There are various reasons that lay hidden behind the celebration of Indian festivals. Though often the reasons are very clear, sometimes they are not. For instance, the festivals of Raksha Bandhan as known to the present generation spreads the spirit of brotherhood as well as sisterhood. However, apart from this, there are various other customs and traditions related with Rakhi celebration which are unknown. In this case, we can refer to the ancient Indian mythology where we get few references of this festival. From these mythological references, we come to know why, when and how it is celebrated in different communities of India. Some of the mythological legends associated with this festival are as follows:-
The legend of Goddess Laxmi and King Bali
This legend narrates the story of Goddess Laxmi and King Bali. When Lord Vishnu was guarding King Bali’s kingdom, Goddess Laxmi felt lonely and wished to be with Lord Vishnu. Hence, she disguised herself as a Brahmin woman and went to Bali to seek refuge in his kingdom. During the Shravan Purnima day, she tied a sacred thread on King Bali’s wrist. When he asked her about her identity, she revealed everything. King Bali was very much impressed and requested Lord Vishnu to be with her. He even sacrificed all he possessed for Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi.
Hence, the festival is also known as ‘Baleva’ meaning the devotion as well as love of King Bali towards Lord Vishnu. It is believed that since then sisters are invited for Rakhi tying ceremony in their brothers’ homes.
The legend in the Bhavishya Puran or Indra and Indrani
This legend narrates the war between the Demons and the Gods. When Lord Indra, the leader of the Gods were on the verge of defeat, he asked for the help from Guru Brihaspati. On Shravana Purnima, the latter tied a sacred thread on Indra’s wrist which was powered by holy mantras. Even Queen Sachi (also known as Indrani), Indra’s wife also tied an empowered thread on his hand. The power of this thread protected him in war as well as led to his victory.
Yama and the Yamuna
One day Yamuna, sister of Yama ( Lord of Death) tied a thread on his wrist and showered him with the boon of immortality. Lord Yama was very pleased and declared that the brothers who will receive Rakhi from their sisters, will become immortal.
Legend of Varuna
This ancient Hindu legend narrates the story of Lord Varuna, the sea God. On the auspicious day of Rakhi, devotees of Lord Varuna offer coconut to him as well as take holy bath in rivers and ponds. This custom is prevalent in Western India.
Legend behind Janai Purnima Celebration
On Rakhi Purnima day, citizens of Nepal celebrate Janai Purnima also known as Sacred Thread Festival. On this auspicious day, Brahmins and Chhetris change their Janais ( a sacred yellow cotton thread tied across the chest of Hindu males) and also tie a sacred thread on their wrist.
There is ancient myth related with this ceremony. Once Lord Vishnu, punished his great devotee King Bali. He tied a sacred thread and sent him to Hell. Since then Hindus, especially the Brahmins and Chhetris tie Janais around their chests to get rid of their sins.
Rakhi Tale in Jainism
In ancient time, there was a Jain king named ‘Shridharma’ who ruled the city of ‘Ujjain’. His four secretaries named ‘Bali’, ‘Namuchi’, ‘Brahaspati’,and ‘Prahlad’ were against him as he was Jain. One Day, Shridharma with his four secretaries visited the great saint ‘Acharya Akampana’ and his Sangha. Acharya knew the behaviour of the secretaries. Therefore, he asked all the 700 munis (saints) to remain silent. When the king was returning to his kingdom, on his way he met with ‘Shrut Sagar’ one of the saints of Acharya Akampana’s Sangha. He was unaware of the latter’s order as well as the secretaries’ behaviour. Hence, he began debating with the king’s secretaries and defeated them. This made them very angry and they decided to take revenge.
Seeing Muni Shrut Sagar at the place of the debate, they tried to kill him with a sword. However, they failed in their attempt. Hearing this event, King Shridharma asked them to move out from the city. They left the city and settled in Hastinapur. There they served the same position for the king of Hastinapur, ‘Shri Padma’. They even helped the king to defeat King Singhabala. King Padma was very much impressed of their action and he asked Bali for a boon. Bali replied, “I am not in need this time, when I will feel the need, I will demand”.
Time came when Acharya Akampana visited Hastinapur with his 700 munis. Hearing this, Bali asked for his boon from King Padma. He demanded to rule his empire for 7 days. King Bali accepted his demand. After becoming the king, Bali began to create lots of trouble over Muni Sangha. The Guru of Muni Vishnu Kumar reported this situation to Kshullaka Pushpadanta. Hearing this, he reported the same to Shri Vishnu Kumar Muni, younger brother of King Padma. He even told him that since he has various supernatural powers from his deep penance, he is the only one who can save Muni Sangha from such problematic situation.
Shri Vishnu Kumar Muni was unaware of his power of ‘Vikria Riddhi’ (power to expand the body as desired) that he possessed in himself. He first tested his power, then came to know about the boon offered by King Padma. He with his power of ‘Vikria Riddhi’ expanded Bali’s body up to the sky. He then placed Bali’s first foot on the ‘Sumeru Parvat’ (Mountain) and the second foot on ‘Manushottar Parvat’. This disturbed as well as excited the whole Universe. Bali got frightened and he fell down on Muni Vishu Kumar’s feet. Bali and his company asked for forgiveness of their offense. This incident saved the lives of 700 munis and brought them out from the trouble.
This event highlights the fact - to help as well as be with a person in his/her difficult times. Therefore, recollecting this great event, people celebrate Raksha Bandhan on Shravan Shukla Purnima. The festival not only spreads the message of brotherhood but also strengthens the bond of humanity.
Rakhi Celebration In Sikhism
The festival of Raksha Bandhan is not popular in Sikh culture. Sikhism believes in equality between men and women. The festival of Raksha Bandhan somehow highlights the weakness of womanhood. The festival reveals the fact - brother’s protecting his sister. This cannot be accepted in Sikhism.
Sikh women never demand their husbands’ protection. There are heroic tales of Sikh women such as Mata Bhago (Bhaag Kaur), Maharani Jindan (Jind Kaur) that revealed their valor, strength and strong determination. Like men, they carry Kirpan for self protection. They are never considered weak. When the 40 Sikhs left their homes to help Guru, their wives took hold of their position. According to Guru Nanak ‘Truth is high,’ ‘but higher still is truthful living.’ Even the question arises for those sisters who don’t have any brothers? The situation is same for those brothers who don’t have sisters. Hence, Sikhs reject Hindus’ reasons behind celebration of Rakhi festival.