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Raksha Bandhan

A rakhi being tied during Raksha Bandhan

Official nameRaksha Bandhan.
Also calledRakhi, Saluno, Silono, Rakri
Observed byHindus
TypeReligious, cultural, secular
DatePurnima (full moon) of Shrawan
2017 dateMonday, 7 August (Friday, 28 July in Nepal)
2018 dateSunday, 26 August
Related toBhai Duj, Bhai Tika, Sama Chakeva

Raksha Bandhan, also Rakshabandhan,[1] or simply Rakhi, is an annual rite performed in the Indian subcontinent, or by people originating from the Indian subcontinent, and centred around the tying of a thread, talisman, or amulet on the wrist as a form of ritual protection. The protection is offered principally by sisters to brothers, but also by priests to patrons, and sometimes by individuals to real or potential benefactors. Differing versions of the rite have been traditionally performed by Hindus in northern India,[2][3][4] western India,[5]Nepal,[6] and former colonies of the British Empire to which Hindus had emigrated from India in the 19th-century, and have included, in addition, rites with names rendered as Saluno,[7][8]Silono,[9] and Rakri.[10] The rituals associated with these rites, however, have spread beyond their traditional regions and have been transformed through technology and migration,[11] the movies,[12] social interaction,[13] and promotion by politicized Hinduism,[14][15] as well as by the nation state.[16]

Raksha Bandhan is observed on the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shraavana, which typically falls in August.[17][18] On this day, sisters of all ages tie a talisman, or amulet, called the rakhi, around the wrists of their brothers, ritually protecting their brothers, receiving a gift from them in return, and traditionally investing the brothers with a share of the responsibility of their potential care.[19] The expression "Raksha Bandhan," Sanskrit, literally, "the bond of protection, obligation, or care," is now principally applied to this ritual. It has also applied to a similar ritual in which a domestic priest ties amulets, charms, or threads on the wrists of his patrons and receives gifts of money.[10][20] A ritual associated with Saluno includes the sisters placing shoots of barley behind the ears of their brothers.[7]

Of special significance to married women, Raksha Bandhan is rooted in the practice of territorial exogamy, in which a bride marries out of her natal village or town, and her parents, by custom, do not visit her in her married home.[21] In rural north India, where territorial exogamy is strongly prevalent, large numbers of married Hindu women travel back to their parents' homes every year for the ceremony.[22][23] Their brothers, who typically live with the parents or nearby, sometimes travel to their sisters' married home to escort them back. Many younger married women arrive a few weeks earlier at their natal homes and stay until the ceremony.[24] The brothers serve as lifelong intermediaries between their sisters' married- and parental homes,[25] as well as potential stewards of their security. In urban India, where families are increasingly nuclear, and marriages not always traditional, the festival has become more symbolic, but continues to be highly popular.

Among women and men who are not blood relatives, there is also a transformed tradition of voluntary kin relations, achieved through the tying of rakhi amulets, which have cut across caste and class lines,[26] and Hindu and Muslim divisions.[27] In some communities or contexts, other figures, such as a matriarch, or a person in authority, can be included in the ceremony in ritual acknowledgement of their benefaction.[28] Raksha Bandhan is also celebrated by Hindu communities in other parts of the world.[29][30] Although rooted in Hindu culture, the festival has no traditional prayers unambiguously associated with it. The religious myths claimed for it are disputed, and the historical stories associated with it considered apocryphal by some historians.[31][32] More recently, after enactment of more gender-neutral inheritance laws in India, it has been suggested that in some communities the festival has seen a resurgence of celebration, which is serving to indirectly pressure women to abstain from fully claiming their inheritance.[33]

Etymology[edit]

According to R. S. McGregor's Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary, 1993, the name of the festival, the masculine Hindi noun rakśābandhan is composed of the Sanskrit loanword rakśā, a feminine noun, which means, "protection," "preservation," or "care." and a second Sanskrit loanword bandhan, a masculine noun, which means "fastening," or "tying together."[34] According to V. S. Apte's Revised Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1957–1959, रक्षा pronounced rakṣā means, "protection," "preservation," or "guarding;"[35]बन्धन pronounced, "bandhana," means "The act of binding, fastening, tying."[36]

