Relationships are considered very sacred since the Vedic era in India. They are a very important part of our life and form a fundamental basis for it. Our lives are very much determined by the kind of relationship we have with people. Relationships aren't just some arrangement, they are existential realities that effect us at every stage of life.
A great deal of importance has been given to relationships in India. One of the most sacred relationships is that of a brother and sister. It is one of those few relationships where the bond rises beyond mere arrangements for mutual benefits. The bond between a brother and sister is that of truth, sanctity, and unconditional love.
To celebrate the beauty and significance of this relationship, a whole festival is dedicated in India. This festival is known as Raksha Bandhan, or simply Rakhi. This is one of the widest celebrated festivals in India. You will find almost everyone with wrist full of Rakhis on this day. Let us look at this beautiful festival in a little more depth.
Significance of Rakhi: Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the last Purnima of Hindu month Shravan, also known as Rakhi Purnima. Raksha Bandhan literally means a bond of protection. Sisters tie an amulet on the wrist of their brother's hand known as Rakhi. This amulet is to mark the sacred relationship of a brother and sister. Sisters bestow their love on brothers and in return receive gifts and a promise for protection.
This festival has immense significance as far as Indian tradition and culture is concerned. Traditionally, this festival meant much more for the villages that followed strict exogamy. Such villages are still found in northern India. Parents don't visit the houses of their daughters who are generally married in other villages. Daughters also don't get chances to visit their paternal home.
They usually visit their paternal home a few days or weeks before Rakhi and stayed till that day. Brothers generally stayed with their parents, and if not, they also visited their parent's home on this occasion. Brothers acted as a string between the daughter's family and their family. But in modern society, these things are almost obsolete, and now this festival is more symbolic than relevant.
Legends behind Rakhi festival: As true with any other Hindu festival, the celebration of Raksha Bandhan also finds its origin in multiple accounts of ancient texts. Some of which are:
Krishna and Draupadi: This is the most popular legend behind rakhi and is mentioned in the great ancient epic, Mahabharata. Krishna accidentally hurt his finger with the Sudarshan Chakra. As a result, it started bleeding. Seeing this, Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas wasted no time and tore the corner of her Saari, and tied it to Krishna's finger. Touched by the love and purity of Draupadi's affection, Krishna granted her the promise of protection. Since that day, Rakhi is celebrated as a promise of protection by the brother to her sister.
Indra Dev and Sachi: This story is mentioned in Bhavishya Purana. A great battle was going on between the Devas and Asuras. Demon king Bali was giving a tough fight to Indra, who was leading the gods. Seeing all the odds against them, Indra's wife Sachi went to Lord Vishnu and asked him for help. He gave her an amulet which she tied to her husband's wrist. After that, Indra defeated the demons and successfully recovered his kingdom. In earlier times, women used to tie amulets to the hands of their husbands who went to war. However, now the amulets are tied by sisters instead of wives.
There is one more popular story mentioned in Bhagavad Purana. As per the story, lord Vishnu was asked by the demon King Bali to stay with him in the palace after He showed him his immense form. However, goddess Lakshmi wanted to return to Vaikuntha. So, She tied an amulet to king Bali and when asked for a gift in return, She asked Bali to release Vishnu from his palace.
Evolution of festival: Rakhi holds a very different meaning today than what it originally meant. Originally, Raksha Bandhan was a very auspicious festival having spiritual significance as well. On this day, the family pundits tied an amulet, on the wrists of family members, which were generally prepared using cotton or silk threads. This tradition is also mentioned in Bhavishya Purana.
In this Purana, Krishna reveals to Yudhishthira the significance of this day. He also explains to him the procedure to carry out this day in detail. So, this festival dates back to ancient India and isn't a new addition to the culture.
However, the way it is celebrated has changed significantly over time. Slowly from becoming a religious ritual, it became a symbol of love and protection. Sisters took over the position of priests and started tying the amulets to their brothers. As mentioned earlier, this festival held immense prominence for daughters as they could visit their paternal homes.
Slowly that tradition is also coming to an end. Movies and pop culture has greatly influenced the way rakhi is perceived and celebrated today. It has almost lost its spiritual significance completely. People have devised new ways to celebrate rakhi and have also used the festival as a means to accomplish various interests.
Summary: Rakhi is a festival of immense prominence. The auspicious relationship of a brother and sister is reaffirmed on this day with a seal of love and purity. It is not a mere exchange of words and gifts. It is an exchange of the feeling of love, of the promise of protection, and the bond of purity.