of brother and sister is missing, they recruit `brothers and sisters` amongst family friends and relatives just for the sake of taking part in this celebration.