According to McGregor, the Hindi feminine noun, rākhī, (which is compared etymologically to rakśā described above) is a "protective talisman: a piece of thread etc., with a rosette, tied ceremoniously round a protector or patron's wrist on the full moon of the month Srāvan: especially by a sister round a brother's wrist, when the brother gives a small gift of money."[37] In contrast, Apte defines one of the secondary meaning of रक्षा (rakṣā) to be: "A piece of silk or thread fastened round the wrist on particular occasions, especially on the full-moon day of Śrāvaṇa, as an amulet or preservative; (रक्षी (rakṣī) also in this sense).[35]

According to Jack Goody, rakśābandhan is "cognate with the Sanskrit name for marriage, saṃbandhan, where the common element bandhan (Sanskrit: bandhá) refers to the act of tying. The ceremonies are complementary. Marriage (sam, reciprocally) ties spouses; rakśābandhan ties brother and sister."[38]

Regions[edit]

Scholars who have written about the ritual, have usually described the traditional region of its observance as north India; however, also included are: central India, western India and Nepal, as well other regions of India, and overseas Hindu communities such as in Fiji. Anthropologist Jack Goody, whose field study was conducted in Nandol, in Gujarat, describes Rakshabandhan as an "annual ceremony ... of northern and western India."[39] Anthropologist Michael Jackson, writes, "While traditional North Indian families do not have a Father's or Mother's Day, or even the equivalent of Valentine's Day, there is a Sister's Day, called Raksha Bandhan, ..."[40] Religious scholar J. Gordon Melton describes it as "primarily a North Indian festival."[41] Leona M. Anderson and Pamela D. Young describe it as "one of the most popular festivals of North India."[42] Anthropologist David G. Mandelbaum has described it as "an annual rite observed in northern and western India."[43] Other descriptions of primary regions are of development economist Bina Agarwal ("In Northern India and Nepal this is ritualized in festivals such as raksha-bandhan."[44]), scholar and activist Ruth Vanita ("a festival widely celebrated in north India."[27]), anthropologist James D. Faubion ("In north India this brother-sister relationship is formalized in the ceremony of 'Rakshabandhan.'"[45]), and social scientist Prem Chowdhry ("... in the noticeable revival of the Raksha Bandhan festival and the renewed sanctity is has claimed in North India."[46]).

Traditions[edit]

Anthropologist McKim Marriott in his "Little Communities in an Indigenous Civilization," (1955) describes an "Indian-wide" tradition of Rakhi-bandhan, or Raksha-bandhan, in which a priest ties charms around their patrons' wrists and receives gifts of money, and a local tradition of Saluno in Aligarh district of North India in which sisters place ears of sacred grains on the heads and behind the ears of their brother in affirmation of the brother's role as their real or potential protector.[7][47] Marriott's work also describes the field study of anthropologist Alan R. Beals in Namhalli, a village near Bangalore, who notes changes in the rakhi tradition brought on by modern technology.[47]

While Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in various parts of the Indian subcontinent, different regions mark the day in different ways.

In the state of West Bengal and Odisha, this day is also called Jhulan Purnima. Prayers and puja of Lord Krishna and Radha are performed there. Sisters tie rakhi to brothers and wish immortality. Political parties, offices, friends, schools to colleges, street to palace celebrate this day with a new hope for a good relationship.[citation needed]

In Maharashtra, the festival of Raksha Bandhan is celebrated along with Narali Poornima (coconut day festival). Kolis are the fishermen community of the coastal state. The fishermen offer prayers to Lord Varuna, the Hindu god of Sea, to invoke his blessings. As part of the rituals, coconuts were thrown into the sea as offerings to Lord Varuna. The girls and women tie rakhi on their brother's wrist, as elsewhere.[48][49]

