History of Raksha Bandhan

On the window of Dishoom King’s Cross, we painted the iconic and resounding words of the great Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow
domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of the truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary
desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Tagore was a true visionary. He saw it as deeply important that people live freely and harmoniously and that they set aside those prejudices that have the power to divide people and even nations. And on 16th October 1905 Tagore peacefully put these beliefs into action.

On this date, the British Empire broke up Tagore’s beloved Bengal on the basis of religion. In one move, the make-up of a nation would be changed, its people pulled up by the roots and displaced to foreign soil. But rather than accept his country being torn in two, Tagore felt compelled to make a stand for unity. He sought to inspire love, respect and a vow of mutual protection between Hindus and Muslims and so invoked the spirit of Raksha Bandhan, which in Sanskrit means “the knot of protection”. Though it is traditionally celebrated between brothers and sisters, Tagore saw an opportunity to extend the meaning of the festival to bring together the people of Bengal. And so he called for the whole community to show their solidarity. Hindus and Muslims took to the streets in peaceful protest, and tied rakhis (the cotton threads that symbolise love and protection) on one another. The statement was clear: Do not divide us. We are all brothers and sisters here. 

Through this humble gesture they showed that they were united as a community, and on that day in 1905, the tying of the rahki became a symbol of brotherhood, of humanity, of peaceful coexistence.

These days those events are largely forgotten, eclipsed by the turmoil of later years. We Hindus enjoy Raksha Bandhan as a celebration of the precious bond between brother and sister. We’re very fond indeed of this little festival and the way it brings our families together every year to remind us of the ties that bind us.

And yet our minds often snag on Tagore’s poem. We share his vision – our world should not be broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls of race, caste, religion or any other marks of difference. And a celebration such as DiwaliEidHoli or Raksha Bandhan is a great source of joy and, as such, should be shared freely. And so, this Raksha Bandhan, we invite everyone – all humans, not just our Hindu brother-and-sister pairs – to celebrate this lovely, gentle festival with us.

This year, Raksha Bandhan will fall on Saturday 29th August (depending on the moon!). On this day, we will be gifting you all a rakhi or two, to tie on whomever you choose as a symbol of your love and friendship. It could be a sibling, a friend, a neighbour, or even a stranger – it should be anyone you want to share a little happiness and goodwill with! (There’ll also be mithai for everyone, and the requisite materials for anyone wishing to do a little pooja with us – just ask!)

Wishing you all a very happy Raksha Bandhan!

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