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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Did Alexander the Great have a ‘rakhi sister’? Check out these unusual legends about Raksha Bandhan

A Paurava king, a Macedonian invader, a goddess of wealth and a demon king. There’s a lot more to the tale of Raksha Bandhan than you know

mumbai Updated: Aug 17, 2016 18:47 IST


A Paurava king, a Macedonian invader, a goddess of wealth and a demon king. There’s a lot more to the tale of Raksha Bandhan than you know

A Paurava king, a rakhi, and the wife of Alexander the Great

The phalanx attacking the centre in the battle of the Hydaspes [or Jhelum], an art work by Andre Castaigne (1898-1899).

That whole ‘Woh mera Rakhi bhaiyya hai’ thing is not exactly new.

Picture this: It was circa 320 BC and Alexander the Great was trying to expand his empire. It already stretched from the Balkans all the way to the northern edges of the subcontinent, but he wanted India. One of the things that stood in his way was the brave Paurava king Puru, and he fought back Alexander’s advances so furiously that the latter was alarmed. So he decided to try another tack.

The legend goes that Alexander’s wife had heard of the Rakhi festival, so she approached King Puru, who accepted her as his sister. Accordingly, when the opportunity came during the war, he refrained from killing Alexander. And so Raksha Bandhan helped retain Puru as a Macedonian satrap and might just have saved Alexander’s life.

Why the rakhi, why the wrist?

Complete Surrender to Krishna - Vastraharan of Draupadi (Reprint on Paper - Unframed)

Legend has it that the Hindu deity Krishna hurt his finger in a battle with the evil king Shishupal. As Krishna’s slashed finger bled out, his ardent devotee, Draupadi, could not bear to see him so injured. So she tore a strip off her sari and tied it around his wrist to stanch the bleeding. Moved by her affection and concern, Krishna declared himself bound as her brother. And so the rakhi was born. Eventually, of course, he made good on his promise to protect her. Many years later, when she was gambled away in a game of dice and the Kauravas were trying to disrobe her, Krishna intervened to stretch her sari into infinity and save her honour.

The goddess of wealth and the demon king

Raja Ravi Varma’s Lakshmi

So legend has it that, when the kingdom of the benevolent demon king Mahabali was threatened, the deity Vishnu -- whom he revered -- disguised himself as a doorman to protect his ardent devotee. But as time went on and he remained at this post, Vishnu’s wife, the goddess Lakshmi, grew restless. She disguised herself as a Brahmin woman and went to the palace of the king. As the goddess of wealth, she brought great prosperity with her. After a time, she went to Bali and tied a rakhi on his wrist. Touched by her gesture, and the ‘good luck’ she had brought with her, he offered to grant her a wish. Lakshmi then revealed who she was and why she was there. And Bali humbly requested Lord Vishnu to return home. So began the tradition of Raksha Bandhan and the granting of wishes.

How a rakhi saved a Rajput kingdom

Rani Karnavati and several others set themselves on fire when they were defeated by Bahadur Shah.

In medieval India, Rani Karnawati of Chittor was facing another invasion by the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah. Realising she could never hold him off, she sent a rakhi to the Mughal emperor Humayun. It was desperate message: Please, protect me.

The emperor was so touched that he abandoned the military campaigns he had underway and rushed to the region. Sadly, he was too late. With the Rajput army defeated in Chittor, Karnavati committed suicide rather than find herself a captive of her vanquishers. But at least the Mughal reinforcements saved her kingdom. Humayun arrived and restored Karnawati’s son, Vikramjit, to the throne.

First Published: Aug 17, 2016 18:47 IST