Raksha Bandhan, the traditional Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters, is celebrated since ancient times. However, the look of rakhi, the thread or amulet that is considered to be an ancient means of protection in Hindu culture, has evolved over the years. In recent times, rakhi is no longer a plain monochromatic thread but comes in various customised designs.
The market is flooded with shimmering gift packages wrapped in fancy nets, sweets, handcrafted dresses and hundreds of flamboyant rakhis (threads) of all shapes and kinds. While some of these are monochromes, others are displaying exuberant designs, cartoons and even pop culture artefacts. The excitement of Raksha Bandhan, the traditional Hindu festival has taken over the Indian markets.
Each year on Poornima (full moon day) of the Shravan month as per the Hindu lunisolar calendar, this festivity celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. On this day, sisters tie Rakhi on their brother’s wrist and pray for their longevity, well being, health and prosperity while the brother exchanges gifts and vows to protect his sister always.
Though the origin of the festival is not known, the fiesta has been mentioned several times in mythology as well as ancient texts. One of the oldest references of the festival dates back to the era of Mahabharata, a Hindu epic, which is set thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna (a Hindu deity) is believed to have cut his finger and when his pain caught Draupadi’s attention, the damsel tore a part of her saree immediately and wrapped it around his bleeding finger. Touched by her affection, Krishna promised to help her out whenever she needed and fulfilled his promise by making the cloth of her sari endless when she was being undressed in a crowded courtroom due to a bet that her husbands lost.
Another such episode from the history is etched in the name of Queen Karnavati, a 16th-century queen of the city of Chittorgarh in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, and the Mughal emperor Humayun. Muslim invasions over princely Indian states were at its peak during that time and Bahadur Shah, the emperor of the kingdom of Gujarat had attacked Chittorgarh twice. Though the Rajput clan was fighting this invasion with full valour, when Rana Sanag, Chittorgarh’s King was martyred, the defeat of Rajputs was destined. It was then when Karnavati wrote to Humayun and sent him a sacred rakhi. This gesture moved the emperor and in no time he deployed several troops to the Queen’s state. However, by the time the troops reached, the Rajputs had already lost to Shah and the queen had set herself on fire. Respecting the sacred bond with Karnavati commemorated by a rakhi on his wrist, Humayun’s troops fought Shah and handed over the throne to Karnavati’s son Vikramjit.
Though Raksha Bandhan is primarily celebrated in northern and north western belts of India, the celebration treads different routes across India. The celebration takes the form of Kajri Purnima for the farmers who choose this auspicious day to sow wheat in their fields. Similarly, in the coastal regions, the day is celebrated as Narayali Purnima in which god Indra and god Varuna are worshipped.
Rakhi and its modern avatars
The celebration, its spirit and the rakhi itself are no longer just about tying monochromatic threads on brother’s wrist; it has reeled a modern avatar.
Besides the pop culture figures and characters from video games like PUBG, stores throughout the nation are offering customised versions of rakhis ranging from nicknames to portraits etched over the sacred thread. Many manufacturers decided to tap the kids with rakhis showcasing their favourite cartoons. “Chota Bheem (an Indian cartoon) has been a major hit this season. It’s a strong heroic character. The little boys want to be as mighty as him and stand for their sisters always,” says Ram Das, a shopkeeper from Delhi.
With Independence Day and Raksha Bandhan falling on the same day, markets are full of tri-coloured rakhis that are carrying the spirit of both the occasions gracefully.
In the backdrop of the recent political developments in the country, many manufacturers decided to give the rakhi celebrations a political stride by launching ‘Modi Rakhi’ and ‘Mamata Rakhi’. While Mamata Rakhi has been a major hit in West Bengal, Modi Rakhi is decorating the markets across the country.
Besides this, several online portals, as well as stores, have decided to go green this festive season by manufacturing eco-friendly rakhis that can be sown afterwards. Many others decided to incorporate biodegradable substances like paper, recycled cardboards, painted pistachio peels etc., to make these threads. Army chief, general Bipin Rawab was presented with a hundred thousand eco-friendly rakhis this year, by school girls from Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu, under the ‘Rakhi for Soldiers’ campaign.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that while the festival has reeled many modern avatars, the essence of this celebration remains intact.