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Raksha Bandhan – Thread of Love

In Hindu custom and culture the expression of love and devotion is done through the means of celebration called festivals. There are more than hundreds of festivals celebrated yearly throughout the Indian states.  One of such festival which is celebrated in the month of SHRAVAN when the full moon is formed (called Poornima) is Raksha Bandhan.  Raksha Bandhan is celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters; the festival is also popularly used to celebrate any brother-sister like loving protective relationship between men and women who are relatives or biologically unrelated. It is called Rakhi Purnima, or simply Rakhi, in many parts of India. The festival is observed by Hindus, Jains, and many Sikhs.  Raksha Bandhan is primarily observed in India, Mauritius and parts of Nepal. It is also celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs in parts of Pakistan, and by some people of Indian origin around the world.

Raksha Bandhan has many myths & historic legends linked to its existence For example, the Rajput queens practised the custom of sending rakhi threads to neighbouring rulers as token of brotherhood.  On Raksha Bandhan, sisters tie a rakhi (sacred thread) on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her. According to Hindu scripture Bhavishya Purana, in the war between Gods and demons, Indra – the deity of sky, rains and thunderbolts – was disgraced by the powerful demon King Bali. Indra’s wife Sachi consulted Vishnu, who gave her a bracelet made of cotton thread, calling it holy. Sachi tied the holy thread around Indra wrist, blessed with her prayers for his well being and success. Indra successfully defeated the evil and recovered Amaravati. This story inspired the protective power of holy thread. The story also suggests that the Raksha Bandhan thread in ancient India were amulets, used by women as prayers and to guard men going to war, and that these threads were not limited to sister-brother like relationships. According to the another legend, credited to Hindu scriptures Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Vishnu won the three worlds from the demon King Bali, he was asked by Bali that Vishnu live in his palace, a request Vishnu granted. Vishnu’s wife, Goddess Lakshmi did not like the palace or his new found friendship with Bali, and preferred that her husband and she return to Vaikuntha. So she went to Bali, tied a Rakhi and made him a brother. Bali asked her what gift she desired. Lakshmi asked that Vishnu be freed from the request that he live in Bali’s palace. Bali consented, as well accepted her as his sister.

Rakhi-Picture

The custom been carried over by the generation has taken the modern shape today with lots of modifications in the type of thread sisters ties to their brothers varies from simple cotton thread to the Rakhi made from pure gold with domonds used to decorate it. The market of Rakhi is one of the biggest in India at the time of festival. Days or weeks before Raksha Bandhan, women shop for Rakhi, the ceremonial thread to tie around her brother’s (or brother-like friend’s) wrist. Some women make their own Rakhi.  A Rakhi may be a simple thread, woven and colorful; or a Rakhi may be intricate with amulets and decoration on top of it. Sometimes, a Rakhi may be a wrist watch or men’s wrist accessory in the form of bracelet or jewelry. Rakhi in the form of a colorful woven thread is most common. Typically the brother(s) too shop for gifts for the sister, ahead of Raksha Bandhan. The gift from the brother can be a simple thoughtful token of love, and may be more elaborate.

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The Ritual starts in the morning of Raksha Bandhan, the brothers and sisters  get together, often in nice dress in the presence of surviving parents, grandparents and other family members. If the sister and brother are geographically separated, the sister may mail the Rakhi ahead of the Raksha Bandhan day, along with a greeting card or letter wishing her brother well. The ritual typically begins in front of a lighted lamp (diya) or candle, which signifies fire deity. The sister and brother face each other. The sister ties the Rakhi on her brother’s wrist. Once the Rakhi has been tied, the sister says a prayer for the well being – good health, prosperity and happiness – for her brother. This ritual sometimes involves an aarti, where a tray with lighted lamp or candle is ritually rotated around the brother’s face, along with the prayer and well wishes.

The brother gives his sister  gifts such as cards, clothes, money or something thoughtful. The brother may also feed his sister, with his hands, one or more bites of sweets, dry fruits and other seasonal delicacies. They hug, and the larger family ritually congratulate the festive celebration of brother-sister love and protection. The brother(s) wear the Rakhi for the entire day, at school or work, as a reminder of their sister  and to mark the festival of Raksha Bandhan.

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