Raksha Bandhan

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Raksha Bandhan, also referred to as Rakhi Purnima, is a traditional Indian festival observed with great enthusiasm throughout India and beyond. At its core, Raksha Bandhan celebrates the unique relationship shared between brothers and sisters. The festival revolves around the sacred thread, or “rakhi,” which sisters lovingly tie around their brothers’ wrists, symbolizing their unbreakable bond.

What is Raksha Bandhan?

Raksha Bandhan is a traditional Hindu festival celebrated to honor the relationship between brothers and sisters. The term “Raksha Bandhan” (Raksha – to Protect, Bandhan – something that’s tied) translates to “bond of protection.” On this day, sisters tie a sacred thread known as a “rakhi” around their brothers’ wrists, primarily to seek divine protection from all harm – for their brothers; and also as a symbol of their love and affection. In return, brothers offer gifts and pledge to safeguard their sisters throughout their lives.

When is Raksha Bandhan Celebrated?

Raksha Bandhan is usually observed on the full moon day (Rakhi Purnima) of the Hindu month of Shravana, which typically falls in August. The festival holds special significance in Indian culture and is celebrated with enthusiasm across the country.

Purnima is the Sanskrit word for full moon. It is the fifteenth day of the lunar cycle, as the moon reaches the final stage of the Shukla Paksha (waxing period). The full moon is considered the third of the four primary phases of the moon; the other three phases are amavasya (new moon – first day of the lunar cycle, as the moon is completely dark), krishna paksha pratipada (first quarter moon – has it’s right half illuminated), and krishna paksha chaturdashi (third quarter moon – has it’s left half illuminated).

Explanation of the words used

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How is Raksha Bandhan Celebrated?

Raksha Bandhan - Sisters tie a Rakhi on their brother's wrist
Sisters tie a sacred thread on their brother’s wrist on Raksha Bandhan – Source
  • Rituals: The ceremony starts with the sister applying a ’tilak’ (a mark) on her brother’s forehead, followed by tying the rakhi around his wrist. Prayers and wishes for each other’s well-being are exchanged during this process.
  • Gift Exchange: Brothers offer gifts, sweets, or even money to their sisters as a token of their love and appreciation. It’s a heartwarming exchange that solidifies their bond.
  • Emotional Connection: Raksha Bandhan transcends the physical distance between siblings. Even if they’re geographically separated, sisters often send rakhis by mail or through digital platforms, maintaining the tradition.

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Stories and Variations Across India

India’s diversity is mirrored in the various regional stories and practices associated with Raksha Bandhan:

Historical Tales: One notable story is the myth of Draupadi and Lord Krishna. Draupadi tied a torn piece of her saree on Krishna’s wrist to staunch his bleeding wound. Touched by her gesture, Krishna vowed to protect her forever.

Rakhi with a Twist: In India, the tradition of tying rakhi extends beyond blood relations. Women tie rakhis to men not related to them, as a sign of respect and protection – symbolically making them their brothers, promoting a sense of community and unity.
Raksha Bandhan – Source

Raksha Bandhan transcends cultural and geographical boundaries, reflecting the essence of India’s rich tapestry of traditions. It’s a celebration of love, protection, and the unbreakable bond between siblings. Through its various stories and practices, Raksha Bandhan paints a vivid picture of the cultural nuances that define India’s heritage.

In the state of Odisha, Raksha Bandhan coincides with the Gamha Purnima festival.

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Gamha Purnima

The Celebration of Nature’s Bounty

Gamha Purnima, also known as Gomma Purnima or Gomata Purnima, is a significant festival celebrated in the Indian state of Odisha.

The festival is dedicated to Lord Balarama, the elder brother of Lord Krishna.

On the day of Gamha Purnima, people worship Lord Balarama and offer prayers for his blessings. They also worship cows and bullocks, which are considered sacred animals in India.

Gamha Purnima falls on the full moon day of the Indian traditional calendar month of Shravana, which usually corresponds to the months of July or August.

The Rituals and Significance
Reverence of Cows

Central to the celebration is the veneration of cows, often referred to as “Gomata” or “Go,” which means “cow” in Sanskrit. Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and are associated with divine qualities. On Gamha Purnima, people offer prayers, adorn the cows with flowers and vermilion, and feed them as a mark of respect, reverence and gratitude.

Ritualistic Bathing

One of the significant rituals of Gamha Purnima involves giving cows a ceremonial bath. Cows are bathed with clean water, often mixed with turmeric and other natural ingredients, as a way to purify and refresh them.

Charitable Acts

As a way of giving back and seeking blessings, people often donate food, fruits, and other essentials to the cows. This act of charity is considered highly auspicious during Gamha Purnima.

Tied Threads

In some regions of Odisha, people tie threads around the horns of cows, similar to the way rakhis are tied around wrists during Raksha Bandhan. This gesture symbolizes protection, care, and the bond between humans and animals.

Prayers for Good Harvest

Gamha Purnima also marks the beginning of the monsoon season, which is vital for agricultural activities. People offer prayers for a good harvest and seek blessings for a fruitful rainy season.

Celebration of Nature

Alongside the cow-centric rituals, Gamha Purnima is a celebration of nature’s bounty. People often spend time outdoors, enjoying the beauty of the environment, and participating in various cultural and traditional activities.

Jhulan Yatra

In some places, Gamha Purnima also coincides with Jhulan Yatra, a swing festival dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha. This festival involves setting up swings adorned with flowers and offering prayers to the divine couple.

The Message of Gamha Purnima

Gamha Purnima carries a profound message of respect for all living beings and a deep connection with nature. By celebrating and honoring cows, which are considered sacred and embodiments of nurturing energy, the festival promotes harmony between humans, animals, and the environment.

