Full Moon vol 27: The Thread of Protection

Living Sanskrit Newsletters

Śubh Pūrṇimā! Before we get into the practices for today, we’re excited to let you know that we’ve successfully re-assembled our data after being hacked, and the site is live again. Thank you for your patience and blessings through this process!

When you get hacked, you immediately start to reflect about protection – what are the different ways we can protect something? What does it take to really be safe? Can we ever become totally invulnerable to attack?

Interestingly, today’s full moon is all about protection. On this day, there’s a tradition of tying a rākhī, (rakṣābandhana in Sanskrit) a sacred thread, to the wrist of someone you want to protect. And the person who receives the thread vows to protect the one who tied it, so it goes both ways. In modern times, we call this holiday Rakṣā Bandhan, and it’s still a big holiday in the Indian community around the world!

The most common practice is between brothers and sisters, (or people who have a similar relationship dynamic, such as cousins or close friends). The sister ties the rākhī on her brother, and they both promise to protect each other.

Gurus and disciples also exchange rākhīs, with the same prayers and commitment to protecting each other. Actually, women tie them on almost anyone (aunts and grandmothers are known to tie them on small children with blessings of safety).

The exception is you never tie it on your husband or intimate partner – because then you become like family, and that makes a romantic relationship inappropriate! Also, men don’t usually tie them because historically they’ve served AS the protectors in society. That said, it’s not forbidden, but it is uncommon.

How does the rākhī work? First off, it’s traditionally red, or otherwise brightly colored, symbolizing the energies of life and power. It is infused with the śakti, the sacred energy, of a person’s heartfelt prayer and clear intention. It transforms from ordinary thread to a tangible way for your body to taste the power of love.

Why do we tie it to the right wrist? Because in traditional understanding the right side is the solar side, which is active. Our hands are instruments of action. Take a moment and think of what you do throughout the day. If you notice, almost every action you take (including, for example, speaking or walking) somehow includes the movement of your hands as well.

Action follows attention. When you see the rākhī on your hand, it’s a reminder and an inspiration to take strong, dharmic, loving actions – choices that will protect you, and also all creation. Choices that will bring about a more just, safe, and beautiful world for all of us. By acting with integrity and wisdom, you end up becoming both the protector and the protected.

The rākhī also protects us because it is, as Maitreya Larios, one of our Core Teachers at Living Sanskrit, describes it, “a signal that you’re in a network of love and that you are not alone”. If you stop to think about it, a lot of the suffering we tolerate – and that we cause for others – is because we forget that we are deeply connected to others and that we are loved. The fact that someone else tied the thread to you is physical proof that someone else cares about you and trusts you.

The practice of tying a rākhī also teaches us about what it means to be protected. For example, the practice isn’t to build a wall around someone, or arm them with sharp swords. Attempting to block, control, or otherwise dominate others is not the the best way to create safety. We tie the rākhī so we can stay aware of a greater path: that if we cherish life, if we perform good actions, letting love and unity be our guide, we can protect everyone.

Practice: Tie a Rākhī

Traditional practices for this full moon include:

-Tie a rākhī on your brother (or brother-figures), or ask your sister (or sister-figures) to come tie one on you! If you are the sister, begin by honoring him by marking his forehead with kumkum and/or performing ārati, the waving of a flame. Then, tie the rākhī to his right wrist. At the end, embrace and feed each other sweets, symbolizing the depth of the love and sweetness in your sibling bond. You can also share a meal or exchange gifts.

-Offer a rākhī to your guru (spiritual teacher) with the prayer and wish that s/he is protected and nourished in every way. There is also a sweet tradition that women tie rākhīs to Śrī Kṛṣṇa if they don’t have a guru or a brother-figure to tie one on.

-A red or yellow thread is ideal, but any bright color will do (avoid white or black). It may also include tulsi or rudrākṣa seeds, semi-precious stones, precious metals, or wooden beads. Ideally, use renewable and natural threads such as cotton, silk, or bamboo with natural dyes.

-If you received a rākhī, it’s auspicious to leave it on as long as possible. Traditionally, rākhīs tied today are removed on the day after the Navrātri festival in fall. If the rākhī falls off, or you need to remove it for some other reason, it’s best to dispose of it in a body of water, under a tree, or to the earth (assuming there’s no plastic elements).