Sometimes an idea in one faith community is so good it spreads outside the faith to the world, such is the case with Raksha-Bandhan, a Hindu festival of friendship. The name of the observance in Sanskrit means literally “the tie or knot of protection,” and marks the love and protection found between brothers and sisters which can also abide in the relationship between friends.
The beginnings of this festival go back almost 6,000 years beginning among the Aryans in the Indus Valley Civilization. Ancient Hindu writings contain dozens of stories of friendship agreements which brought protection to brothers, sisters and friends. One early story relates how Vishnu passed a bracelet made of cotton thread to Indra calling it holy in order to protect him in the fight against evil. The bracelet blessed with prayers for success and well being brought victory and allowed Indra to recovered Amaravati.
Another story tells how a similar bracelet called a Rakhi was given by an aunt to two brothers, Shubh and Labh who wished for a sister. With convincing from the aunt and saint Narada the boy’s father, Ganesh creates a daughter from a flame which appears between his two wives, Rddhi (Amazing) and Siddhi (Perfection). The girl is named Santoshi Ma (literally “Goddess of Satisfaction”).
In another story Roxana the wife of Alexander the Great sent a thread bracelet to Porus, the king of Kaikeya who tied it on his wrist. Later, in the heat of battle Ponus had the opportunity to kill Alexander the Great, but seeing the knot of protection on his wrist spared the life of the great conqueror.
The observance of Raksha-Bandhan falls on the full moon in the Indian month of Shravan. which tin 2015 falls on August 29. On this day friends give one another bracelets with knots timed in them as a symbol of their prayers, friendship and protection. To give a bracelet means a bond with the other person that if one friend gets in trouble, the other will step in to give protection.
But the idea of friendship is not not, and it is not confined to a single faith. The Jewish scripture tells stories of friendship and protection between Abraham and Lot, Deborah and Barak, David and Jonathan and others. In the New Testament we read of friendship between Peter, Andrew, James and John, Paul and Barnabas, then Barnabas and Mark alongside Paul and Silas. Our world loves the concept of friendship.
Friendship in the United States day began in 1919 separate from the celebration in India. At first it was met with criticism as a card selling gimmick. In 1930, Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark cards set the date close to Raksha-Bandhan, the first Sunday in August, and although Congress put their stamp of approval on the day in 1935, it continues to struggle in finding its place on the traditional calendar of holidays.
What does not struggle, however, is the concept of friendship. People need friends, and give objects to seal their friendship. Children for years have made friendship bracelets with knots, the same as in India. And it does not look like friendship is going away, because friendship builds community.