Raksha Bandhan

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Raksha Bandhan (Janai Purnima, Brother and Sister Day)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Hindu, Buddhist)
Date of Observation: July-August; Hindu month of Sravana
Where Celebrated: India, Nepal
Symbols and Customs: Rakhi

ORIGINS

Raksha Bandhan is a day for brothers and sisters to reaffirm their bonds of affection. It is observed by the Hindus in northern India and by both Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal, where members of both religions often celebrate in each other's temples. Sisters tie colorful threads or amulets (see RAKHI ) on their brothers' wrists and put dots of vermilion paste on their brothers' foreheads while praying for them to live a long life. Brothers, in turn, give their sisters gifts-usually a piece of jewelry or clothing, or perhaps some money-while promising to protect them throughout their lives. In families where there are only boys or only girls, a friend or relative is asked to act as a brother or sister during the festival.

In Nepal, the Brahmins (members of the highest caste) put golden threads around everyone's wrists while reciting a mantra or sacred word to give the thread the power to protect its wearer. The Janai or "sacred threads" that all Brahmins wear around their necks are also changed at this time. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which meant river. It referred to people living in the Indus valley in the Indian subcontinent. Many scholars regard Hinduism as the oldest living religion.

Hinduism has no founder, one universal reality (or god) known as Brahman, many gods and goddesses (sometimes referred to as devtas), and several scriptures. Hinduism also has no priesthood or hierarchical structure similar to that seen in some other religions, such as Christianity. Hindus acknowledge the authority of a wide variety of writings, but there is no single, uniform canon. The oldest of the Hindu writings are the Vedas. The word "veda" comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from ancient oral traditions, contain hymns, instructions, explanations, chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Maha- bharata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Hindu pantheon includes approximately thirty-three million gods. Some of these are held in higher esteem than others. Over all the gods, Hindus believe in one absolute high god or universal concept. This is Brahman. Although he is above all the gods, he is not worshipped in popular ceremonies because he is detached from the day-to-day affairs of the people. Brahman is impersonal. Lesser gods and goddesses (devtas) serve him. Because these are more intimately involved in the affairs of people, they are venerated as gods. The most honored god in Hinduism varies among the different Hindu sects. Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of reality and look back on a common history.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Rakhi

Usually made from a few colorful cotton or silk threads, or sometimes from silver and gold threads, the rakhi symbolizes protection against evil during the coming year. According to legend, when Sultan Babar, the Mohammedan Emperor at Delhi, received a portion of a silken bracelet from the Rajputanan princess who was in grave danger, he immediately rushed to help her. Such a relationship was considered to be like that of brother and sister, and it became customary in India for men who had received rakhis to risk their lives, if necessary, to help their "sisters" and rescue them from danger.

Another legend says that Sachi, the consort of the Hindu god Indra, tied such a thread bracelet around the right wrist of her husband when he was disgraced in battle by the demon forces. Indra fought the demons again and was victorious this time.

Old, worn-out rakhis must be discarded in the water of a pool, sacred tank, or river.

FURTHER READING

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990.

WEB SITE

Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India www.raksha-bandhan.com

Raksha Bandhan

July-August; full moon day of Hindu month of Sravana
This day, sometimes also referred to as Brother and Sister Day, is celebrated in some parts of India by brothers and sisters to reaffirm their bonds of affection, as well as to perform a ritual of protection. A sister ties a bracelet, made of colorful threads and amulets, called a rakhi on her brother's wrists. The brother in turn may give his sister gifts—a piece of jewelry or money—while promising to protect her.
In Nepal it is a festival for both Hindus and Buddhists, for which they may even attend each others' temples. The Brahmins put the golden threads around everyone's wrist; it is worn until Dewali.
CONTACTS:
Ministry of Tourism, Government of India
Rm. No 123, Transport Bhawan, No. 1, Parliament St.
New Delhi, Delhi 110 001 India
91-11-23715084; fax: 91-11-23715084
www.tourisminindia.com
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, p. 159
BkHolWrld-1986, Nov 3
EncyRel-1987, vol. 6, p. 362; vol. 15, p. 480
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 466
RelHolCal-2004, p. 172
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