The Real Reason for the Hindu Raksha Bandhan Celebration

Indian Street Market On Raksha Bandhan
Neha Gupta / Getty Images

Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan is an auspicious event in the Hindu calendar when siblings celebrate their love and respect for one another. It celebrated most commonly in India and it is observed on different dates each year, based on the Hindu lunar calendar.

Rakhi Celebration

During Raksha Bandhan, a sister ties a sacred thread (called a rakhi) around her brother's wrist and prays that he will live a long, healthy life.

In return, a brother bestows gifts upon his sister and vows to honor and protect her always, no matter the circumstances. Rakhi can be celebrated between non-siblings as well, such as cousins or even friends, or any male-female relationship that is one of value and respect. 

The rakhi thread maybe just a few simple silk strands or it may be elaborately braided and embellished with beads or charms. As with the Christian holiday of Christmas, shopping for a rakhi in the days and weeks leading up to the festival is a major event in India and other large Hindu communities.

When Is It Observed?

Like other Hindu holy days and celebrations, Rakhi's date is determined by the lunar cycle, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the West. The holiday occurs on the night of the full moon in the Hindu lunar month of Shraavana (sometimes called Sravana), which typically falls between late July and late August.

Shraavana is the fifth month in the 12-month Hindu calendar. Based on the lunisolar cycle, each month begins on the day of the full moon. For many Hindus, it is a month for fasting to honor the deities Shiva and Parvati.

Raksha Bandhan Dates

Here are the dates for Raksha Bandhan for 2018 and beyond:

  • 2018: Saturday, August 25
  • 2019: Wednesday, August 14
  • 2020: Monday, August 3
  • 2021: Saturday, August 21
  • 2022: Thursday, August 11
  • 2023: Wednesday, August 23
  • 2024: Monday, August 19
  • 2025: Friday, August 8
  • 2026: Thursday, August 27
  • 2027: Monday, August 16
  • 2028: Friday, August 4
  • 2029: Thursday, August 23
  • 2030: Monday, August 12

Historical Roots

There are a couple different legends of how Raksha Bandhan began. One story attributes it to a 16th-century queen named Rani Karnavati, who ruled in the Indian state of Rajasthan. According to legend, Karnavati's lands were threatened by invaders who were sure to overwhelm her troops. So she sent a rakhi to a neighboring ruler, Humayun. He answered her appeal and sent troops, saving her lands.

From that day on, Humayun and  Rani Karnavat were united spiritually as brother and sister. There is some historical truth in the story of Rani Karnavati; she was a real queen in the city of Chittorgarh. But according to scholars, her kingdom was overrun and defeated by the invaders. 

Another legend is told in the  Bhavishya Purana, a holy Hindu text. It tells the story of the deity Indra, who was battling demons. When it appeared that he would be defeated, his wife Indrani tied a special thread to his wrist.

Inspired by her gesture, Indra was energized and fought until the demons were vanquished.