In the regions of North India, mostly Jammu, it is a common practice to fly kites on the nearby occasions of Janamashtami and Raksha Bandhan. It's not unusual to see the sky filled with kites of all shapes and sizes, on and around these two dates. The locals buy kilometres of strong kite string, commonly called as "gattu door" in the local language, along with a multitude of kites.[citation needed]

In Haryana, in addition to celebrating Raksha Bandhan, people observe the festival of Salono.[50] Salono is celebrated by priests solemnly tying amulets against evil on people's wrists.[51] As elsewhere, sisters tie threads on brothers with prayers for their well being, and the brothers give her gifts promising to safeguard her.[52]

In Nepal, Raksha Bandhan is referred to as Janai Purnima or Rishitarpani, and involves a sacred thread ceremony. It is observed by both Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal.[53] The Hindu men change the thread they wear around their chests (janai), while in some parts of Nepal girls and women tie rakhi on their brother's wrists. The Raksha Bandhan-like brother sister festival is observed by other Hindus of Nepal during one of the days of the Tihar (or Diwali) festival.[54]

The festival is observed by the Shaiva Hindus, and is popularly known in Newar community as Gunhu Punhi.[55]

Myths and legends[edit]

The scriptures, epics of Hinduism is peppered with stories of rakhi and Raksha Bandhan. Some of these include:

Indra Dev[edit]

According to 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.[17] Sachi tied the holy thread around Indra wrist, blessed with her prayers for his well being and success. Indra successfully defeated the Bali and recovered Amaravati. This story inspired the protective power of holy thread.[56][57][58] 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.[17]

King Bali and Goddess Lakshmi[edit]

According to Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, after Vishnu won the three worlds from the demon King Bali, Bali asked Vishnu to stay with him 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 to her. 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.[59]

Santoshi Maa[edit]

Ganesha had two sons, Shubha and Labha. The two boys become frustrated that they have no sister to celebrate Raksha Bandhan with. They ask their father Ganesha for a sister, but to no avail. Finally, saint Narada appears who persuades Ganesha that a daughter will enrich him as well as his sons. Ganesha agreed, and created a daughter named Santoshi Maa by divine flames that emerged from Ganesh's wives, Riddhi (Amazing) and Siddhi (Perfection). Thereafter, Shubha Labha (literally "Holy Profit") had a sister named Santoshi Maa (literally "Goddess of Satisfaction"), to tie Rakhi over Raksha Bandhan.[60]

Krishna and Draupadi[edit]

In the epic Mahabharat, Draupadi tied a rakhi on Krishna, while Kunti tied her rakhi on her grandson Abhimanyu, before the great war.[58]

Yama and the Yamuna[edit]

According to another legend, Yama, the god of Death, had not visited his sister Yamuna for 12 years. Yamuna was sad and consulted Ganga. Ganga reminded Yama of his sister, upon which Yama visits her. Yamuna was overjoyed to see her brother, and prepared a bounty of food for Yama. The god Yama was delighted, and asked Yamuna what she wanted for a gift. She wished that he, her brother should return and see her again soon. Yama was moved by his sister's love, agreed and to be able to see her again, and made river Yamuna immortal. This legend is the basis for a Raksha Bandhan-like festival called Bhai Duj in some parts of India, which also celebrates brother-sister love, but near Diwali.[61][62]

History[edit]

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

Alexander the Great and King Puru[edit]

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.[63]

Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun[edit]

Another controversial historical account is that of Rani Karnavati of Chittor and Mughal EmperorHumayun, 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 captured 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.[64] Humayun's own memoirs never mention this, and give different reasons for his war with Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1535.[65]

This is the story included by Letitia Elizabeth Landon in her long poem The Zenana within Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1834.

Muslim commentators in modern era publications mention this story as evidence of Muslim-Hindu communal ties in the past.[66][67]

Rabindranath Tagore and the Bengal partition of 1905[edit]

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.[68] 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.[69] In parts of West Bengal, his tradition continues as people tie rakhis to their neighbors and close friends.[70]

One of Tagore's poem invoking rakhi is:[71]

The love in my body and heart
For the earth's shadow and light
Has stayed over years.

