Raksha Bandhan is based on an ancient legend. The legend goes that the gods were having a war with the demons.
The god Indra got help from his wife. She tied a piece of silk around his wrist to ward off the evil demons. With the silk around his wrist, Indra beat back the devils and got back his home in the heavens.
The practice of Raksha Bandhan was also conspicuous with the Rajputs and history is replete with instances related to the significance of this tradition. At the time of war when the brave Rajput soldiers prepared to go to the battlefield, the women folk followed the ritual of tying a thread around their wrist after applying a dash of vermilion powder on their forehead.
This was considered a sign of good omen and the ladies believed that it would protect their men from the enemy's blow and bring them victory.
Indian history is witness to many instances, especially among the Rajputs and Marathas, of Hindu Queens sending rakhis (colourful silken bracelets embellished with beads, semi precious stones, to tie on wrists) to Muslim Kings seeking their protection. Despite conflicting beliefs and religions, the Kings honoured the rakhi and came to the rescue.
The festival derives its significance and meaning today from several historical incidents too. The oldest anecdote goes back to 300 BC when Alexander of Macedonia invaded the Indian sub-continent with a large and powerful army on horse-back. A major battle with king Puru, ruler of Western India, so unnerved him that his beloved decided to do something about it. She had come to know about the Indian festival of Raksha Bandhan. She sought an audience with the great Indian warrior Puru and begged to be accepted as his sister. Puru in a brotherly gesture extended his hand and the Greek lady put a raakhi on it. Puru in return promised not to harm Alexander.
A well-known incident is about queen Karmawati of Chittor. When the king of Gujarat attacked, the widow queen knew she wont be able to save the honour of the womenfolk. She immediately despatched a horse-rider with a bejewelled raakhi to Mughal emperor Humayun in Agra seeking protection from the invader. Humayun was so touched by this appeal of sisterly sentiment that he lost no time in rushing to her help with a large army.
But it was too late by the time he reached Chittor. All he found was the burning pyres of the brave queen and thousands of women.
Today, Hindu girls with brothers give them special bracelets woven of silk (called rakhi) on this day.
The rakhi are made of red and gold thread. They are a symbol of the bond between brothers and sisters. When the sisters give their brothers the rakhis, they give them candy to eat as well. The brothers give their sisters little gifts in return.