Narali Pournima or Raksha Bandhan

Imagine this: the monsoon winds are gradually retreating after the heavy showers. The sun is playing hide-and-seek with the grey clouds. Lovely shades of green have covered the earth and flowers with their vibrant colours are busy attracting bees, butterflies and little sunbirds. The sea seems to have tired after the roaring activity of the last couple of months and is comparatively calm now. The atmosphere is fresh and filled with romantic aromas. There is everywhere the charm of creation and the promise of prosperity. Small wonder then that one should feel like celebrating these long-awaited moments.

Shravan, the fifth month in the Hindu calendar, opens up a number of avenues for such celebrations. But the ‘coconut festival’ is truly one of its kinds. This festival marks the end of the monsoon season in Maharashtra. It is celebrated on the first full moon day of Shravan. And since coconut is known as ‘naral’ in Marathi, this particular festival is popularly known as ‘Narali Pournima’. It is also known by other names such as ‘Shravani Pournima’, ‘Rakhi Pournima’ or ‘Raksha Bandhan’.

The ‘coconut festival’ also marks the beginning of a new fishing season. The fishing community (known as Koli) in Maharashtra celebrates this occasion in a jubilant manner. On the festive day, fishermen who depend on the sea for their living, appease the sea god before venturing out into the ocean in their boats painted in bright colours and festooned with streamers and decorations of different kinds. Coconuts are offered to the sea god during the worship and prayers are chanted to seek protection from natural calamities and help reap bountiful fish from the sea. Singing and dancing continues for a whole day and the entire fishing community arrives at the coast to mark the occasion. Sweet coconut rice is the special delicacy prepared for this festival.

The reason for offering coconut is because it is considered the purest. The water and the kernel inside the coconut are unadulterated and on a religious level it is believed that a coconut has three eyes, thus symbolising the presence of Lord Shiva. There is yet another legend associated with this festival. It suggests that the ritual is a sort of thanksgiving to Lord Varuna (god of rain or water) for holding aloft the bridge that enabled Lord Rama to go to Lanka as narrated in the epic ‘Ramayana’.

A Promise of Protection

Another feature of this festival is the tying of ‘rakhi’ or the holy thread by a sister on her brother’s wrist, which explains the name ‘Raksha Bandhan’. While ‘Raksha Bandhan’ is celebrated all over India, the festival is celebrated with greater zeal in the northern parts of India. A ‘rakhi’, in fact, is no longer a simple thread but comes in myriad forms, ranging from flower patterns in cloth to the intricately designed ones in gold or silver. The brother in return offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her. ‘Raksha Bandhan’ has now begun to have a greater social outreach too with women tying ‘rakhis’ to soldiers and children in orphanages, not to forget prisoners.

Ancient Connections

There are many occurrences and mentions of ‘Rakhi Pournima’ in Indian mythology and history. The most significant incident is from the epic ‘Mahabharata’. Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, is believed to have torn a strip of silk off her sari and tied it around Lord Krishna’s wrist to staunch the bleeding from a battlefield wound. Krishna, touched by her action, is believed to have declared Draupadi to be his sister. He promised to repay the debt and then spent the next 25 years doing just that.

According to another legend, the demon king Bali was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu who had taken on the task to guard the former’s kingdom by leaving Vaikunth, his own abode. Goddess Laxmi, Lord Vishnu’s wife, wanted her husband back in Vaikunth. So she went to Bali in the disguise of a woman seeking refuge until the return of her husband. On the day of ‘Shravani Pournima’, Laxmi tied a sacred thread to the king. Upon being asked who she was, Laxmi revealed her true identity and purpose of visit. King Bali was so touched by her goodwill for his family that he immediately requested Lord Vishnu to accompany her to Vaikunth. It is said that since then it has been a tradition to invite sisters on Rakhi Pournima for the thread tying ceremony.

One legend states that ‘Raksha Bandhan’ was a ritual followed by Yama, the lord of death, and his sister Yamuna, the river in North India. Yamuna tied a ‘rakhi’ to Yama and bestowed on him immortality. Yama was so moved by this emotional bonding that he declared that whoever gets a ‘rakhi’ from his sister and promises to protect her would be gifted with immortality.

There is yet another legendary narrative to highlight the importance of ‘rakhi’. When Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BC, Roxana, his wife, sent a sacred thread to Porus, the Katoch king, asking him not to harm her husband in the battle. In accordance with the tradition, Porus gave full respect to this request and saw the thread as a promise and commitment. On the battlefield, when Porus was about to deliver the final blow to Alexander, he saw the ‘rakhi’ on his wrist and restrained himself from personally attacking Alexander.

Rakhi Pournima or Narali Pournima thus can boast of a long traditional lineage. Significantly, its importance remains undiluted. It is because it underlines the values that Indian society in the 21st century still adheres to. Furthermore, the festival highlights the intrinsic and close relationship between man and nature. Though urban communities have become too distanced from the special relationship that man enjoys with nature and depends on it for his well-being, festivals like these help to retain the bond to some extent.