The Knot That Binds us
History tells the tale something like this-
In the year 1535, when Chittor was under attack by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, the Rajput widowed queen Rani Karnavati sent an envoy to Mughal emperor Humayun, seeking his support for her kingdom and people against the enemy. Her message was accompanied by a sacred thread- a rakhi, urging Humayun’s protection as a brother. The emperor acknowledged the honor and sent his armies to Chittor.
It is believed that the queen urged Humayun to tie the sacred thread on his wrist- as a protective amulet against death or injury.
The festival of Rakshabandhan is celebrated in India, where sisters tie beautiful threads (rakhi) around their brothers’ wrists. The word Raksha means ‘protection’ in sanskrit & bandhan means ‘knot’ or ‘bond’. Thus, rakshabandhan translates to ‘the knot of protection’. It is celebrated as a festival of love amongst brothers and sisters.
During 1905 partition of Bengal, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore had urged Hindu and Muslim women to celebrate this as a mass festival and encouraged them to tie rakhi to men from other communities thus embracing them as brothers. The mass rakshabandhan festival was proposed in rebellion to the Britisher’s divide-and-rule policy that was aimed to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims.
Tying a sacred thread or amulet around the brother’s wrist, is symbolic of a brother’s promise to keep his sister safe from any harm. For the sister it symbolizes a prayer, that may her brother live a long life and may he be protected from untimely death. The tying of the sacred wrist knot (rakhi) is followed by aarti, where a small wick lamp is lit to honor the brother. The sister puts a vermilion mark (tilak) on his forehead, wishing him good health and luck, thereafter offering him sweets. On this day sisters treat their brothers to a lavish meal. The brothers reciprocate their sisters’ love by giving them gifts. The festival is a celebration of the brother-sister bond, and is now predominantly celebrated in Hindu families in India.
Recent decades, have observed some changes in the celebration. It is no longer restricted only to brothers and sisters, but has widened to embrace within it a gamut of relationships that rely on mutual love & protection. It remains predominantly a female- dominated festival. However, it is not uncommon to witness sisters tying rakhi to each other, children tying rakhi to their mother- the true protector, or close friends honoring each other with the sacred knot. In several Hindu homes, women tie rakhi to idols of God — the ultimate protector. Despite the changes over the years, since this festival predominantly celebrates sibling love, married women do not tie a rakhi to their husbands or girlfriends to boyfriends.
The past two years have seen the festival broaden its scope yet again, as news pours in of emotional relationships fostered during the covid 19 pandemic: of closeness between neighbours; pet owners and their pets; good Samaritans, frontline workers & do-gooders who became true protectors in these trying times.
With changing times our festivals are becoming more inclusive & all encompassing.
They are no longer limited to location, religion, gender or DNA.
Difficult times, whether it be wars or pandemics, teach us the value of having loved ones in our life- persons (or pawsons) who look out for us, care for us, offer warmth & safety in uncertain times.
To you all, I wish happiness.
And may you be protected from harm.
As I write this, I can’t help but think, we need to extend this festive spirit to Planet Earth- we need her protection, and she ours.
Dedicated to bhai Amit Satwah.