Folklores about Rakhi: The Festival of Brother-Sister Bond

Arindam recounts some popular folklores that are associated with Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan. The tales of Draupadi and Lord Krishna, Rani Karmavati’s plea to the Moghul Emperor, Humayun, seeking his protection, the story of Yamuna and Yama, Roxana and King Porus and also, the birth of Santoshi Maa, the sister of Ganesha’s sons are rather intriguing. Here are the various narratives of a popular festival that celebrates the sibling bond exclusively for Different Truths.

India is a land of folklores, tales and parables. All our festivals, including Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi (as it is popularly called), have many stories woven around them.

I mythology and scriptures, we talk of gods and demons with such casual ease that one might feel that we know them as our next door neighbours.

Here are some of the stories, I grew up with. Let me recount a few.

Draupadi and Krishna

The story of Lord Krishna and Draupadi, wife of the Pandava brothers, finds a place among the various versions (read stories) of the epic, Mahabharata.

It is believed that on a Sankranti day, Krishna cut his little finger, accidently, while plucking  sugarcane. His queen Rukmini ordered her help to get a bandage cloth. His other consort, Sathyabama rushed to bring the same herself.

Nearby, Draupadi was watching all this. Without wasting any time, she tore off a part of her sari and bandaged Krishna’s finger.

Krishna promised to protect her, always, in time of distress. He uttered a boon, Akshyam (unending).

Later, when Draupadi was being disrobed in public, in Dhritarashtra’s court, her sari became endless. Lord Krishna protected her honour.

Rani Karmavati and Emperor Humayun

The Emperor Humayun was in his palace one day when he heard a commotion (another version states that he was in the middle of a military campaign). He asked his guards, “What is happening?”

One of them replied, “A messenger has come from Chittor. Rani (queen) Karmavati of Chittor has sent a message for you.”

“How strange!” exclaimed the Emperor. “Let him in. I am curious to know what a Hindu Queen has to say to a Muslim Emperor.”

When the Emperor opened the letter, he found a special thread. It is traditional for sisters to offer this kind of affectionate and sacred thread to their brothers once a year on the Indian festival day of Rakhi. When offering the Rakhi Bandhan, the sister asks her brother to protect her honour and save her if anything should happen during the coming year. The message read: “To Emperor Humayun, this sacred thread is given by your sister to her adopted brother. Your sister needs your help to save Chittor from Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat.”

Humayun said, “Karmavati is a Rajput Queen, a Hindu Rani, and I am a Muslim. She calls me her brother? If I am her brother, this means that all Hindus and Muslims are of one family, that Hindus and Muslims will not remain enemies forever but will one day live together as a single family. This is the happiest day of my life.”

Humayun immediately rushed to Chittor with his army. Before he reached the fortress, he heard the horrible news that Karmavati had committed Johar (self-immolation). When her husband had been killed in battle, she had written to Humayun and had been waiting for his arrival ever since.

Humayun was shocked and horrified. He felt miserable that he had not come in time to save her. He cried out, “I shall take revenge. Rani Karmavati called me her brother. A Hindu Queen called a Moghul Emperor “brother”. This brother shall not rest until he avenges his sister’s death. This is my promise.”

As soon as Bahadur Shah heard about Humayun’s arrival in Chittor, he fled and went into hiding. But Humayun made a pledge, both to himself and before the Hindu Queen’s subjects: “O Bahadur Shah, no matter where you go in Allah’s entire creation, I shall find you and kill you. In this way I shall keep my promise to Karmavati. Now, my Hindu sister, you are in the other world, but I shall carry out my promise. I shall be worthy of your trust in me.”

Humayun then restored the kingdom to Karnavati’s son, Vikramjit.

Yamuna and Yama

According to another legend, the ritual of Raksha Bandhan was followed by Yama, the Lord of Death, and Yamuna, largest tributary of Ganga.

Yamuna tied Rakhi to Yama, who granted her immortality. Moved by the gesture, Yama blessed Yamuna. Any brother that vows to protect his sister would grant her immortality.

Roxana and King Porus

Defying the historical account of betrayal and sudden attack by Alexander the Great, in the wee hours, on King Porus’ huge army, another folklore is in circulation.

It is believed that when Alexander invaded India in 326 BC, his wife, Roxana sent Porus, a sacred thread and asked him not to harm her husband on the battlefield.

Honouring her request, when Porus confronted Alexander, he refused to kill him. Eventually, Porus lost the battle, was imprisoned. But he gained Alexander’s respect and honour. After Alexander’s death, Porus became a loyal Macedonian satrap.

Manasa, Ganesha and the Birth of Santoshi Maa 

This tale has no basis in the Hindu scriptures. But, the story of the birth of Santoshi Maa is associated with the festival of Rakhi.

On the auspicious day, Lord Ganesha’s sister Manasa visits him to tie him the Rakhi. On seeing this, Ganesha’s sons, Shubha and Labha, insist on having a sister.

Giving in to their demands, Ganesha creates Goddess Santoshi from the divine flames that are said to have emerged from his consorts – Riddhi and Siddhi.

The tale of Santoshi Maa’s birth was popularised by the well-known 1975-Bollywood film, Jai Santoshi Maa.

Other Tales of Rakhi and Some Practices

The festival of sibling bond in not limited between brothers and sisters. On this day, a Hindu priests visits various shops. He chants mantras and ties the Rakhi on the weighing scales, in return of a Dakshina (offerings).

NGOs organise visits to jails or the borders. Little school girls tie Rakhi on the wrists of the prisoners and jawans posted on the borders. These are always most tender moments. We see hardened criminals (erstwhile and present) and tough soldiers melt. Many have tears in their eyes.

It is said that in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, there is a tradition of wives tying Rakhis onto the wrists of their husbands. Here, ‘protection’ gains credence over brother-sister bond.

After marriage, husbands protect wives. Don’t be shocked or surprised. There is a tale in our mythology about the Lord Indra, the king of Heavens, and his wife, Indrani. She ties Rakhi on her husband’s wrist, a blessed thread offered by Lord Vishnu.

©Arindam Roy

Pix from Net.

Arindam Roy

Arindam Roy

Arindam Roy has 35 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgoan-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.
Arindam Roy