One of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus in India and Nepal, Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi, when compared to other Hindu festivals like Diwali and Holi, is relatively free from all the pomp and show. It celebrates the sacredness of the bond between a brother and sister.
Unlike most festivals, Rakhi does not really have a mythological significance. Neither there is a clear information about the origin of the festival. Though celebrated primarily by brothers and sisters, there are many homes where a daughter ties a Rakhi on her father’s wrist or a student on a teacher’s wrist.
Interestingly, though there has been no mention of Raksha Bandhan as a festival celebrated on a regular basis in the Hindu mythology, there have been instances of numerous people tying the sacred thread numerous times in Indian history.
Before being established as a festival that celebrates the brother-sister bond, Rakhi was originally about a relationship between a protector and the protected.
There are several legends and stories that will remind you that it does not matter whether you have a brother or a sister — or both or none — you can celebrate it with anyone you wish!
Goddess Laxmi and King Bali
This tale from mythology speaks of the use of sacred thread. According to this tale, once Lord Vishnu, pleased with King Bali because of his devotion, promised to guard his kingdom and left Vaikunth, his abode.
When he did not return for some time, Goddess Laxmi went to King Bali’s palace disguising herself as an old woman. She started living in King Bali’s palace and tied a thread on his wrist one day. When King Bali asked what she wanted in return, she asked for Lord Vishnu. King Bali kept his promise and asked Lord Vishnu to return to Vaikuntha.
Draupadi and Krishna
The legend associated with Mahabharata is one of the more well-known ones about Rakhi. Draupadi was Lord Krishna’s childhood friend and was once visiting him when he cut his finger and started bleeding. While his wives sent for the servants, Draupadi simply tore an end of her veil and tied it around his finger, effectively stopping the bleeding.
Moved by this act, Lord Krishna vowed to protect her and fulfilled his promise in the immortalised way. When Draupadi was ordered to be disrobed in the court of Dhritarashtra, after the Pandavas lost her to Duryodhana in a game of dice, she prayed to Lord Krishna for protection. When Dushasana tried to disrobe Draupadi, the garment she was wearing kept getting extended as Krishna protected her modesty.
Roxana and Puru
When Alexander invaded India in 326 BC, he got resistance from an Indian prince Puru, or Porus. According to a legend, Alexander’s wife Roxana sent a sacred thread to Puru, the ruler of a region of Punjab, to spare Alexander’s life.
To honour his promise, Puru refused to kill Alexander even when he had a chance to. Eventually, Puru was defeated by Alexander but he was very impressed with his skills and tactics that he gave him his kingdom back. Puru, later in his life, became a devoted supporter of Alexander.
Emperor Humayun and Queen Karnavati
Arguably among the most well-known legends associated with Rakhi, most people are aware of this story. Queen Karnavati, after the death of her husband, was ruling Mewar in the name of her son.
When Bahadur Shah of Gujarat attacked Mewar, she asked Mughal Emperor Humayun to help her by sending him a Rakhi. Unfortunately, Humayun arrived late and the queen had already committed Jauhar by then. The Emperor, though heartbroken, fulfilled his promise by giving the throne to Karnavati’s son.
Rabindranath Tagore and Partition of Bengal
During the nineteenth century when Bengal was the centre of the nationalistic movement, the British Viceroy Lord Curzon decided to divide Bengal. The year was 1905. This decision was criticised by many eminent Indians including Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
He asked all Hindus and Muslims to get together and tie Rakhi on each other’s wrists for harmony. On his request, millions of Hindus and Muslims got together and tied Rakhi.
After six years of widespread protest by both the communities, the decision to divide Bengal was withdrawn in 1911, before it was eventually partitioned on religious line again in 1947. This practice of tying Rakhi is still celebrated in some parts of Bengal, especially Shantiniketan, where people are continuing with the tradition.