Janai Purnima/Raksha Bandhan: Festival of Sacred Thread in Nepal

My mom frequently recalls her journey to Gosai Kunda back in her days when Janai Purnima (also called Shrawan Purnima) comes closer. She says that she took a 6 days journey to-and-back Gosai(s)than. She adds that they had to carry the essentials with them and she walked barefoot the entire journey.

When is Janai Purnima (Raksha Bandhan) in 2023?

In 2023, Janai Purnima (Raksha Bandhan) in on August 31.

I am in this blogging journey to document and help revisit the Nepalese way of living and the festivals embedded with this. According to Satya Mohan Joshi, every year Nepalese people embark on terrestrial pilgrimage, mostly on and around Shrawan Purnima. Such journey is motivated by religious belief, and partly by innate Nepalese hunger of exploring the places around.

So, what is something special on Shrawan Purnima? The Hindu month of Shrawan is considered as one of the holiest month. It is considered as the month of Shiva, and protection. Shrawan Purnima is the full moon day of Shrawan.

Lord Shiva, according to the myths, drank the poison that evolved out of Samudra Manthan among Devas and Asuras. Should he had not done something with that poison, the entire world would have been destroyed.

It is said that Lord Shiva felt hot and became restless because of the effect of that poison; hence poked the ground in the Himalayas so that the water emerged out of it to form the lake now called as Gosai Kunda to lay and get relief from the sheer discomfort caused by that poison.

raksha bandhan

Many pilgrims visit Gosai Kunda located in Rasuwa District, Bagamati Province, Nepal around Shrawan Purnima just to pay homage to lord Shiva expecting auspice and blessings from him. It is also believed that whoever visits Gosai Kunda and looks meditatively into the depth of the water will see the lord himself lying in peaceful bliss there.

Now, let us talk about Janai Purnima and Raksha Bandhan. One might ask- “Why is Raksha Bandhan? and/or Janai Purnima marked on Shrawan Purnima?”.

In ancient vedic period, on the day of Shrawan Purnima, the Gurus used to start the academic year with a special function in the Ashramas. They used to perform rituals changing taga or janai (Holy thread) of the Shishyas (students) and start the new academic year afresh. With such continuation, we have been marking Shrawan Purnima as Janai Purnima.

Janai Purnima Mantra

The same tradition is popularly connected with the tradition of tying the thread to the person, along with chanting of the mantra– “ena baddho balī rājā dānavendro mahābalaḥ. tena tvām abhibadhnāmi rakṣe mā chala mā chala“.

येन बद्धो बली राजा दानवेन्द्रो महाबलः। तेन त्वाम् अभिबध्नामि रक्षे मा चल मा चल॥

This means- “I tie this holy thread to you, the one that was worn to the powerful and generous king Bali. O Raksha, do stay affirmed.” This holy thread tied to laypeople by the local gurus or to the brothers by the sisters and vice versa is believed to protect the people year round. Hence, Shrawan Purnima is also considered as Raksha Bandhan (raksha meaning protection).

Similarly, Shrawan Purnima is also the day of offering tarpan (holy water) to Sapta Rishis (Kashyap, Atri, Bhardwaj, Bishwamitra, Gautam, Jamadagni, and Vashistha). Hence, the day is also known as Rishitarpani.

Various parts of the Indian subcontinent have various traditions, beliefs, and worldviews around Raksha Bandhan / Janai Purnima. However, one thing is common- the belief that the thread protects the one who wears it. 

Janai is a sacred thread which is worn by Hindu men throughout the year. Shrawan Purnima is the day to get a new one that is enchanted with the 'Stotra' by the 'Guru- the Hindu priest'.

In Nepal, people prepare special mixture of legumes and cereals and term the mixture as Kwaanti. Newars of Nepal serve Kwaanti to frogs. It is widely believed that the frog is revered because, according to local folklore, it trapped the demon Ghantakarna (see Gathe Mangal) in the swamp and saved the people and crops.

Countless Stories of Rakhi

In the Indian subcontinent, there are numerous accounts of Rakhi (a holy thread) worn to somebody by another one. In some stories, a wife ties the holy thread to husband’s wrist. Whereas in some other stories, it is worn by a sister to a brother.

Nevertheless, there is some close account of Nepalese version of Raksha Bandhan and the Indian traditions. The terai region of Nepal has similar culture to that of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh of India. Such tradition has expanded also in Kathmandu valley and other hilly and mountainous regions of Nepal. Hence, the tradition of sister’s binding rakhi on the wrists of brothers is also evident throughout Nepal.