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Origin and Significance of Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan is known as a festival where the sister ties a string around the brother’s wrist and prays for his protection and well-being. Looking at the origin and use of Rakhi in recent and ancient history, there is a higher ground which transcends the brother–sister unity.


Following are some instances from our history about Rakhi which dates back to the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation.


 Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun - There is a famous account wherein Rani Karnavati of Chittoor, on sensing invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, asked Humayun to help her by sending a Rakhi. The significance of Rakhi meant a spiritual binding and protection of sisters was foremost. Being touched by the gesture, the king sent his troops. Unfortunately, Sultan Bahadur Shah’s troop had already invaded the fort before Humayun’s troop could arrive.


Rani Karnavati could not be saved, but Humayun defeated the Sultan and drove them out. He then handed over the kingdom to the Rani’s son Vikramjit Singh.


Alexander The Great and King Puru - Legend has it that King Puru had refrained from killing Alexander in the battlefield as Alexander’s wife Roxana had sent him a Rakhi asking him not to harm her husband. Out of respect for the sacred thread, Puru let Alexander live.




 Lord Krishna and Draupadi - In order to protect the good people, Lord Krishna killed the evil King Shishupal. Krishna was hurt during the war and was left with a bleeding finger. Seeing this, Draupadi tore a strip of cloth from her sari and tied it around his wrist to stop the bleeding. Lord Krishna, realising her affection and concern about him, declared himself bounded by her sisterly love. He promised her to repay this debt whenever she was in need in the future. Many years later, when the Pandavas lost Draupadi in the game of dice and the Kauravas were removing her sari, Krishna helped her divinely by elongating the sari so that they could not remove it.




King Bali and Goddess Lakshmi - On Shravan Purnima, Lakshmi tied a Rakhi on King Bali’s wrist for her protection. The king was touched by her and Lord Vishnu's good will and affection towards him and his family. Bali requested Lord Vishnu to accompany her to Vaikuntam. Due to this, the festival is also called Baleva as Bali Raja's devotion to Lord Vishnu. It is said that since that day it has become a tradition to invite sisters on Shravan Purnima to tie the sacred thread of Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan. 


Rabindranath Tagore and Rakhi - The Indian Nobel Laureate for Literature invoked Raksha Bandhan and Rakhi as concepts to inspire love, respect and a vow of mutual protection between Hindus and Muslims during India's colonial era. In 1905, the British Empire divided Bengal, a province of British India on the basis of religion. Rabindranath Tagore arranged a ceremony to celebrate Raksha Bandhan to strengthen the bond of love and togetherness between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal, and urge them to together protest the British Empire. He used the idea of Raksha Bandhan to spread the feeling of brotherhood. Rabindranath Tagore started Rakhi Mahotsavas as a symbol of Bengal unity and as a larger community festival of harmony. In parts of West Bengal, his tradition continues as people tie Rakhis to their neighbours and close friends.


-Sayan Ganguly

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