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Raksha Bandhan — All You Need to Know

The bond between brothers and sisters is simply unique and worth celebrating. In India, this beautiful relationship is celebrated with a festival called Raksha Bandhan which is dedicated to sibling love.

This festival is meant to celebrate any type of brother-sister relationship between men and women and they don’t have to be biologically related to participate.

On this day, a sister ties a rakhi, or special bracelet, around the wrist of her brother to pray for his prosperity, health, and well-being. The brother, in return, offers gifts to his sister and promises to protect her from any harm.

This tradition comes from events in ancient Hindu stories that tell of a woman tying an amulet on a male’s wrist to symbolize love and respect.

Different regions also celebrate this festival with their own unique customs and rituals. Some of them include a local kite festival in Jammu and throwing coconuts into the sea in Maharashtra.

Why You Should Experience Raksha Bandhan in India

  • Experience the joy and happiness of celebrating the special bond that exists between brothers and sisters.
  • Watch the ritual of throwing coconuts into the sea in the coastal cities of Maharashtra such as Mumbai and Ratnagiri.
  • Join in the local kite-flying festival held in Jammu to create a friendly and joyous atmosphere for Raksha Bandhan.
  • Try out special dishes and sweets like coconut barfis and kheer.
  • Explore markets that sell an abundance of rakhi bracelets made with different colorful strings and beads.

Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan, sometimes called Rakhi, is a Hindu festival celebrated in India that commemorates brotherhood and love. The word ‘Raksha’ means protection, while ‘Bandhan’ is the verb to tie.

On this day, sisters of all ages tie a talisman or bracelet called a rakhi around the wrists of their brothers. Rakhi are a symbol of protective prayers and traditionally help create a sense of responsibility in brothers for the care of their sisters.

Rakhi bracelets symbolize the bond between siblings and protection

The rakhi has been a symbol of protection in Hindu culture since ancient times. During wartime, women often tied a thread around the wrist of soldiers. This was considered a good luck charm and way to protect their men and bring them victory.

Before the festival, women go shopping for the ceremonial thread that will use to tie around their brother’s wrist. On the day of the ritual, the siblings get together, along with their family, and perform the ceremony in which the sister ties the rakhis.

After placing the rakhi on her brother’s wrist, the sister will then say a prayer for her brother and feed him a variety of different seasonal foods. In return, the brother offers gifts to his sister and vows to protect her.

Women and men who are not blood relatives can also participate in this ritual. The tradition of tying rakhi between people who are not related has been important for many Indians and has even cut across caste and class lines.

When is Raksha Bandhan?

Raksha Bandhan is celebrated all across India on the last day of the fifth month of the Hindu lunar calendar, Shraavana. This means that the holiday usually falls in August. The month of Shraavana is very important as it is connected to the arrival of the south-west monsoons.

In 2020, this festival is celebrated on August 3rd.

Upcoming Raksha Bandhan Dates:

  • 2020: August 3
  • 2021: August 22
  • 2022: August 11

Raksha Bandhan Legends and History

There are many examples in Hindu mythology where a rakhi amulet is tied on the wrist of a male by a female as a sign of respect and love. These stories exist in many different legends and all represent the protection bestowed on men by the sisterly love of a woman.

Yamuna and Yama

According to Hindu mythology, it is believed that on every Shravan Purnima which is the last day of the fifth month of the Hindu calendar, the goddess Yamuna would tie a sacred thread on the wrist of Yama, the god of death.

Yama was so touched by the serenity of this gesture that he declared whoever received a rakhi from his sister on this day would become immortal.

Lord Krishna

In the Mahabharata, there is an incident where Lord Krishna was hurt during the war with King Shishupal and left with a bleeding finger. In this moment, Queen Draupadi, his close friend, tore a piece of cloth and tied it around his wrist to stop the bleeding.

Krishna appreciated her gesture and promised to repay her love and devotion by becoming her protector.

King Bali and Lakshmi

King Bali was a true follower of Lord Vishnu and because of this was granted divine protection and immortality.

To protect the king, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Bali"s doorman and protected him from all dangers. As a result, Vishnu was gone from home for a long time and his wife, the goddess Lakshmi, became restless.

She descended on earth as a woman in an attempt to bring back her love. She told Bali that her husband had gone away for a long errand and she needed a place to stay. King Bali welcomed her and protected her as his sister.

On the last day in the month of Shraavana, Lakshmi tied a thread of colored cotton on King Bali"s wrist and prayed for his protection and happiness.

Touched by her sincerity, Bali told her that he would grant one of her wishes. She then pointed at the gatekeeper and requested that King Bali release her husband.

Confused, Bali asked how an ordinary guard could be her husband. Then, both Vishnu and Lakshmi revealed their true identities and King Bali requested that Vishnu return home with the goddess.

Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun

The story of Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun is the most significant historical evidence related to this festival. Rani Karnavati, a widowed queen of King Chittor who was under attack sent a rakhi to Emperor Humayun with a request for him to come and save her dignity.

Emperor Humayun was touched by the gesture and immediately left with his troops to help the queen. But before he arrived, Rani performed juhar, the act of mass suicide by women to avoid capture by foreign invaders.