With its cares and its hope it has thrown
A language of its own
Into blue skies.

It lives in my joys and glooms
In the spring night's buds and blooms
Like a Rakhi-band
On the Future's hand.

Sikh history[edit]

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.[72][73]

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the founder and ruler of the Sikh Empire, and he observed Raksha Bandhan festival.[74] 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.[75][76]

Sikhs have observed Raksha Bandhan festival, and has sometimes been referred to as Rakhardi (literally, wristband)[77] or Rakhari in historic Sikh texts.[78][79][80] Like the Hindu tradition, the festival has involved the tying of the rakhi and giving of gifts.[81][82] An annual fair is held on Raksha Bandhan at Baba Bakala in Amritsar district.[83]

Multi-culturalism and activism[edit]

Some Muslims in India view it a secular, multicultural festival.[66] Raksha bandhan has also been adopted by the Christian community in India who view it as a festival of historical and social importance.[84]

In 2015, men tied rakhis on women seeking protection from the ‘misuse’ of section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. "Society has gone through massive changes in the last few decades and men are now considered on the same platform with women. Why should laws show a discrimination against them?" asked Amartya Talukdar, founder member of Hridaya, an NGO working for gender neutrality.[85]

See also[edit]

[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^McGregor, Ronald Stuart (1993), The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-563846-2  Quote: m Hindi rakśābandhan held on the full moon of the month of Savan, when sisters tie a talisman (rakhi q.v.) on the arm of their brothers and receive small gifts of money from them.
  2. ^Prasad, Leela (2012), "Anklets on the pyal", in Leela Prasad; Ruth B. Bottigheimer; Lalita Handoo, Gender and Story in South India, SUNY Press, p. 9, ISBN 978-0-7914-8125-7  Quote: While women-centered narratives cherish brotherly love, heroism, and chivalry (celebrated in festivals like nagapanchami in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and rakshabandhan in north India), they are all too aware of the fragility of sibling ties.
  3. ^Anderson, Leona May; Young, Pamela Dickey (2004), Women and Religious Traditions, Oxford University Press, pp. 30–31, ISBN 978-0-19-541754-8  Quote: "One of the most popular festivals in North India is the festival of Raksabandhana, observed in July or August.
  4. ^Gokulsing, K. Moti; Dissanayake, Wimal, eds. (2009), Popular Culture in a Globalised India, Routledge, p. xix, ISBN 978-1-134-02307-3  Quote: Glossary and acronyms: Raksha Bandhan: A popular Hindu festival of north India where sister ties a thread on brother's wrist, seeking protection. (page xix)"
  5. ^Goody, Jack (1990), The Oriental, the Ancient and the Primitive: Systems of Marriage and the Family in the Pre-Industrial Societies of Eurasia, Cambridge University Press, p. 222, ISBN 978-0-521-36761-5  Quote: "That relation is celebrated and epitomised in the annual ceremony of Rakshābandhan in northern and western India,"
  6. ^Agarwal, Bina (1994), A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia, Cambridge University Press, p. 264, ISBN 978-0-521-42926-9  Quote: "Brothers (even younger ones), and natal kin in general, are seen as women's potential protectors. In northern India and Nepal, this is ritualized in festivals such as raksha-bandhan (literally the tie of protection) and symbolized by sisters tying a thread (rakhi) on the brother's wrist.
  7. ^ abcMarriott, McKim (1955), "Little Communities in an Indigenous Civilization", in McKim Marriott, Village India: Studies in the Little Community, University of Chicago Press, pp. 198–202 
  8. ^Wadley, Susan S. (27 July 1994), Struggling with Destiny in Karimpur, 1925-1984, University of California Press, pp. 84, 202, ISBN 978-0-520-91433-9
A sister facing her brother, and holding a tray with rakhis.
A girl is tying a rakhi (a Rakshasutra) around her mother's wrist as part of the celebration Rakshbandhan in a village Lahree, Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Tying the rakhi on the wrist
Rakhi threads for sale in India

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