Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan, or simply Rakhi is a Hindu festival, celebrated in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, notably India and Nepal. Raksha bandhan means “bond of protection”. It is observed on the full moon day of the Hindu luni-solar calendar month of Shravana, which typically falls in Gregorian calendar month of August.

 

The festival celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters. It is also popularly used to celebrate any brother-sister type of relationship between men and women who may or may not be biologically related. On Raksha Bandhan, a sister ties a rakhi (sacred thread) on her brother’s wrist with a prayer for his prosperity and happiness. This symbolizes the sister’s love. The brother gives her a token gift and a promise to protect her.

Raksha Bandhan is primarily observed on the Indian subcontinent. It is also celebrated by some Jains and Sikhs, and by Hindu communities in other parts of the world.

The festival is also observed by Jains as a religious festival, wherein Jain priests give threads to devotees. Raksha Bandhan has been an important tradition in the history of Sikhism as well, sometimes referred to as Rakhardi or Rakhari.

In the modern era, rakhabandhan is also a type of brotherhood where people from other communities are tied Rakhi. In a notable culture, it was first started by Rabindranath Tagore to promote love between Hindus and Muslims. Till now, it is practiced in many places and particularly in West Bengal.

Raksha Bandhan in Sanskrit literally means “the tie or knot of protection”. The word Raksha means protection, while Bandhan is the verb to tie. It is an ancient Hindu festival that ritually celebrates the love and duty between brothers and their sisters.

The sister performs a rakhi ceremony, then prays to express her love and her wish for the well being of her brother; in return, the brother ritually pledges to protect and take care of his sister under all circumstances. It is one of the several occasions in which family ties are affirmed in India.

The festival is also an occasion to celebrate brother-sister like family ties between cousins or distant family members, sometimes between biologically unrelated men and women. To many, the festival transcends biological family, brings together men and women across religions, diverse ethnic groups and ritually emphasizes harmony and love. It is observed in the Hindu calendar month of ?r?va?a, and typically falls in August every year.

Raksha Bandhan is an ancient festival of the Indian subcontinent, and its history dates back thousands of years.

Alexander the Great and King Puru

According to one legendary narrative, when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BCE, Roxana (or Roshanak, his wife) sent a sacred thread to Porus, asking him not to harm her husband in battle.

In accordance with tradition, Porus, the king of Kaikeya kingdom, gave full respect to the rakhi. In the Battle of the Hydaspes, when Porus saw the rakhi on his own wrist and restrained himself from attacking Alexander personally.

Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun

Another controversial historical account is that of Rani Karnavati of Chittor and Mughal Emperor Humayun, which dates to 1535 CE. When Rani Karnavati, the widowed queen of the king of Chittor, realised that she could not defend against the invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a rakhi to Emperor Humayun.

The Emperor, according to one version of the story, set off with his troops to defend Chittor. He arrived too late, and Bahadur Shah had already sacked the Rani’s fortress.

Alternative accounts from the period, including those by historians in Humayun’s Mughal court, do not mention the rakhi episode and some historians have expressed skepticism whether it ever happened.

Humayun’s own memoirs never mention this, and give different reasons for his war with Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1535.

Muslim commentators in modern era publications mention this story as evidence of Muslim-Hindu communal ties in the past.

Rabindranath Tagore and the Bengal partition of 1905

Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Nobel Laureate for literature, invoked Raksha Bandhan and rakhi as concepts to inspire love, respect and a vow of mutual protection between Hindus and Muslims during India’s colonial era.

In 1905, the British empire divided Bengal, a province of British India on the basis of religion. Rabindra Nath Tagore arranged a ceremony to celebrate Raksha Bandhan to strengthen the bond of love and togetherness between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal, and urge them to together protest the British empire. He used the idea of Raksha Bandhan to spread the feeling of brotherhood.

In 1911, British colonial empire reversed the partition and unified Bengal, a unification that was opposed by Muslims of Bengal. Ultimately, Tagore’s Raksha Bandhan-based appeals were unsuccessful.

Bengal not only was split during the colonial era, one part became modern Bangladesh and predominantly Muslim country, the other a largely Hindu Indian state of West Bengal.

Rabindranath Tagore started Rakhi Mahotsavas as a symbol of Bengal unity, and as a larger community festival of harmony.In parts of West Bengal, his tradition continues as people tie rakhis to their neighbors and close friends.

Sikh history

In the 18th century, states Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Sikh Khalsa armies introduced the term Rakhi (Raksha Bandhan) as a promise of protection to farmers from Muslim armies such as those of the Mughals and Afghans, in exchange for sharing a small cut of their produce.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the founder and ruler of the Sikh Empire, and he observed Raksha Bandhan festival.

His wife Maharani Jindan sent a Rakhi to the ruler of Nepal, who accepted her as sister and gave her refuge in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal in 1849 after the collapse of the Sikh Empire and annexation of its territories by the British.

Sikhs have observed Raksha Bandhan festival, and has sometimes been referred to as Rakhardi (literally, wristband)or Rakhari in historic Sikh texts.Like the Hindu tradition, the festival has involved the tying of the rakhi and giving of gifts.

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