Raksha Bandhan, or simply Rakhi is an ancient festival when the sisters around Indian subcontinent tie a thread called the Rakhi around her brother’s wrist as a form of ritual protection. In Sanskrit, Raksha Bandhan literally means “the bond of protection, obligation, or care”.
The history of this auspicious festival dates back to thousands of years, the stories of which can also be found peppered in the literary works of Hinduism. Its traces can be found in the manuscripts composed as early as the 6th century CE.
Some of these myths and legends include:
Goddess Lakshmi and King Bali
According to Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana, Bali requested Vishnu to stay with him in his palace after he lost the three worlds to Vishnu. Granting this request, Vishnu went to stay in Bali’s palace. But Vishnu’s wife, Goddess Lakshmi neither liked the palace nor her husband’s newfound friendship with Bali. Instead, she preferred that her husband and she return to Vaikuntha. She then went and made Bali her brother by tying him a Rakhi. Bali, in return, asked her what gift she desired. As her gift, Lakshmi asked Vishnu’s freedom from living in Bali’s palace. Bali agreed accepting her as his sister.
The Creation of Santoshi Maa
The two sons of Ganesha- Shubha and Labha, longed for a sister with whom they could celebrate Raksha Bandhan. Upon asking their father Ganesha, their wishes were declined. Finally, saint Narada persuades Ganesha explaining that a daughter will enrich him as well as his sons. Thus, Ganesha agreed and created a daughter named Santoshi Maa by divine flames that emerged from Ganesh’s wives, Riddhi and Siddhi. From then on, brothers Shubha-Labha had a sister named Santoshi Maa to tie them Rakhi on Raksha Bandhan.
The legend of Yama and Yamuna
Another legend states that once Yamuna was sad because her brother, Yama- the god of Death, had not visited her for 12 years. Yamuna consults Ganga about it, who in return approaches Yama to remind him of his sister. Yama finally visits his sister.
Overjoyed to see her brother after so many years, Yamuna prepares a bounty of food for Yama. Delighted to see this, Yama asks Yamuna what she wanted for a gift. Yamuna wishes for her brother’s return in order to be able to see her again soon. Yam agrees and makes river Yamuna immortal to see her again. In fact, this legend is the basis for a Raksha Bandhan-like festival called Bhai Duj that celebrates siblings’ love celebrated in some parts of India after Diwali.
According to Bhavishya Purana, powerful demon King Bali disgraced Indra, the deity of the sky, rains and thunderbolts, in the war between Gods and demons. Therefore, Indra’s wife, Sachi, consulted Vishnu, who gave her a “holy” bracelet prepared from a cotton thread. Tying this thread around Indra’s wrist, Sachi blessed Indra with her prayers for his well-being and success.
Indra successfully defeated the demon king Bali and recovered Amaravati. Inspiring the defensive power of the holy thread, the story also suggested that the Raksha Bandhan thread were amulets in ancient India, which were used by women as prayers to safeguard men heading to a war. The thread did not limit to sister-brother like relationships.
Interesting, right? Share this token of wisdom with your siblings, parents, spouse, friends and mentors to help them understand the significance and different legends associated with this auspicious festival celebrating love.
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