All around the world, festivals celebrate various traditions that bring people together in shared joy and happiness. The diversity of India is recognised in its myriad festivals, and Raksha Bandhan is one of them. It is celebrated on the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shraavan, which typically falls in the month of August.
Nowadays, Raksha Bandhan celebrates familial bonds and has come to symbolize prosperity, health and well-being, the term literally meaning “the bond of protection.” This mutual exchange of love and respect is characteristically observed by the gesture of a sister tying a rakhi, an increasingly ornate wristband, around her brother’s wrist. Gifts are also exchanged. Despite the commercialism that has crept into the festival, this celebration still nurtures strong family ties across all faiths.
But Raksha Bandhan is rooted in the ancient past, and has a much greater importance than being merely a symbol of the mutual protection of brother and sister. We find its real significance in a story from the Mahabharata.
The story involves Arjuna’s son, Abhimanyu, and his grandmother, Kunti. As her grandson is poised to enter the chakravyuh, the battlefield formation of the enemy, Kunti ties a protection thread on Abhimanyu’s wrist before he leaves for combat. The power of the thread is so strong that Abhimanyu is invincible. The protective shield of the thread makes him impervious to any harm and renders him unbeatable for days. It is only when Krishna, disguised as a mouse, comes to Abhimanyu while he is sleeping and bites off the thread that Abhimanyu is left vulnerable. This ultimately leads to his demise. He falters as he is unable to find his way out of the chakravyuh.
This excerpt demonstrates the supreme power of the rakhi. It kept Abhimanyu safe while it was there on his wrist. The thing to ask ourselves is: Do we celebrate Raksha Bandhan with the same love, protectiveness and resoluteness that Kunti had for her grandson?
We can find the answer in sankalpa shakti. Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to “suggestion” in English. But more than this, it is also a process of using the will to take a solemn, prayerful vow to allow something that we want to manifest. When we conceive a sankalpa, we turn inwards to connect with our true nature, the heart’s highest intention. It is subtle, and therefore supremely potent.
Kunti was able to make a resolute sankalpa that allowed Abhimanyu to survive in battle until he lost his protective thread. Only this brought about his downfall. Imagine the potency of her will to protect her grandson; even God could not undo it without Lord Krishna’s intervention. It is the potency of sankalpa that makes all the difference.
Raksha Bandhan is not confined to brothers and sisters only. A rakhi can be tied on the wrist of a close friend, a wife, a husband, or a child. It is the subtle will of the sankalpa that brings the efficacy. In a similar way to Raksha Bandhan, many Asian countries celebrate Siblings Day to honour the relationship of siblings.
Our work is to develop our will to such a subtle level that our sankalpa manifests. This Raksha Bandhan can be the time to be confident about our intention of care and protection for our loved ones, and pray that it is sustained, regardless of whether there is a symbolic thread or not.
Wishing you all a very happy Raksha Bandhan!