How Raksha Bandhan is Celebrated in India

Before the day of Raksha Bandhan, sisters begin buying the rakhis, amulets that are specially decorated for the occasion, for their brothers from the market. Some families also make the amulets themselves.

The day before the festival, it is tradition for family members to wake up early and take a bath to cleanse their mind and body. This is to remove any negative thoughts and feelings before celebrating the holiday. They will then start cooking the sweets.

On the day of Raksha Bandhan, brothers and sisters will wear new clothes and observe the festival in the presence of their parents, elders, and grandparents. The ritual involves lighting a diya, or earthen lamp, and the performing of prayers by the sisters.

The ritual involves lighting a diya, or earthen lamp

They pray for the well-being of their brother and apply a "tilak" which is an auspicious mark to their brother’s forehead. Along with this, they feed a portion of sweets or dry fruits to their brother. Finally, the rakhi is tied around his wrist.

After the rakhi is tied, the brother will offer special gifts to his sister to thank her. These gifts could be in money, clothes, jewelry, or any similar presents.

North India

In Uttarakhand, the Raksha Bandhan is celebrated with the changing of "Janau" threads that are worn around the torso of the men.

Here, the festival is not just celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters but the bond between all brothers. A fair is also conducted in the town of Champawat on this day.

In Jammu, the festival begins with a local kite-flying event held by residents. During the event, people fly a wide variety of kites that are of different shapes, colors, and designs.

In Rajasthan, the woman will tie rakhis on the wrist of their brother"s wife. This custom is followed because the wife of the brother is responsible for the well-being of their brother, which makes her well-being important for the whole family.

East India

In West Bengal and Odisha, the occasion is known as Jhulan Purnima where Lord Krishna and Radha, his wife, are worshipped. Sisters will also tie beautiful rakhis on the wrist of their brothers and wish for their good health.

South India

In coastal cities in Maharashtra such as Mumbai and Ratnagiri in the local fishing communities, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated at the same time as Naarali Poornima, the coconut festival. During this event, fishermen throw coconuts into the ocean as offerings to Lord Varuna, the Hindu god of the seas.

In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the occasion is celebrated as Avani Avittam. Hindu priests will take a dip in the river and ask atonement for their sins. The "janau" or holy thread that is worn across the body is also changed and replaced with a new one.

West India

In Gujarat, the festival of Pavitropana is celebrated alongside Raksha Bandhan. During this festival, women worship Lord Shiva by pouring water and placing offerings on the Shivlinga or Shiva representation in the temples. They will also ask forgiveness for their past sins.

Central India

The occasion is celebrated as Kajari Purnima in central India which is a festival of farmers and mothers. Farmers worship their land whereas mothers perform special prayer with their sons.

To worship the land, the farmers’ wives will go to their fields and collect some soil and leaves. This soil is then filled with barley seeds and kept in a portion of the house which is well-cleaned and decorated.

After 7 days, the pot is taken out and submerged in a well or river by the mothers with a prayer that asks for the longevity of their sons.

Where to Celebrate Raksha Bandhan in India

To help you understand where to go during Raksha Bandhan for the best experience, here are some of the most highly recommended spots across India.

Delhi

During Raksha Bandhan in Delhi, the markets are decorated many days before the festival with all the different kinds of rakhi threads, rakhi gifts, and mouth-watering sweets. Here they will sell both traditional and modern bracelets that travelers can buy as souvenirs.

The markets are decorated with all the different kinds of rakhi threads

Rakhis can be decorated with all sorts of things like cartoon and film characters or they can be more traditional and made of gold and silver.

Long queues of girls can be seen outside the Mehandi or henna art shops as applying henna is regarded as a beautiful Raksha Bandhan tradition. Female travelers can also get some beautiful henna art for themselves.

Mumbai

In Mumbai, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated alongside the coconut day festival. Here you can watch as fisherman throw coconuts into the sea as offerings. This day is also celebrated by offering prayers to Lord Varuna, the god of the sea.

Grand celebrations are also arranged during the time with colorful dance shows by the seashore and plenty of opportunities to eat special sweets like coconut barfi.

How to Celebrate Raksha Bandhan as a Traveler

The sentiments of Raksha Bandhan make it a delightful and fun time to share with the ones you love. As travelers, there are some activities you can participate in to better engage in this festival.

One great way to get involved in the celebrations is to make your own rakhi bracelet. They are easy to make and can be as simple as a few threads of red and yellow silk tied together. For something more elaborate, you can decorate your rakhi with beads.

Make your own rakhi bracelet

As with all Indian festivals, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated with food, both savory and sweet. Some great options you can try include almond kofta (a ball made of almonds, milk, nutmeg, and potatoes) and anjeer kaju rolls (a dessert stuffed with nuts and dried fruits like cashews, figs, and pistachios).

Tips for Experiencing Raksha Bandhan

  • Try and share your experience with the locals celebrating the festival. You can stay at a homestay to see how Indian families celebrate together. Travelers can also interact with locals by sending holiday greeting cards to those you have met along the way.
  • Head to the markets or artisans shops to get rakhi bracelets as souvenirs for your friends and families.
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