Raksha Bandhan - Significance and Importance of Rakhi Festival

Significance and Importance of Rakhi Festival
Celebrated on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Sravana (July/August), this festival celebrates the love of a brother for his sister. On this day, sisters tie rakhi on the wrists of their brothers to protect them against evil influences, and pray for their long life and happiness. They in turn, give a gift which is a promise that they will protect their sisters from any harm. Within these Rakhis reside sacred feelings and well wishes. This festival is mostly celebrated in North India.
The history of Rakshabandhan dates back to Hindu mythology. As per Hindu mythology, in Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas had torn the corner of her sari to prevent Lord Krishna's wrist from bleeding (he had inadvertently hurt himself). Thus, a bond, that of brother and sister developed between them, and he promised to protect her.
It is also a great sacred verse of unity, acting as a symbol of life's advancement and a leading messenger of togetherness. Raksha means protection, and in some places in medieval India, where women felt unsafe, they tie Rakhi on the wrist of men, regarding them as brothers. In this way, Rakhi strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters, and revives the emotional bonding. Brahmins change their sacred thread (janoi) on this day, and dedicate themselves once again to the study of the scriptures.

The sister-brother relationship highlighted by the Raakhi goes far beyond the mere personal protection of a female from a male. It also implies the basic element of an amicable and harmonious social life where all members of the society look upon themselves as brothers and sisters and as children of one common motherland.

The congregational Raakhi function carries this social content. Particularly, the tying of Raakhi to the sacred Bhagavaa Dhwaj at the start of the function signifies this social and cultural aspect. Not only do the participants in the function develop a sense of love and affection amongst themselves but they also affirm their loyalty and devotion to the society of which they are the children. Their commitment to protect each other and also the society as a whole is emphasized through this simple ceremony.

In the Hindu tradition the Rakshaa has indeed assumed all aspects of protection of the forces of righteousness from the forces of evil. Once, Yudhishthira asked Sri Krishna how best he could guard himself against impending evils and catastrophes in the coming year. Krishna advised him to observe the Rakshaa Ceremony. He also narrated an old incident to show how potent the Rakshaa is.

Some even chant this prayer while performing the rituals and arti:
"Suraj shakhan chhodian, Mooli chhodia beej
Behen ne rakhi bandhi / Bhai tu chir jug jee"
(The sun radiates its sunlight, the radish spreads its seeds,
I tie the rakhi to you O' brother and wish that may you live long.)

Once, Indra was confronted by the demon king - the Daitya-raaja - in a long-drawn battle. At one stage, the Daitya-raaja got better of Indra and drove him into wilderness. Indra, humbled and crest-fallen, sought the advice of Brihaspati, the Guru of Gods. The Guru told him to bide his time, prepare himself and then march against his adversary. He also indicated that the auspicious moment for sallying forth was the Shraavana Poornima. On that day, Shachee Devi, the wife of Indra, and Brihaspati tied Raakhis around Indra's right-wrist. Indra then advanced against the Daitya-raaja, vanquished him and reestablished his sovereignty.
The Rakshaa has several similar pauraanik associations. The following couplet is recited, especially in the northern parts, while tying the Raakhi.

It denotes how the King Bali had become so powerful with the Raakhi on:

Yena baddho Balee raajaa daanavendro mahaabalah |
tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshe maa chala maa chala ||

(I am tying a Rakshaa to you, similar to the one tied to Bali the powerful king of demons. Oh Rakshaa, be firm, do not waver.)

It is not merely that the spirit of Rakshaa manifests itself on occasions of mortal peril to the life and honor of the beloved ones or to the society. It is not like the HOme Guards or the militia which are expected to come to the rescue of the people in times of war or natural calamities. No, it is far more deep and all-encompassing. It is like the flow of bloodstream through every limb and organ of the body, carrying strength and nourishment to every cell thereof. As a result, even a small wound anywhere in the body is promptly attended to by the entire body. Every other limb spontaneously sacrifies a part of its blood and energy to heal that wound and keep that organ healthy and strong.

This is how the society can live and prosper amidst all kinds of challenges either from within or without. Especially, various types of internal stresses and strains which are generated in the body-politic of a nation because of ever-changing economic, political and other factors can be overcome only on the strength of this inner flow of mutual affection and amity.

A society imbued with this spirit will see to it that every one of its members is made happy. The idea of the Hindu has always been:

Sarvepi sukhinassantu, sarve santu niraamayaah |
Sarve bhadraani pashyantu, maa kashchit duhkhabhaag bhavet ||

(Let everyone be happy, let everyone be free from all ills, let everyone behold only the auspicious, let no one be afflicted.)

This concept is far more comprehensive than the concept of the `maximum happiness of the maximum number.' In fact, spontaneous love and compassionate service for the poor and lowly in society is held up as the highest form of worship of God Himself. The spirit of selfless social service which makes for the uplift of the needy and deprived sections is thus transformed into a spiritual saadhanaa.

It is only when this type of attitude towards one's less fortunate brothers and sisters permeates society that exploitations of the weak by the strong will end. Powers of intellect and body, and of material wealth and influence will then be utilized for the uplift and service of others. A Samskrit Subhaashita says,

Vidyaa vivaadaaya dhanam madaaya shaktih pareshaam paripeedanaaya |
Khalasya sadhorvipareetam etat jnaanaaya daanaaya cha rakshanaaya ||

For the wicked, learning is for dry arguments, wealth is for satisfying vanity, strength for harassing others, but in the case of holy men these are for imparting knowledge, offering charity and protecting others.
In short, Raksha Bandhan affords a most auspicious occasion to recharge ourselves every year with the true spirit of service and sacrifice for the welfare of the society, and find therein the highest spiritual fulfillment of human life.


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