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Raksha Bandhan Festival

Raksha Bandhan is an unspoken pledge exchanged between, a brother and sister cementing their fraternal relationship.

On the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, the ancient township of Allahabad reverberates with festivities. A troupe of Brahmins can be seen surging towards the Sangam for an early dip. Amidst the magical chanting of hymns and mantras, the Brahmins ceremoniously exchange their old sacred threads for new consecrated ones.

Literally translated the chanting means- “I am tying a rakshaa to you, similar to the one tied to Bali, the powerful king of the demons. Oh rakshaa, be firm, do not waver.” The mantra recalls how the demon king Bali had become very powerful with the raakhi on. The power of the mantra is supposed to protect the wearer from evil influences. Legend goes that once Indra,the Puranic King of the Heavens, while warring with the Daitya-Raaja (demon king) was confronted with reverses. Humbled, he sought the advice of Brihaspati. On the ausp`icious occasion of Shravana Poornima, both Shachee Devi, the consort of Indra and Brihaspati, the Guru of the Gods, tied silken amulets popularly known as rakshaas on Indra’s wrist. Subsequently, Indra vanquished the Daitya-Raaja and reestablished sovereignity over his celestial abode. Other references to this simple ceremony are found in the epic Mahabharata where Yudhisthara, the eldest Pandava son, once enquired from Lord Krishna on how best he could guard himself against all impending evils and catastrophes in the ensuing year. It is believed that Krishna advised him to observe the rakshaa ceremony.

I still remember nostalgically, how joyously my brother had proffered his arm on this occasion for that small endearing raakhi I had bought for him so impulsively. His spontaneous reciprocatory gesture of flooding me with gifts sent my head reeling.

It never fails to surprise me how this simple, annually recurring act of tyin the raakhi on one’s wrist can evoke such strong and intense emotions in a person. It seems almost like an unspoken pledge, exchanged between a brother and a sister cementing their fraternal relationship and reinforcing their protective bound against all ills and odds.

Touching tales of women seeking protection from heroes via the rakshaa, abound in the country. It is said that at one time, Alexander’s wife approached the mighty Hindu adversary, Pururava, and sought assurance of her husband’s life by tying the raakhi on Pururava’s hand. The story goes that just as Pururava raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the rakshaa and refrained from striking.

In yet another poignant instance, a Rajput princess sent a raakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun, enlisting his support against the onslaught of the Gujarat Sultan. Though engaged elsewhere, Humayun, hastened to the rescue of his raakhi sister but to his bitter disappointement, found that the kingdom had been seized and the princess had committed jauhar to save her honour.

Settling down to a rich festive repast, my grandmother, an erstwhile resident of Bombay, recounted how the festival of Raksha Bandhan also known as Narial Poornima or Coconut Full Moon, was celebrated on Bombay’s famous beaches. Coconuts were thrown into the sea to propitiate the Sea-God, Varuna, who is the chief object of worship on this occasion. The ‘three eyes’ of the coconut are believed to represent the three-eyed Shiva and hence the religious significance. In fact, Hindus consider it auspicious to break a coconut in front of a deity before embarking upon any important venture.

In our neighbourhood, little girls could be seen applying the red tilak on the forehead of their baby brothers and receiving small gifts in return. Later, we strolled out towards the glittering mela. On the way we paused awhile to watch a congregational raakhi function in progress. It had been organized by one of the socio-religious organizations, and the ceremony of tying the rakshaa on the Bhagava Dhwaja, the saffron flag, was being solemnly observed. This, simple ceremony affirms the people’s loyalty and protection not only amongst themselves, but also for the society in its entirety.

When we reached the fair grounds, we found the mela in full swing, resounding with the beats of loud popular Indian music. Colourful stalls beckoned passers-by with a dazzling array of games, goodies and refreshments. The merry-go-round, giant wheel and the outsized jhulas were the inevitable crowd pullers.

The main marketplace sparkled radiantly, with festoons and streamers adorning the shops at attractive angles. Rakhis in scintillating colours and in multifarious shapes, designs and dimensions decorated the thoroughfare. Large crowds thronged the sweetmeat shops which exhibited an assortment of mouthwatering delicacies and savouries.

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