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History, Legend, Mythology ...
How a Raakhi Saved the Life of
Alexander the Great

(September, 2002)

          'Raksha (protection) Bandhan' (band) (a festival celebrated in north India in August) signifies the sanctity of the blood relation between a brother and his sister. In the month of August every year, sisters tie raakhi (band) on the wrists of their brothers in a reaffirmation of this relationship. They wish each other's well-being and the brother vows to go to his sister's aid whenever the need may arise.

Schoolchildren tying raakhi on Prime Minister AB Vajpayee's wrist
on Raksha Bandhan on August 22 last

           There are many tales about the origin of this festival. In ancient texts, puranas and history books several incidents throw light on the origin and early customs related to Raksha Bandhan.

           The oldest story may have roots in the days when devas (gods) and asuras (non-gods) were engaged in a fierce struggle to dominate the creation. Indra, the king of devas, was defeated several times. Indrani, his consort, then did penance and prepared a bond of protection which she tied on the wrist of Indra. With the help of its power he defeated the asuras.

           Another mythological story tells how Bali, the ruler of the earth, had to give away his whole empire to God Vishnu who appeared to him as a dwarf. Raksha Bandhan is believed to mark that event as well.

           The festival derives its significance and meaning today from several historical incidents too. The oldest anecdote goes back to 300 BC when Alexander of Macedonia invaded the Indian sub-continent with a large and powerful army on horse-back. A major battle with king Puru, ruler of Western India, so unnerved him that his beloved decided to do something about it. She had come to know about the Indian festival of Raksha Bandhan. She sought an audience with the great Indian warrior Puru and begged to be accepted as his sister. Puru in a brotherly gesture extended his hand and the Greek lady put a raakhi on it. Puru in return promised not to harm Alexander.

          In medieval times when Muslim invaders were attacking Rajput kingdoms and abducting the royal ladies, the latter would send raakhis to other kings and princes of neighbouring states with appeals to save them and their honour.

A designer raakhi

           A well-known incident is about queen Karmawati of Chittor. When the king of Gujarat attacked, the widow queen knew she wont be able to save the honour of the womenfolk. She immediately despatched a horse-rider with a bejewelled raakhi to Mughal emperor Humayun in Agra seeking protection from the invader. Humayun was so touched by this appeal of sisterly sentiment that he lost no time in rushing to her help with a large army. But it was too late by the time he reached Chittor. All he found was the burning pyres of the brave queen and thousands of women.

          In deep repentance that he could not save his 'sister', Humayun is said to have picked up a pinch of ashes from Karmawati's pyre and put it on his forehead as a mark of affection and esteem for her.

           Such moving incidents have over the centuries and generations strengthened the bonds of affection between brother and sister which are reaffirmed every year on the day of Raksha Bandhan.

-An India Overseas Feature

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