Raksha Bandhan - the Indian festival of tying the knot of amity, brotherhood and long life, is a symbol of seeking divine bliss. Not for the 'self'. But for man on whose wrist the thread is tied. 'Raksha' is the word for protection. 'Bandhan' is the bond. So it signifies the bond of protection. The protection is from the dark hands of the evils and against all perils. The protection that connotates - not just physical, but the spiritual one as well.
The origin and the legends:
The festival nurtures a rich heritage of legendary traditions, some rooted back to the ages of the great epics. In the Hindu tradition the Rakshaa has indeed assumed all aspects of protection of the forces of righteousness from the forces of evil.
According to the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pancha Pandyava (the five brothers belonging to the family of king Pandu), asked Sri Krishna, an incarnation of lord Vishnu, how best he could guard himself against impending evils and catastrophes in the coming year. Krishna advised him to observe the Rakshaa Ceremony. He also narrated an old incident to show how potent the Rakshaa is. It went like this.
Once, Indra, the king of heaven was confronted by the demon king - the Daitya-raaja - in a long-drawn battle. At one stage, the Daitya-raaja got better of Indra and drove him into wilderness. Indra, humbled and crest-fallen, sought the advice of Brihaspati, the Guru of Gods. The Guru told him to bide his time, prepare himself and then take on the mighty demon. He also indicated that the auspicious moment for sallying forth was the Shraavana Poornima. On that day, Shachee Devi, the wife of Indra, accompanied by Brihaspati tied Raakhi around Indra's right-wrist. Indra then advanced against the Daitya-raaja, vanquished him and reestablished his sovereignty.
This is how Raksha Bandhan came into being in the ages of old Hindu mythology and has transcended into the modern ages acquiring more of new and modified customs with itself.
The bond beyond:
Though in principle raksha bandhan is an observance between biological siblings of the opposite sex, the legends and history of India are rife in stories where a woman has tied the knot of Raakhi to a stranger man.
A story is told of Alexander's wife approaching his mighty Hindu adversary Porus and tying Raakhi on his hand, seeking assurance from him for saving the life of her husband on the battlefield. And the great Hindu king, in the true traditional Kshatriya (those who belonged to the brave warrior class) style, responded; and as the legend goes, when Porus raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the Raakhi on his own hand and restrained from striking.
More poignant instance is the story of the princess of a small Rajput (those who belong to the state of Rajasthan) clan. It glorified the spell that the Raakhi had cast even on people of alien faiths. The princess sent a Raakhi to the Moghul Emperor Humayun to save her honor from the onslaught of the Gujarat Sultan who seized her kingdom. The emperor, then engaged in an expedition against Bengal, turned back and hastened to the rescue of his Raakhi-sister. But, alas, to his utmost sorrow, he found that the kingdom had already been perished by the invador and the princess had committed 'Jauhaar', i.e., leaped into the burning flames to save her honor.
The Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore used the occasion of the Raksha Bandhan as a community festival to spread the nationalist spirit among people from different ethnic backgrounds. Thus siblings or not, the spirit of the thread of brotherhood and chaste love extends far beyond the biological association. Today it's common to see females tying a rakhi around the wrist of boys and men without sisters. Even a number of women may tie the rakhi around the Prime Minister's wrist (unless the Prime Minister be a woman), and similarly soldiers can expect to have women tie rakhis around their wrists. Thus Raakhi has become a social recognition of a man acquiring a sister or the other way round. Sister or brother in every respect, except in biological fact. And this is what the spirit of Raksha Bandhan today has turned out to be. A symbol of universal brotherhood and goodwill. So if you are a sensible girl with an inclination of seeking male friends yet not intending to tie the nuptial knot, this knot of brotherhood is an excellent idea to be indulged in.
This is how the society can live and prosper amidst all kinds of challenges either from within or without. Especially, various types of internal stresses and strains which are generated in the body-politic of a nation because of ever-changing economic, political and other factors can be overcome only on the strength of this inner flow of mutual affection and amity.
So come and exploit the auspicious occasion to recharge your sense and sensibility towards the society at large with the true spirit of service and sacrifice. For it is where lies spiritual fulfillment of human life.
Legend has it that once Lord Indra was almost on the verge of losing a long drawn battle against the demons. Indra, dejected and despondent, sought Brihashpati's advice. Indra's wife also came forward to help her husband. She prepared a talisman and tied it around Indra's wrist. It helped Indra ward of the attack of the demons and emerge triumphant.
Lord Yama, the God of Death, had a sister Yamuna. On every "Shravan Purnima", she used to tie a sacred thread (Rakhi) on her brother's wrist. Since then it became a tradition for sisters to tie Rakhi to their brothers on this day praying for their long and healthy life. The brothers, in turn, bestow blessings on their sisters.
King Bali was a pious devotee of Lord Vishnu. Lord Indra felt so insecure that he was bound to plead with Vishnu to help him to save his throne. Acting on Indra's request, Vishnu overthrew Bali beneath the earth. When Bali asked Lord Vishnu about the treatment meted out to him, the latter blessed him with the boon of immortality along with the promise that he would take care of his kingdom. True to his words, Lord Vishnu left "Vaikunthdham" to safeguard Bali's kingdom. Goddess Laxmi, the wife of Lord Vishnu, paid a visit to Bali, diguised as a poor brahmin lady, and requested him for a shelter. She regarded Bali as her brother and therefore tied a Rakhi on to him on the "Shravan Poornima" day. When Bali expressed his desire to give her some gifts, she disclosed her identity and added that she came here because Lord Vishnu is here to guard Bali's kingdom. So if it is feasible for him he should send Lord Vishnu back to "Vaikunthdham". Raja Bali immediately requested Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi to return.
Alexander was locked in a fierce battle with Porus who proved quite strong as an adversary. Moreover, Alexander's men were exhausted and the prospects looked quite dim for him. Sensing danger, Alexander's wife met Porus before the night of the final attack. She is said to have tied a silken string around Porus's wrist, imploring him to spare her husband. Porus, who was famous for his nobleness, ageed to the request. The next day on the battlefield, Porus came very close to killing Alexander, but he was reminded of the promise he made to Alexander's wife and desisted from killing his enemy at the cost of getting defeated himself.
When Chittor was ruled by the Rajputs, the kingdom had a widowed queen, Rani Karnawati. When Bahadur Shah of Mewar decided to attack Chittor, Rani Karnawati sent a Rakhi to Humayun, the Mughal ruler, asking for his help. Humayun was touched by this gesture as he was aware of the significance of Rakhi in the Hindu community. Humayun reached Chittor with his army to protect Karnawati. But unfortunately, by the time he reached Chittor, all the Rajput women had already killed themselves by committing mass suicide (satis) to save their honour.