Raksha Bandhan is one of the major festivals of India and is celebrated without any discrimination of caste or creed. This festival speaks volumes about the innocent bond of love which is shared by a brother and sister. On the day of Rakhi, a number of rituals are followed, some of them having historical relevance, and others that have more to do with religious devotion. Like, a brother tries to visit his sister on this day no matter in whichever part of world he is. The sister puts a vermilion mark (tika) on the forehead of her brother and ties a silk string on the wrist of his right hand. By doing this, a sister speaks a silent prayer for the long life of the brother and the brother takes an unspoken vow to protect the sister till mortal eternity. Like these colourful celebrations, the history of this festival too is quite varied as there are a number of instances which are either rooted in history or in mythology. Though, the information on the celebration of this festival for the first time is still unknown. Following have been mentioned some historical & mythological stories that highlight the foundation of what might have brought this festival into existence. Have a read!
Raksha Bandhan History
Rani Karnawati - Humayun
One of the stories which tells us that the base of the festival of Rakhi is rooted in history and not mythology is the story of Rani Karnawati and Humayun. According to the story, during the medieval times India was annexed by Muslims and Rajputs defended their country. Rakhi was considered to be a sacred and pious vow on a brother's part to protect his sister(s). During the medieval times when, Rani Karnawati, the widow of the emperor of Chittor, was invaded by the king of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to emperor Humayun, requesting him for aid. She knew that her army was no match against the Muslim emperor and Humayun was her last hope. Humayun on receiving the Rakhi at once acknowledged the urgency and started off towards Chittor without any delay. Though he was late in his quest and the land was already conquered, and Rani Karnavati, unfortunately dead; Humayun kept his promise. He restored back her kingdom and handed it over to Karnavati's son, thereby fulfilling the sacred oath.
Alexander - Puru
This is perhaps the oldest historical reference in which the ritual of Rakhi is mentioned. These were the times when Alexander chose to invade India, though he was a known conqueror of many nations, but the time he tried to invade India he faced strong resistance from King Porus (known as Puru in some texts). The scene was such that Alexander was completely stirred because of the fury of King Puru. This fact came into the knowledge of Alexander's wife Roxanne, leaving her all but upset and worried. She had heard about the festival of Rakhi and she knew about the importance of the silken thread. So she approached Porus, who accepted her as a sister and promised to keep the vow of Rakhi. At the time of battle when Puru came across Alexander and had the chance to kill him, he desisted himself from it and hence kept the promise of Rakhi.
Krishna - Draupadi
There is also an incidence in epic Mahabharata which is symbolic of the ritual of Rakhi. The incident goes like this - once the evil King Shishupal disrespected Draupadi and when Krishna interfered, Shishupal started abusing him. Krishna acted patiently but when the water went above the head he killed Shishupal with his Sudarshan Chakra. Use of the weapon wounded the hand of Lord Krishna and upon witnessing this, Draupadi ran towards him and tore a corner of her sari and tied it like a bandage on his wrist. Acknowledging her sisterly love for him he declared her his sister and vowed to help her in need. He repaid her by helping her out at the dicing game by infinitely elongating her Sari.
King Bali - Goddess Lakshmi
This is a mythical account for the basis of Rakhi according to which, the Demon King, Bali, was a devout follower of Lord Vishnu and hence Lord Vishnu vowed to protect his kingdom in person. This made Goddess Lakshmi sad, as she wanted her husband Lord Vishnu to stay with her in Vaikunth (their home). So, she went and stayed at Bali's palace as a Brahmin woman and on Shravana Purnima (full moon day) she tied a Rakhi on his hand. After which she revealed her real self and explained her real purpose. Overwhelmed by the affection showed by the Lord and the Goddess towards him and his kingdom, Bali requested Lord Vishnu to return to his seat in Vaikunth. This is also the reason why this festival is also known by the name Baleva in southern India.
There are a number of stories behind the history of Rakhi: a few rooted in history and others in mythology. Read on the article to know more.