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Importance of Rakhi Festival in India

>> Saturday, August 7, 2010

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The festival of Rakshabandhan or the Rakhi festival as it is colloquially called, is just around the corner, and will be celebrated on 5 August 2009 in India and in many parts of the world. On the occasion of Rakshabandhan, sisters tie a rakhi on their brother’s wrist as a symbol of fondness and sisterly affection towards them. Rakshabandhan actually means a bond of protection, so the brother vows to protect his sister from harm that could befall her. He also showers her with gifts in return and later in the day, the entire family gathers around for a feast.

Significance of Raksha Bandhan:
This occasion has a deep and relevant meaning carried forward to this day from ancient times in India, which symbolizes the fondness that a sister has for her brother and the value of family ties. At the same time, this festival has a profound social message for all responsible individuals that they should live in harmonious coexistence as brothers and sisters in society.

The occasion of Rakshabandhan strives to drive home the message that men and women, both young and old should learn to cultivate pious feelings for each other. At the same time, this occasion espouses the nurturing of noble thoughts and developing brotherly and sisterly feelings and affection for each other in society.

History of Raksha Bandhan:
Although it is not clearly known when the rakhi festival originated, it seems to have its roots in the ancient rituals of India. Rakhi history is entwined in the antiquity of this ancient nation. According to certain beliefs, the custom of Rakshabandhan could have originated from the practice of wearing the yagnopavitam (sacred thread).

According to another story, Lord Indra, who is the ruler of the heavens, was on the verge of losing a battle against the demon Vritta after a twelve year long war. At this stage, Indira’s wife Shachi tied a rakhi around Indira’s wrist, thus ensuring victory.

Another account from recent history has it that Rajput and Maratha queens have sent rakhis to Mughal kings for their protection. A famous account is the story of Queen Padmini of Chittor, who sent a rakhi to Emperor Humayun for protection from the invasion of Sultan Allaudin Khilji.

According to another legend, Lord Yama, the God of death, had a sister called Yamuna. It was customary of Yamuna to tie a rakhi on her brother’s wrist on every Sharavan Purnima. Since then, it became an accepted norm for sisters to tie a rakhi on their brother’s wrist.

Yet another account has it that Draupadi had tied a strip of her sari to Krishna’s finger to stop bleeding when he hurt himself by hurling the Sudarshan Chakra against Shishupala. Later when Draupadi was subjected to utter humiliation by the Kauravas, Krishna came forward and protected her from the disgrace.

There are many other legends in Indian folklore that mention about sisters tying rakhis to their brothers. Though rakhi history is uncertain with respect to when this tradition actually started, In modern times, it has gained tremendous acceptance and is joyfully celebrated in all parts of the country and by the Indian Diaspora around the world.

The Celebratory mood of Raksha Bandhan:
In the modern times, the rakhi festival is celebrated with much gaiety and joy. The occasion displays both modern outlook and a traditional appeal. Around twenty days to a month before the occasion, stalls and stores all around the country are lit up brightly and are stocked with colourful and pretty looking rakhis of various varieties that appeal to people of all ages. People are in an exuberant mood and go shopping to buy for new clothes and other favorite items.

Children look especially excited as they look forward to buying rakhis that are especially designed for them. With comic strip characters and cartoon motifs such as spiderman, batman, krish, pokemon, and others, these rakhis are a delight to see.

Grown ups get to choose from a wide variety of splendid and gorgeous looking rakhis such as colourful thread rakhis, zari rakhis, zardosi rakhis, bhaiya bhabhi rakhis, silver, gold, and pearl rakhis, floral rakhis, fancy rakhis, bead rakhis, and many others.

The Occasion:
On the day of the rakhi festival, the tying of the rakhi usually involves a small formal ceremony in which the sister lights a ‘diya’ in a brass or copper ‘thali’ that also includes other auspicious objects like a copper kalash, coconut, some rice grains, sandalwood, marigold flowers, sweets, and incense sticks. The centre of the thali is usually decorated with a swastika – the symbol of eternity.

A small statue of Ganesha is also usually included. After the lighting of the diya as a mark of auspiciousness, the sister usually recites a small prayer for the long life and blessings for her brother, and then proceeds to tie a rakhi on her brother’s wrist. In return, the brother showers her with gifts and a small token of money along with reciting a vow to protect her from evil and harm. This small ceremony is usually followed by a get together and a traditional family banquet is arranged. A variety of traditional recipes are prepared on this day and the entire family partakes in the feast.

With the emergence of the 21st century, a lot of modern themes have been adopted as part of Rakshabandhan, but the timeless message that Rakshabandhan conveys will remain for ever.

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