Falling in the Hindu month of Shravan (July/August), the festival of Raksha Bandhan represents the strong bond between a brother and a sister. On this occasion, the sister ties a Rakhi, a sacred thread generally made up of silk and gold, to her brother’s wrist, and in return, he showers her with gifts.
Like most Indian festivals, the tradition of Raksha Bandhan comes from Indian Mythology. After defeating a demon, when Lord Krishna was injured and bled through his wrist, Draupadi quickly tore a portion of her saree and wrapped it around his wrist to stop excess bleeding. Grateful for her kind gesture and sisterly love, Krishna promised to protect her forever.
Consequently, Raksha Bandhan became a popular Indian festival wherein the sacred thread (Rakhi) represents a life-long togetherness of the siblings, who promise to love and protect each other forever.
PARTITION OF BENGAL AND CELEBRATION OF RAKSHA BANDHAN
Partition of Bengal, 1905, by Hemendra Mohan Boss via Wikimedia Commons
This festival also played a significant role in unifying Hindus and Muslims during the partition of Bengal. In 1905, when India was a British colony, Bengal had evolved as the epicentre of Indian nationalism. It was the most literate and wealthy province in the country, and one of the only regions where people first became conscious of the real intentions of the British. Bengal produced the majority of the country's leaders. It served as a major threat to the government.
To weaken the growing nationalism, Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, issued orders to divide Bengal in the name of efficient administration. Bengal was divided on the basis of religion, into Hindu majority regions of West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha and Muslim-majority areas of Assam and Sylhet. While the Hindus opposed this, many Muslims initially saw it as an opportunity to preserve their identity, and, hence, they supported the decision. This action of the Britishers was the most visible form of their divide and rule policy.
Many leaders, like Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, condemned the move. Tagore declared the day to be that of nation-wide mourning and instructed everyone to observe fast as a form of protest. The date of the partition however, fell in the Hindu month of Shravan, which coincided with the festival of Raksha Bandhan.
Tagore considered this as a wonderful opportunity and realized that the rakhi, a single thread, had the potential to create a sense of fraternity and love between Hindus and Muslims. He urged them to tie rakhis to one another, creating a lifelong bond of protection that nobody could break. Realizing their collective strength, thousands of Hindus and Muslims united on the streets and in community halls to tie rakhis as a mark of protest against the British government's partition policies. As a result, the event became a symbol of defiance against the British agenda.
Protests raged in Kolkata, Dhaka, and Sylhet for six years until the British authorities had no choice but to act. They eventually called off the partition in 1911, marking a major triumph in India's struggle for independence.
Tagore successfully modified the festival of Raksha Bandhan as a tool to bring unity among diversity and rebel against the Partition of Bengal. His endeavour to unite Bengal through Raksha Bandhan portrays how a celebration can bring a community and society together. His poem on Raksha Bandhan, "Amar Sonar Bangla" (Our Golden Bengal), "Banglar mati Banglar jal" (Oh God! Grant blessings to the Earth and Water of Bengal), exudes a deep affection for the nation and its citizens. The tradition of tying rakhis is followed even to this date as a way to symbolize unity among people.
Pratha Content Writer