Rakshabandhan is a celebration of most pure and loving relationship of brothers and sisters. The term Rakshabandhan means ‘knot of protection’ in Sanskrit and the festival is also called Rakhi Purnima or simply Rakhi. The festival is observed throughout India irrespective of caste and creed, On this day sister ties a thread around her brother’s wrist as a symbol of protection while he promises to protect and take care of her. The festival is also observed by Jains and Sikhs, and is a significant ritual of love and harmony, bringing together men and women across the borders of ethnicity, religion, nation etc. The festival nurtures a rich heritage of legendary traditions, some rooted back to the ages of the great epics. Though in principle Raakhi is an observance between biological siblings of the opposite sex, the legends and history of India are rife with stories where a woman has tied the knot of Raakhi to a stranger.
A story is told of Alexander’s wife approaching his mighty Hindu adversary Porus and tying Raakhi on his hand, seeking assurance from him for saving her husband’s life on the battlefield. And the great Hindu king, in the true traditional Kshatriya style, responded; and as the legend goes, when Porus raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the Raakhi on his own hand and restrained from striking.
More poignant instance is the story of the princess of a small Rajput clan. It glorified the bond that the Raakhi forms even on people of different faiths. This historical event took place in Chittorgarh, the capital of Mewar Kingdom, in 1527 AD the ruler of Chittorgarh Rana Sanga was killed in the battle of Khanua fighting Babur’s army. His queen, Rani Karnavati took up the regency in the name of her elder son Vikramaditya. In the meantime, Mewar was attacked for the second time by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, at whose hands Vikramaditya had earlier received a defeat. It was a matter of great concern for the Queen and at this juncture as a last resort she sent a Raakhi to Mughal Emperor Humayun, calling him a brother and asking for help. Thus her name became irrevocably linked to the festival of Raksha Bandhan. She was hopeful to save the kingdom with support of her noble warriors and the expected help from Humayun.
However, tidings from Chittor were not good; the Sisodias had fought valiantly, but they were outnumbered and the war was lost. Humayun who was on Bengal’s invasion assured his assistance to Rani Karnawati, left the Bengal expedition mid way and reached up to Gwalior, but he was late to arrive at the scene . Bahadur Shah had entered Chittorgarh and ransacked it. Realising that defeat was imminent, Karnavati and the other noble ladies of the court immolated themselves in a mass suicide by fire known as Jauhar on March 8, 1535 A.D., while all the men donned saffron clothes and went out to fight to the death. Humayun reached Chittor and did defeat Bahadur Shah and reinstated Karnavati’s son Vikramaditya Singh as the ruler of Mewar.
In the present day Raksha Bandhan is celebrated in a broader context that women tie Rakhis around the wrists of the heads of state, soldiers and social leaders. The festival is getting a global status for the nature of observance where people reinforce their ties across the borders of religion, caste, ethnicity and nations.