One of the most respected and awaited festivals of India, Raksha Bandhan celebrates the brother-sister relationship - a close and pure bond. As per Indian tradition it has always been maintained that it is the duty of the men of the family to provide protection to the women, specifically the brothers to the sisters. To symbolize this, the sister ties a piece of thread, Rakhi, onto her brother's wrist. The brother gracefully acknowledges this and promises to be there to protect his sister against harm always. The sister then prays to God to shower his blessings on both of them.
This auspicious day is celebrated in many states of India, with different names and ways. It is celebrated as Avani Avittam in South India and in Bundelkhand it is also known as Kajri purnima and in Maharashtra it is celebrated as Narali Purnima- a festival special for fisher folks.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of each Indian festival is the mouthwatering food that is served on such special occasions. The day of Raksha Bandhan is feast time for the brothers as their favourite dishes adorn the dining table. Scrumptious food like burfis, mithais, pakoras and pancakes are generally prepared for this day. Top of the list are a variety of sweets. When the sister performs the aarti it is customary to offer something sweet to the brother.
In Maharashtra, on Narli Purnima the coconut preparations like Nariyal Barfi or Karanji are prepared as sweets. On this day in South India, different types of Payasams are served as special desserts. In Rajasthan, a filigreed delicacy called Ghevar is usually prepared during Rakhi festival.
Along with sweets a delectable meal is also served to double the joy of occasion. Let’s celebrate Rakhi with some delicious food. If you are confused what to prepare on this day, why not try this rakhi special recipe collection.
Symbolizing the sacred brother-sister bond
Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the full-moon day in the Hindu month of Shravan, which corresponds with the English months of July or August, at the peak of monsoons. Though the festival is of Hindu origin, non-Hindus also celebrate it with fervour.
As is customary of all the Hindu festivals, the day of Raksha Bandhan begins with an early bath. After worshipping the Gods and Goddesses, the sister applies a dot (tilak) of vermilion (kum-kum) with a few rice grains on her brother’s forehead and gently showers rice grains on him. She then ties the Rakhi onto her brother’s right wrist and offers him a piece of sweetmeat. The sacred thread is symbolic of the brother’s vow to protect the honour of sisters and the tilak symbolises soul consciousness. If the brother is older of the two, she touches his feet to seek his blessings or vice versa. The brother then offers her some gifts.
Till a few decades ago, Raksha Bandhan was celebrated in a slightly different manner. The family priest would tie a sacred thread (after empowering it with a mantra) and apply tilak to all family members. The thread would protect the wearer from every possible evil. The priest would also tie the sacred thread to the doors and windows of the house as well as to newly purchased household items. A tilak would also be put on the newly purchased items.
Power of the sacred thread
Raksha Bandhan is based on the legend that the gods were having a war with the demons when the latter seemed to have the upper hand. Then God Indra sought help from his wife, Indrani. She tied a piece of silk around his wrist to ward off the evil demons. With the silk around his wrist, Indra beat back the demons and got back his home in Heaven.
Another legend says that Raksha Bandhan was a ritual followed by Lord Yama (the Lord of Death) and his sister Yamuna, (the river in northern India). On every "Shravan Purnima", Yamuna used to tie a sacred thread (Rakhi) to Lord Yama to bestow immortality. Yama was so moved by the serenity of the occasion that he declared that whoever gets a rakhi tied from his sister and promised her protection, will become immortal.
Around the 3000 BC when the Aryans settled in India, they brought with them this festival of Raksha Bandhan wherein a yajna would be performed before the men left for the battlefield and the womenfolk would tie a thread on their wrists as a sign of protection and also as a reminder that they were the protectors of the honour of the clan.
During the freedom struggle there were women who tied rakhis and sought promises from men that they would fight for the country’s freedom. As one story goes, after King Porus' wife tied a rakhi on the mighty Alexander’s wrist, the latter who was then engaged in a fierce battle with the former’s husband, relented and the battle ended in a treaty. The importance of rakhi moved on from battlefields to personal relations reflecting the bond of affection. Friends also tie rakhi to show their togetherness and close bond.
In Indian history there are several instances where the Hindu queens, especially the Rajput and the Maratha, have tied rakhis to the Muslim kings seeking their protection, which the kings provided despite the differences in their religion and beliefs. Of special significance is the instance when Rajput queen Maharani Karnawati sent a rakhi to Humayun to protect her from the Sultan of Gujarat who threatened to capture her kingdom. Humayun was aware of the significance of rakhi in the Hindu community, so he immediately accepted her request to protect her. Humayun was advancing towards Bengal to further the boundaries of his territory but on receiving her missive, he immediately turned back.
The day of auspicious rituals
This auspicious day is celebrated in many states of India, with different names and ways.
It is celebrated as Avani Avittam in South India. The holy thread (upanayan) is changed and libation of water is offered to the ancestors and rishis on this occasion. The new thread is anointed with a paste of saffron and turmeric and the old one discarded in a water body. This day is especially significant for a Brahmin boy who has recently been invested with an upanayan.
This day is also celebrated as Narli Purnima. After days of heavy rains and strong winds, the sea becomes calm. On this day boats are allowed to sail into the sea again. But before doing so the sea is worshipped by throwing a coconut (naral) into the water to appease the sea god.
In Rajasthan, there is a tradition of tying Ram Rakhi and Chuda Rakhi, on this day. Ram Rakhi is tied only to God. Well, Chuda Rakhi is tied to the bangles of sister-in-law. This Rakhi is made of silk thread. Here, before tying Rakhi, the thread is spellbound by the raw milk.
In Bundelkhand it is also known as Kajri purnima. Wheat and barley are sown in small containers, watered every day for seven days and then offered to Goddess Bhagwati. The women who have been blessed with a son just before the festival especially practice this.
In conclusion one could say that Raksha Bandhan means ‘tie of protection’ where the stronger ones are duty bound to protect their weaker brethren.
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