Introduction to HSS Festivals
The Rakshaa Bandhan stirs up one of the deepest and noblest emotions in the human heart - the abiding and chaste bond of love between the brother and the sister.
The delicate cord tied by the sister to the brother on this day pulsates with this sublime sentiment. History and legends of Bharat abound in touching episodes of ladies seeking protection from far-off, unacquainted heroes, though the Raakhi. A story is told of Alexander's wife approaching his mighty Hindu adversary Pururavas and tying Raakhi on his hand, seeking assurance from him for saving the life of her husband on the battlefield. And the great Hindu king, in the true traditional Kshatriya style, responded; and as the legend goes, just as he raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the Raakhi on his own hand and restrained from striking.
A more poignant instance is of the princess of a small Rajput principality. It speaks of the spell the Raakhi had cast even on those of alien faiths. The princess sent a Raakhi to the Moghal Emperor Humayun to save her honor from the onslaught of the Gujarat Sultan. The emperor who was engaged in an expedition against Bengal, turned back and hastened to the rescue of his Raakhi sister. But, alas, to his utmost sorrow, he found that the kingdom had already been overrun and the princess had committed Jauhaar, i.e., leaped into the flames to save her honor.
The sister-brother relationship highlighted by the Raakhi goes far beyond the mere personal protection of a female from a male. It also implies the basic element of an amicable and harmonious social life where all members of the society look upon themselves as brothers and sisters and as children of one common motherland.
The congregational Raakhi function carries this social content. Particularly, the tying of Raakhi to the sacred Bhagavaa Dhwaj at the start of the function signifies this social and cultural aspect. Not only do the participants in the function develop a sense of love and affection amongst themselves but they also affirm their loyalty and devotion to the society of which they are the children. Their commitment to protect each other and also the society as a whole is emphasized through this simple ceremony.
In the Hindu tradition the Rakshaa has indeed assumed all aspects of protection of the forces of righteousness from the forces of evil. Once, Yudhishthira asked Sri Krishna how best he could guard himself against impending evils and catastrophes in the coming year. Krishna advised him to observe the Rakshaa Ceremony. He also narrated an old incident to show how potent the Rakshaa is.
Once, Indra was confronted by the demon king - the Daitya-raaja - in a long-drawn battle. At one stage, the Daitya-raaja got better of Indra and drove him into wilderness. Indra, humbled and crest-fallen, sought the advice of Brihaspati, the Guru of Gods. The Guru told him to bide his time, prepare himself and then march against his adversary. He also indicated that the auspicious moment for sallying forth was the Shraavana Poornima. On that day, Shachee Devi, the wife of Indra, and Brihaspati tied Raakhis around Indra's right-wrist. Indra then advanced against the Daitya-raaja, vanquished him and reestablished his sovereignty.
The Rakshaa has several similar pauraanik associations. The following couplet is recited, especially in the northern parts, while tying the Raakhi. It denotes how the King Bali had become so powerful with the Raakhi on:
Yena baddho Balee raajaa daanavendro mahaabalah |
tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshe maa chala maa chala ||
(I am tying a Rakshaa to you, similar to the one tied to Bali the powerful king of demons. Oh Rakshaa, be firm, do not waver.)
It is not merely that the spirit of Rakshaa manifests itself on occasions of mortal peril to the life and honor of the beloved ones or to the society. It is not like the HOme Guards or the militia which are expected to come to the rescue of the people in times of war or natural calamities. No, it is far more deep and all-encompassing. It is like the flow of bloodstream through every limb and organ of the body, carrying strength and nourishment to every cell thereof. As a result, even a small wound anywhere in the body is promptly attended to by the entire body. Every other limb spontaneously sacrifies a part of its blood and energy to heal that wound and keep that organ healthy and strong.
This is how the society can live and prosper amidst all kinds of challenges either from within or without. Especially, various types of internal stresses and strains which are generated in the body-politic of a nation because of ever-changing economic, political and other factors can be overcome only on the strength of this inner flow of mutual affection and amity.
A society imbued with this spirit will see to it that every one of its members is made happy. The idea of the Hindu has always been:
Sarvepi sukhinassantu, sarve santu niraamayaah |
Sarve bhadraani pashyantu, maa kashchit duhkhabhaag bhavet ||
(Let everyone be happy, let everyone be free from all ills, let everyone behold only the auspicious, let no one be afflicted.)
This concept is far more comprehensive than the concept of the `maximum happiness of the maximum number.' In fact, spontaneous love and compassionate service for the poor and lowly in society is held up as the highest form of worship of God Himself. The spirit of selfless social service which makes for the uplift of the needy and deprived sections is thus transformed into a spiritual saadhanaa.
It was Raamakrishna Paramahamsa who coined the world, Daridra Naaraayana. He would not even tolerate expressions like `showing pity to the poor and sick.' Once when he was in a semi-samaadhi state, he exclaimed, "Compassion for creatures! Compassion for creatures! Thou fool! An insignificant worm crawling on earth, thou to show compassion to others! Who art thou to show compassion? No, it cannot be. It is not compassion for others, but rather service to man, recognizing him to be the veritable manifestation of God!" Swami Vivekananda picked up the thread and invoked God in the poor and ignorant and said,
'daridradevo bhava, moorkhadevo bhava.'
The boon asked of God by the King Rantideva who, when his kingdom was ravaged by famine, gave away his last morsel of food to a hungry man and the last sip of water to a thirsty dog, remains the eternal heart-beat of every devout Hindu:
Na twaham kaamaye raajyam na swargam naapunar bhavam |
Kaamaye duhkhataptaanaam praaninaam aarti naashanam ||
"Oh Lord, I desire not kingdom nor the heavens nor even moksha. All I desire is to remove the suffering from the afflicted beings."
It is only when this type of attitude towards one's less fortunate brothers and sisters permeates society that exploitations of the weak by the strong will end. Powers of intellect and body, and of material wealth and influence will then be utilized for the uplift and service of others. A Samskrit Subhaashita says,
Vidyaa vivaadaaya dhanam madaaya shaktih pareshaam paripeedanaaya |
Khalasya sadhorvipareetam etat jnaanaaya daanaaya cha rakshanaaya ||
For the wicked, learning is for dry arguments, wealth is for satisfying vanity, strength for harassing others, but in the case of holy men these are for imparting knowledge, offering charity and protecting others.
In short, Raksha Bandhan affords a most auspicious occasion to recharge ourselves every year with the true spirit of service and sacrifice for the welfare of the society, and find therein the highest spiritual fulfillment of human life.