Ties that bind

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By extending his hand, the brother symbolically offers love and protection to his sister. Celebrating the Hindu festival of filial love, Rakhi

The Hindu calendar is one long series of celebrations upholding basic human values, lofty ideals and complex relationships. In August, filial love holds centre-stage. The annual festival of Raksha Bandhan (Rakhi) falls in the month of Shravan (August-September) and is marked by a simple ceremony where the sister ties a sacred red and yellow thread around the wrist of her brother.
Literally, Raksha means protection and bandhan translates as bonding or association of an enduring nature. Like most traditions and customs handed down through generations, Rakhi has not only symbolic meaning but stories behind it too.

The beginnings of Rakhi go back to the Scriptures. When the demon King Bali’s devotion won over Lord Narayana, he was compelled to leave his abode and stay in Bali’s kingdom. Distressed, Goddess Lakshmi arrived in Sutal on Shravan Purnima. She accepted King Bali as her brother by tying a Rakhi on him. In return, Bali asked her to make a wish. Goddess Lakshmi wished for Lord Narayan’s return to Vaikunth.
According to the Bhavishay Puran, during one of the many fierce battles fought between Devas and the Asuras or Demons, the demons were in a commanding position. A frantic Indra, King of the Heavens sought, the advice of Bruhaspati (the greatest savant of all times). Indra’s consort Queen Indrani intervened. After consulting the Scriptures, she prepared a powerful talisman, which she tied around her husband’s wrist. This was the day of the Shravan Purnima or Full Moon.
So great were the powers of the sacred thread, Indra vanquished his opponents. Since then, the tradition of tying a sacred thread is believed to bring victory, health and happiness.

Beyond legends and mythology, history too has numerous examples of the power of the sacred thread. The Maharani of Mewar, Karnavati sent a Rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun, seeking his protection. Faced with imminent defeat at the hands of Bahadur Shah, the proud Queen was ready to immolate herself, rather than bite dust. Humayun did salvage the lost empire of Mewar.
Yet another episode recalls how King Porus’ wife tied a Rakhi to the invincible Alexander. The one-sided battle ended in a peace treaty.
History is replete with many more memorable episodes that reinforce our commitment to long lasting relationships. In these apparently peaceful times, when monarchy has been dethroned by democratic values, the focus has moved from the battlefields to the domestic arena. Rakhi celebrates the purity of the brother-sister relationship. It is perhaps one of the few occasions where the woman upholds her paternal connections.
A woman’s brother continues throughout life to have the responsibility of shielding her from harm. The woman in turn prays for the health, wealth and eternal happiness of her original family.

The actual ceremony is uncomplicated but it clearly demarcates the role and responsibility of every individual in the family. After a snan or bath, the girl offers special prayers and an aarti for her brother. She applies a vermillion tilak on his forehead and ties the Rakhi on the right wrist.
The shloka recited while tying the Rakhi is as follows
Yena baddho balee raajaa daanavendro mahaabalaah
Tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshey maa chala maa chala.
It protects the wearer from evil influences and means, “I am tying a Raksha to you, similar to the one tied to Bali, the powerful king of the demons. Oh Raksha, be firm, do not waver.”
By extending his hand, the brother symbolically offers love and protection. She then offers him sweet delicacies, and he reciprocates with a gift.

The modern day ceremony is a glitzier affair. Preparations begin early and the streets and shops are flooded with ornate Rakhis, designed practically out of every material, sometimes using precious or semi-precious stones. This year, gold and silver designer Rakhis are high in demand. A number of internet sites also offer online catalogues of designer Rakhis.
Whether you observe the simple festival or not, give your siblings a call this weekend: Rakhi is on 29 August.

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