What Is Raksha Bandhan? A Closer Look

Woman tying rakhi on her brothers hand

Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that embodies the family value of filial responsibility. It is an ancient tradition of honoring the relationship between brother and sister, and symbolizes his vow to protect her. Learn about this festive holiday, and how you can take part in celebrations.

What Is Raksha Bandhan?

The term Raksha Bandhan means "bond of protection." It comes from the Sanskrit word rakhi, a type of bracelet or amulet made out of thread, that sisters tie around their brother's wrists in gratitude for protecting them.

Brother and sister celebrating Raksha Bandhan

In the northern Indian state of Punjab, Raksha Bandhan began as a way to symbolize the bond between groups of people. Since it is a border state, Punjab often fought against neighboring armies. Therefore, Raksha Bandhan mainly symbolized the bond between the Punjabi army and the people of the state it protected. Over time in Punjab, the festival became a way to celebrate the brother-sister bond as well.

Origins of Raksha Bandhan

There are various stories of how Raksha Bandhan began. One story comes from the Indian epic poem The Mahabharata. Lord Krishna (an incarnation of the god Vishnu) cuts his finger, so Draupadi, his cousin-in-law, tears a strip from her saree to bind the wound. Afterward, Krishna promises to return the favor to her.

Another story is that of Lord Indra. About to be defeated during the war between the gods and demons, he asked his guru, or advisor, Brihaspati for help. Brihaspati instructed him to tie a sacred thread around his wrist. Indra's wife, Indrani, tied the thread on Brihaspati's wrist and consequently, the gods were victorious.

Yet another story is that of Bali, a demon king. He asked Lord Vishnu to guard his kingdom and thus, Vishnu left his abode to stay at Bali's palace. In opposition, Vishnu's wife disguised herself, went to Bali's palace, and tied a thread on Bali's wrist. After revealing who she was and why she was there, Bali was touched by her love for her husband, and asked Vishnu to return to his home with her.

Preparations for Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan occurs on the full moon during Sravana, the fifth month of the Hindu lunar calendar. This year, Raksha Bandhan falls on August 22, 2021.

Celebrating Raksha Bandhan

Prior to the ceremony, before the full moon rises, the sister collects a number of things needed for the Raksha Bandhan ritual:

  • Rakhi threads (silken threads of red and gold)
  • Kumkum powder (what is placed in the center of the forehead)
  • Diya (a lamp used in rituals)
  • Agarbattis (incense sticks)
  • Sweets

These items that she gathers on a large plate are called thali.

The Raksha Bandhan Ceremony

The purpose of Raksha Bandhan is to renew and strengthen the filial bond of peace and love. First, all members of the family make offerings to their deities. Then, as she ties the Rakhi on her brother's wrist, the sister chants a prayer and marks his forehead with Kumkum powder. She prays for his health and he returns the sentiment by vowing to protect her.

During the ceremony, sacred verses from Hindu scriptures are also spoken. Once the sister has tied the Rakhi, she traditionally places something sweet in her brother's mouth. In return, he presents her with a gift.

Join in Raksha Bandhan

The sentiments of Raksha Bandhan make it a jubilant time. It is common to give cards, sweets, flowers, or small presents to family and friends. You could even throw a theme party for Raksha Bandhan. Choose traditional Indian music special to the occasion, dress in traditional Indian clothing, and encourage your guests to try the Bun Thun Chali dance.

Rakhi Bracelets

You can make your own Rakhi bracelets with thread or ribbon tied together. For something more elaborate, decorate with beads.

Puja thali at Raksha Bandhan

Sweets

As with all festivals, Raksha Bandhan is celebrated with food, both savory and sweet, similar to food during Diwali. There are many traditional dishes, and each family has its own favorites. Confectionary, which contains nuts and aromatic spices, can be cooked at home and makes an appreciated gift. You might like to try out some of the recipes.

Greeting Cards

Hindu families have friends and relatives living all over the world, so it's now customary to send cards to wish them a happy Raksha Bandhan. You can also email an assortment of Raksha Bandhan cards online.

Flowers

No festival would be complete without colorful flowers. They are used to decorate the house and send as gifts. Homemade flowers, constructed from bright tissue paper also brighten up a home with vibrant colors.

Celebrate Loving Bonds

The sentiments expressed through Raksha Bandhan are those of maintaining family bonds. You can join in the fun and celebrate too by honoring the bonds you have with your friends and family. Hospitality is also very prevalent in the Hindu culture. Invite those you love and give them small gifts and sweets to express your affection and gratitude.

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What Is Raksha Bandhan? A Closer Look