Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan is the sweetest of festival – solemn, sacred and simple that registers and testifies the chaste bond between brother and sister, and perhaps found nowhere in any other human civilization the world. This is a great Indian social bonding and a very special occasion. The thread is symbolic, but the love it carries is noble and deep. The meaning of protection lies in the true love and bonding a brother feels for his sister, not on this day only but for the whole of life. It signifies, without doubt, that a brother must protect his sister from all the evils. It demands that the stronger must protect the weaker.
As a child I admired and cherished when I used to see all my friends running in ecstasy with colourful Rakhi tied on their wrists. It was indeed a wonderful sight. Later on, when I read how Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore popularized Rakhi Utsavas. During the tragic partition of Bengal, by the British authorities, in the year 1905 Tagore had experienced a great setback to his idea of a united India. In order to create a real sense of brotherhood among the people, he suggested the use of "Rakhi Bandan," the tying of the ancient ochre-coloured thread around the wrist.
Rakhi is observed on the full moon day of the month of Shravan, on which sisters tie the sacred Rakhi string on their brothers' right wrists, and pray for their long life. Rakhis are ideally made of silk with gold and silver threads, beautifully crafted embroidered sequins, and studded with semi precious stones.
In Northern India, Rakhi Purnima is also called Kajri Purnima or Kajri Navami, when wheat or barley is sown, and goddess Bhagwati is worshipped. In Western states, the festival is called Nariyal Purnima or the Coconut Full Moon. In Southern India, Shravan Purnima is an important religious occasion, especially for the Brahmins.
Raksha Bandhan is known by various names: Vish Tarak - the destroyer of venom, Punya Pradayak - the bestower of boons, and Pap Nashak - the destroyer of sins. Though Rakhsa Bandhan as Punya Pradayak or the bestower of boons seems a little understandable because of the festivity or exchange of gifts, the other names need research and exploration. If Rakhsa Bandhan is Vish Tarak or the destroyer of venom, then whose venom is it talking about? And what exactly is the venom? If Rakhsa Bndhan is Pap Nashak or destroyer of sin, then whose sin is it talking about? And what exactly is the sin? Are both the connotations meant to exorcise the venom and sin from the person of a brother who ties the thread? These are absolute questions that need scholarly study. When a brother (of a sister) rapes a sister (of a brother) the essence of Rakhsa Bandhan gets a big jolt. Loving ones own sister is great, but greater is respecting other sisters.
On the other hand, hating the sisters of other brothers, as we have experienced in countless wars, conflicts and riots over the centuries, to such extremes that helpless and hapless girls become the target of mass rapes is against the grand ethos of Raksha Bandhan. So why do brothers become ruthless monsters when it comes to treat with an enemy’s sister? Why don’t brothers remember the sacred Rakhi when they are busy committing the heinous crime of rape?
Rakhsa Bandhan is not a celebration, in fact; it is a bond that reminds every brother to refresh his commitment as to how strong or weak he is when he deals with girls (sisters) in the social spectrum, and what more he should do to bolster that commitment.
If the strong bond of Rakhsa Bandhan could result in innumerable political ties among kingdoms and princely states in yester years, then it can do the same magical effect in modern times as well. If the Rajput and Maratha queens had sent Rakhis to Mughal kings who, despite their differences, have assuaged their Rakhi-sisters by offering help and protection at critical moments and honoured the fraternal bond, then the same could be accomplished in this turbulent times between Muslims and Hindus. If Rakhi could help establish matrimonial alliances between kingdoms, then it can bring different communities nearer.
Legend has it that the great Hindu King Porus refrained from striking Alexander, the Great because the latter’s wife had approached this mighty adversary and tied a Rakhi on his hand, prior to the battle, urging him not to hurt her husband.
The culture of brother-sister relationship needs to be strengthened with renewed commitment in order to safeguard the honour and modesty of women in view of the growing atrocities being unleashed on them in modern culture. This Rakhi can be more joyous if the brothers make a new resolution to bestow the boon of true love upon sisters.
If we look at the crimes committed against our sisters, we will be ashamed of ourselves as brothers. For example, a total of 1,54,333 incidents of crime were reported against women in India in 2004 as compared to 1,401,601 in 2003, according to National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs. Major crimes against women include: rape, kidnapping, homicide for dowry, dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harassment, importation and eve teasing of girls, etc. There were 18,233 cases of rapes, 15578 cases of kidnapping, and 7026 cases of dowry deaths apart from 34567 molestation cases and 10001 cases of sexual harassment in 2004 bears testimony to the ground reality how women are ill-treated in our country. Moreover, out of the total victims of rape in 2004, about 8.9% (1,622) were teenaged girls of 15-18 years of age.
Recently, the Minister of State for Law and Justice K Venkatapathy told the Lok Sabha in a written reply, "58,310 cases relating to rape were pending trial in various courts of the country as on December 31, 2005".
So this time, when we tie the bond of Rakhi, we need to pledge for protecting not only our own sisters, but also those who belong to others. The ultimate objective of Rakhi dies down when a brother loves and adores his own sister and thinks just the opposite for all the other sisters in the country. A solemn vow to protect our own sister or sisters is a personal responsibility fulfilled; our social responsibility remains incomplete unless we feel a sense of protecting other sisters as well. This is not easy to feel the same feeling for the sisters of other brothers, but at least every brother could share the feeling of love and respect for girls as sisters.
It won’t be wrong to say the fashionable friendship band in vogue today is an extension of the Rakhi custom. When a girl feels a friend of the opposite sex has developed a kind of love too strong for her to reciprocate, she sends the guy a Rakhi and turns the relationship into a sisterly one. This is one way of saying, "let’s just be friends", without hurting the other person's soft feelings for her.