Raksha Bandhan, which falls on Saturday, 29 August, is an ancient Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. On the auspicious day, sisters tie a thread (rakhi) on the wrist of brothers, expressing the love for them and pray for their well-being. Brothers, on their part, promise to protect them from all evils.
The ritual is marked with exchange of gifts. Brothers offer gifts to sisters and the latter feeds them sweets.
Although Raksha Bandhan is mainly celebrated in India, the festival also holds significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs in other parts of the world. Also known as Rakhi Poornima or Rakhi, it falls on the day of the full moon.
The term "Raksha Bandhan" means "the tie of protection" in Sanskrit, whereby sisters offer prayers for brothers' long and healthy life. The latter, in turn, pledge to protect sisters for eternity. Apart from blood-related brothers and sisters, the ritual is also observed by men and women who are not connected biologically but share the same feeling.
Although, it is primarily a Hindu festival, some sections of men and women belonging to other religions also observe the ritual.
The history of Raksha Bandhan is quite deep-rooted and is connected to several mythological and historical stories. The most popular one is linked to the story of Rani Karnavati of Chittorgarh and Mughal King Humayun.
Chittorgarh was once attacked by Bahadur Shah and it was not possible for widowed Rani Karnavati to save her empire from the mighty force of Bahadur Shah. She sent a rakhi to Humayun and pleaded to save her and the empire.
Overcome by emotions, Humayun, along with his force, immediately rushed to Chittorgarh to protect the queen. Though he could not save Karnavati as she and all other womenfolk there had committed suicide before he could reach, Humayun fought against Bahadur Shah and saved Chittorgarh from his invasion. Later, he handed over the empire to Karnavati's son Vikramjeet Singh.
There are many mythological stories linked to Raksha Bandhan's origin. One about Hindu mythological characters Krishna and Draupadi is very popular. According to the story, when Krishna cut his finger once, Draupadi covered the cut by tearing a piece of cloth from her saree. Krishna then promised to save her whenever she needs his help. He kept his vow in all circumstances.
Another mythological story links the festival with demon king Bali and Goddess Laxmi. According to the story, Laxmi's husband Vishnu was asked by Bali to live in his palace, which Laxmi did not want. She tied a thread on Bali's wrist and thus made him her brother. When Bali asked her what she wants in return, the Goddess asked him to free Vishnu from the moral binding of staying in his palace, which Bali granted.