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Alexander and Raksha Bandhan

The legend is said to have originated in the 3rd century BC, when Alexander, the Macedonian prince invaded India. King Puru (or Porus as the Greeks knew him) was the ruler of the Paurava kingdom, and he fought bravely against Alexander’s forces. However, he was eventually defeated, and Alexander took him prisoner.

Roxana, the wife of Alexander the Great, was said to be impressed by King Puru’s courage and nobility, and she decided to tie a rakhi on his wrist. This was a gesture of love and protection, and it was believed that it would bind the two of them together as siblings.

King Puru was touched by Roxana’s gesture, and he agreed to her request not to harm Alexander. The two men became friends.

The legend of Porus and Roxana is a reminder of the power of love and compassion. It shows how even enemies can be brought together by the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.

It is important to note that there is no historical evidence to support the legend of Porus and Roxana. However, the legend is still popular in India, and it is often told as a way to celebrate the festival of Raksha Bandhan.

Here is an account of Alexander’s abrupt end of conquering the world after this encounter above.

The Battle of the Hydaspes: Alexander and King Porus

In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king and conqueror, embarked on his campaign to conquer the Indian subcontinent. His path led him to the banks of the Hydaspes River (modern-day Jhelum River in Pakistan), where he faced King Porus, a powerful ruler of the Paurava Kingdom.

Alexander’s Struggle and Departure

Some historical accounts suggest that the Battle of the Hydaspes was not a clear victory for Alexander the Great. Instead, they propose that the battle was fiercely contested, and King Porus’s forces posed a significant challenge to the Macedonian army. King Porus’s strategic acumen and the might of his war elephants created formidable obstacles for Alexander’s forces.

While Alexander’s army managed to make some gains, the conflict resulted in heavy casualties and exhausted resources. The grueling nature of the battle, combined with the realization of the vastness of the Indian subcontinent and the challenges it presented, especially after the tough battle with a relatively small unknown kingdom’s forces, led Alexander and his troops to reconsider their campaign.

Historical Significance

The Battle of the Hydaspes marked a significant juncture in Alexander’s Indian campaign. While he continued to push further eastward, his soldiers began to grow weary, and he eventually decided to turn back. The encounter with Porus had given Alexander an insight into the strength and resilience of the Indian kingdoms, which influenced his decision to eventually halt his conquests and return to his homeland.

Hasty Departure

So rather than proceeding deeper into India, Alexander and his forces decided to halt their campaign and make a relatively hasty departure towards the sea. The difficulty in managing a sprawling empire, the weariness of his troops, and the logistical challenges of maintaining supply lines in unfamiliar terrain all played a role in this decision.

Local Lore and Legends

One intriguing point is the absence of local mentions of Alexander’s conquest in some historical narratives. While Alexander’s campaign is well-documented in Greek sources, references to him in local Indian texts are notably scarce. This has led some historians to question the extent of his impact on Indian history and the authenticity of certain accounts.

Historical Interpretations

While the traditional narrative of Alexander’s conquest exists, these accounts may not paint an accurate picture about history.

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Rakhi Purnima and Sacred Threads

“Upanayana” ceremony in Hinduism, also known as the sacred thread ceremony. This ceremony marks a significant transition in a young boy’s life, symbolizing his initiation into the study of the Vedas and his progression into adulthood.
The sacred thread – Source
What is Upanayana

The Upanayana ceremony is a sacred rite of passage that dates back to ancient times in Hindu culture. It is typically performed for boys but in ancient times the sacred thread was for both boys and girls – as it marks their readiness for formal education and spiritual studies.

The Sacred Thread (Yajnopavita)

One of the central aspects of the Upanayana ceremony is the wearing of the sacred thread, known as the “yajnopavita.” This thread is made of cotton, handmade 3 strings tied in a loop. The three stands of thread represents Rig, Yajur and Sam Veda. The knot in the sacred thread is called Brahma-Granthi. In Sanskrit Granthi is a knot. There are three knots, one each for the Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The thread is worn over the left shoulder and diagonally across the torso.

Significance and Symbolism

The Upanayana ceremony and the sacred thread hold deep symbolic meanings:

Initiation into Learning

The Upanayana marks a boy’s initiation into the study of the Vedas and other sacred texts. It is a recognition of his intellectual and spiritual readiness to begin his education journey.

Female scholars like Gargi and Lopmudra are known to have undergone Upanayan Sanskar. Maitreyi, Visvavara, Apala, Indrani, Urvashi, Ghosha, and Sachi are also well known scholars in Indian history.

Transition to Adulthood

The ceremony symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood, signifying the young boy’s entry into the responsibilities of life, including education, family, and society.

Connection with Tradition

The sacred thread represents a connection with ancient traditions and knowledge. Wearing it serves as a reminder of one’s duty to preserve and propagate the knowledge of the Vedas.

Spiritual Symbolism

The three strands of the thread symbolize the qualities of sattva (purity), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance). Wearing the thread reminds the wearer of the pursuit of purity and self-improvement.

The ceremony marks the second birth of the child in the world of knowledge and the children are called ‘dwij’ meaning twice born.


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Changing the Sacred Thread on Rakhi Purnima

The tradition of changing the sacred thread on Rakhi Purnima is a regional practice observed by some communities.

Rakhi Purnima, a special celestial occasion is also the day for this renewal. The ceremony involves removing the old thread and replacing it with a new one, symbolizing the continuation of learning, growth, and spiritual progress. It’s a way of reconnecting with one’s identity, traditions, and the responsibilities that come with adulthood.

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