Many colours of Rakhi: The myths and histories of Raksha Bandhan | india | Hindustan Times
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Many colours of Rakhi: The myths and histories of Raksha Bandhan

india Updated: Aug 10, 2014 18:13 IST
Vanita Srivastava

On Sunday, brothers from all across the country will take time off from their busy schedules and buy a box of chocolates or other sweet gifts for their beloved sisters who will tie a rakhi on their wrists.

But why do we do this on the full moon day of the Shravan month of the Hindu calendar? There are several myths that may explain the festival.

One involves King Bali and the goddess Lakshmi. Lord Vishnu had promised to protect the kingdom of his devotee, King Bali, and had taken up residence there.

This did not sit well with his consort, Lakshmi, who decided to pay King Bali a visit, disguised as an old woman on a shravan purnima. She tied a rakhi on his wrists and called him her brother. When the good king asked her what she wanted in return, the goddess revealed her true form and asked that Lord Vishnu be sent back.

Bali agreed to the goddess' request, but made one of his own. From that day on, the divine couple would visit Bali every year on that day and feast with him. Brothers and sisters have carried on the tradition since.

There is another myth that says the tradition was originally started by Yama (the god of death) and his sister Yamuna. Yama was so moved by his sister's affection that he declared that whoever got a rakhi tied from his sister and promised her protection would become immortal.

Legend aside, the rakhi has been historically used several times – as pleas for help, embracing a new culture or even as a symbol for national integration.

Case in point – the story of Rani Karnavati and Emperor Humayun. When the rani realised that she could not defend her kingdom of Bundi from the invasion of the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a rakhi to Emperor Humayun.

The emperor was touched and reached Chittor to defend her. Unfortunately, by the time he reached, all the Rajput women had already committed mass suicide (jauhar) to protect their honour.

Another legend involves Alexander and King Porus. According to legend, Alexander's Indian wife, Roxana (Roshanak) knew of his reputation as a fierce warrior. To protect her husband, she tied a rakhi on Porus' hand before battle. When Porus faced Alexander in battle, he had the Macedonian at a disadvantage. But remembering his brotherly vow, he did not strike, and thus lost the war.

Much later, during India's freedom movement, Rabindranath Tagore went on a rakhi campaing for national integration.

So, when it comes to rakhi, it is very difficult to separate myth from history. But one thing is for certain – it has always been a huge party of the Indian ethos.