Lunar eclipse to cut short Rakhi ceremonies

August 15th, 2008 - 7:13 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 15 (IANS) This Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi - the day when sisters tie a silken thread on their brother’s wrists to celebrate sibling love - will also see a lunar eclipse set in at 4 p.m. Saturday, signalling an end to the auspicious hour for the ritual celebrated by millions across the country. According to Ravinder Mishra, a priest at the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Kalkaji, south Delhi, temples have been witnessing a rush Friday. “There is a lunar eclipse on Saturday. And since Rakhi is celebrated under the auspices of the full moon, the rituals will have to be hurried up before the eclipse sets in at 4 p.m. The actual shadowing of the moon will begin at 1 a.m. (in the night) but the auspicious hour will end at 4 p.m.,” Mishra told IANS.

On Friday, temples across the country were busy cleaning up their premises and decorating the sanctum with mango leaves, marigold garlands, roses and golden streamers.

“We are expecting a heavy rush Saturday since Rakhi is being celebrated during the weekend this year. It is an extended weekend as Friday (Aug 15) is the Indian Independence day and a national holiday. Most brothers, sisters and their families will be home over the long weekend,” said Mishra.

Raksha Bandhan, which dates back to the ancient Hindu scriptures, is usually celebrated during the full moon in the Indian month of Shravan (monsoon).

Markets across India were unusually crowded despite the continuous drizzle in many places as sisters shopped for fancy rakhis to tie on their brothers’ wrists, and also bought new clothes to wear on the occasion. Sweet shops did brisk business.

Some of the more exotic rakhis were gold embroidered with ornamental pendants made of silk, pearls, semi-precious stones and coloured threads.

On Rakhi day, many women, usually clad in traditional Indian attire like saris, lehenga cholis or salwar-kameez and wearing jewellery, visit temples to pray for their brothers’ well being.

After the temple visit, they perform the ‘aarti’ (ceremonial ritual) of their brother with a plate decked with flowers, a lighted lamp and sweets. They tie the rakhi, or ceremonial thread, on their brother’s wrist and put a tilak or vermillion mark on their forehead. In return, brothers shower their sisters with gifts and blessings.

Though palates have changed with time, the traditional Raksha Bandhan fare includes arbi (yam) cutlets, pumpkin pudding and saffron sweet rice - along with a host of sweets.

“For me Rakhi is one of the most important festivals,” says US-based professor Sanjeev Sharma, who has three sisters. “I was their lone brother and so we share fond memories. My sisters, all of whom are air-hostesses, make it a point to send me Rakhis even by post wherever they are.”

Each region of the country has its own way of celebrating the festival with different names.

Raksha Bandhan has interesting myths associated with it - to which the festival probably owes its origin.

Hindu mythology has it that on the day of Shravan Poornima, the gods and the demons were fighting a battle against each other. The demons were in a stronger position. The king of the gods Lord Indra was very worried about the result of the battle. His wife Indrani made her talisman with her spiritual powers and tied it round Indra’s right wrist.

She believed that it would protect Lord Indra. The thread did prove to be the protector and the gods defeated the demons.

Another myth says goddess of wealth Lakshmi, disguised as a poor Brahmin woman, ties a thread around the wrist of the mythical king Bali, pleading that her husband Lord Vishnu, who was guarding Bali’s kingdom, be returned to her.

The talisman or the Rakhi, which has the power to protect, is called the Raksha Sutra and the ceremony of tying it is called the “Raksha Bandhan”.

Rakhi has a special place in the contemporary Indian socio-cultural milieu and in the commercial circuit. Indian movies also glorify the festival with elaborate Raksha Bandhan sequences and songs - celebrating sibling love - some of which have gone on to become Bollywood soundtrack classics.

The festival has also spawned a million dollar industry of cards, handicrafts and ornamental threads whose prices range from Rs.5 to Rs.100,000, depending on the material used and the work that has gone into the making.

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