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Sunday, 10 August 2014 00:00

The spirit of Raksha Bandhan

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The word ritual is derived from the word ritu which means season in Sanskrit. Rituals reflect the change of seasons and change of times. Accordingly the symbolism and meaning of the rituals also change in their perception by people.

The tying of the thread - suraksha kavach, today has acquired the meaning of a brother promising to protect his sister.  Feminists wail and complain that this is a patriarchal festival as festival assumes women need protection by their brothers.Let’s examine this claim with some history, some facts and our beliefs behind this celebration.

I. Origins of tying the thread

Devi Shachi, in her role akin to adi shakti , tied the thread to dev Indra , gracing him with her strength, motivating him to fight the asurs who had repeatedly assaulted and defeated him and his devtas. Dev Indra had become despondent and weak and lost his will to fight back.  However, after tying of the thread and shielded with powers of Shachi, Indra got motivated and once again fought the asurs and regained his kingdom of heaven.

Draupadi and Krishn
In Mahabharat , Draupadi the wife of the Pandavas had once torn a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around krishna’s wrist to stop the bleeding from a battlefield wound. Krishn was touched by her gesture and declared her to be his sister, even though they were not related by blood. He promised to repay the debt and then spent the next 25 years doing just that. Draupadi, in spite of being married to five great warriors and being a daughter of a powerful monarch, trusted Krishn whole heartedly.

Krishna repaid the debt of this brotherly love during the “cheer-haran” of Draupadi, which occurred in the assembly of king Dhritarashtr when Yudhisthir, in an unethical move, lost her to the Kauravs in gambling. At that time, Krishn indefinitely extended her saree through divine intervention, so it could not be removed, so it could save Draupadi’s honour. This is how he honoured his Rakhi vow to Draupadi.

There are many examples and narratives but in short - over the centuries, this is what Raksha Bandhan meant, the strong offering their protection to the ones who may need it (and not necessarily men protecting women). Nanands tied rakhis to Bhabhis, weaker classes tied rakhi to stronger classes and they still do. However after the 12th century CE, there were repeated Islamic invasions, the brunt of which was felt in northern Bharat, wherein Hindu women were kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted and kept in Islamist harems.

Rani Karnavati
Women, in order to save themselves, sent rakhis to neighbouring kings after their husbands and brothers were killed by the cunning and unethical Islamic invaders. The most well-known tale is that of Rani Karnavati of Chittorgadh who sent a Rakhee to Humayun to protect her from Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. But this was her mistake; the staunch islamist Humayun betrayed her. After this betrayal, she along with hundreds of other kshatriya women committed 'johar' (immolating self in fire); Humayun later saw the power vacuum and used the opportunity to defeat Bahadur Shah and instilled Karnavati's son as puppet King of Mewar. Nevertheless, the practice of tying rakhee to brothers by sisters became prevalent in those areas which were directly under Islamic jihadi threat.

Gurudev Rabindranath Thakur
Hundreds of years later, in 1905, gurudev Rrabindranath Thakur used the original symbolism of Raksha Bandhan to unite Bengalis (irrespective of whether they were Hindus or Muslims). This started the ritual of brothers tying Rakhee to brothers in order to protest against the partition of Bengal. He did succeed to a large extent and the partition was reversed in 1911. But the British had succeeded in alienating the Muslims from Hindus using the supremacist exclusivist ideology of Quran. In 1906, the Indian Muslim league was formed, which ultimately led to the violent and bloody partition of Bharat.
Just like Humayun (and many more after him), the Muslims once again betrayed their Hindu brothers and chose Pakistan over Virat Bharat. Hundreds of Hindu brothers were killed; Hindu sisters were once again kidnapped, raped and forcibly converted (More on these in some other article).

Contemporary Nationalism and Raksha Bandhan
Nationalist groups like RSS, inspired by gurudev, continue this practice of tying rakhee to each other. it is important for a worldwide hindu brotherhood/sisterhood. And thus it's nowhere a patriarchal festival. Women protect men just as men protect women.  Given the spirit of this festival, this is also the day when we tie a thread on the hands of our security forces personnel for they're the real protectors of this nation - An apt gesture on an apt day. Ceremonially, school children can be seen tying Raksha thread to our President, Prime minister and other ministers in center and states. All these gestures go about strengthening our bonds in the society and reinforce the value system of mutual trust in our younger generations, streamlining them with high patriotic values.
II. Spiritual view

Words of wisdom (most likely by sri sri Ravi Shankar) by Sanatan philosophy go such:  "it is often believed that on this day, the sister ties the sacred thread or band on the brother’s wrist and asks him to protect her at all times. This is what is commonly heard and told, isn’t it? But this is not the only essence or spirit of Raksha Bandhan. The true secret of Raksha Bandhan is that when a sister ties the thread on her brother’s wrist, it is a gesture of saying that “i will protect you at all times”. So it is the sisters who pray and wish for the protection and well-being of their brothers. This is what Raksha Bandhan truly means.

When we celebrate the special and unique tradition of Raksha Bandhan, it is the sister who (takes the vow and) protects her brother. So a few might wonder how a woman who is considered as 'weak and fragile' can protect a man and give him moral strength and support.

Women possess a very unique power within themselves – the Sankalpa-Shakti (the power of will and determination). So a woman too can protect and give support to a man using her strong will power and inner strength. Inner strength always trumps external one as the latter is nothing without the former. A Woman possess the power of feelings and emotions, and has great inner strength within them. So according to some philosophies, on the day of Raksha Bandhan, it is the women who protect the men with their blessings and inner strength (by tying a sacred thread on the wrist of the brother).

We can see that one is free to interpret this festival either ways and any tags of matriarchy or patriarchy are a complete nonsense and reflects an ignorant mind. So as siblings tie up threads of Rakhee on Raksha Bandhan, we celebrate the day as affirmation of our trust and love among our brothers and sisters. The central theme of this festival is mutual respect and a promise of standing by your loved ones while they grace you with their blessings and good wishes.

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