Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Nobel Laureate for literature, invoked Raksha Bandhan and Rakhi, as a concept to inspire love, respect and a vow of mutual protection between Hindus and Muslims during India’s colonial era.
In 1905, the British Empire divided Bengal, a province of British India on the basis of religion. In a form of protest, the great poet, Rabindra Nath Tagore arranged a ceremony to celebrate Raksha Bandhan to strengthen the bond of love and togetherness between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal, and urge them to together protest the British Empire.
He used the idea of Raksha Bandhan to spread the feeling of brotherhood. In 1911, British colonial empire reversed the partition and unified Bengal, a unification that was opposed by Muslims of Bengal.
Ultimately, Tagore’s Raksha Bandhan based appeals were unsuccessful. Bengal not only was split during the colonial era, one Muslim dominated part eventually became modern Bangladesh (a predominantly Muslim country), the other a largely Hindu Indian state of West Bengal.
The festival called as “Rakhi Mahotsavas” started by Rabindranath Tagore in the town of Shantiniketan became immensely popular as a symbol of Bengal unity, and as a larger community festival of harmony. In some parts of West Bengal, this tradition still continues as people tie Rakhi to their neighbors and close friends.
One of Tagore’s poem invoking Rakhi is:
“The love in my body and heart
For the earth’s shadow and light
Has stayed over years.
With its cares and its hope it has thrown
A language of its own
Into blue skies.
It lives in my joys and glooms
In the spring night’s buds and blooms
Like a Rakhi-band
On the Future’s hand.”