Travel to Nepal
Janai Purnima or Raksha Bandhan - The Sacred Thread Festival
Travel to Nepal

Janai purni, on the full moon day of August, is a time crammed with festivities that begin the preceding evening, continuing all through the day and lasting far into the night.  

For high-caste Hindu men, Janai purnima means the annual changing of the sacred Thread, a yellow cotton string worn about the neck and underarm beneath the clothing of Brahmans, the learned priestly class and Chhetris, who were originally warriors and rulers. This thread is bestowed upon males only, usually during youth, in impressive religious rituals, which officially initiate them into Hinduism and must be worn thereafter on every day of their lives. The 'triple cord' symbolizes body, speech and mind, and when its knots are tied the wearer is supposed to have gained complete control over each. This sacred Thread may be changed during the year if it becomes frayed or defiled, for example, by the wearer touching a woman in menstruation, at which time she is considered 'unclean', But according to Hindu rules the cord must be changed without fail by a Brahman on Janai purnima day, janai meaning sacred thread, an purnima stemming from purnima, the day of the full moon. Some believe it was on this very day in late summer, far back in antiquity, that Hindus first donned the thread and vowed to wear it for all time.

On the preceding day the wearer makes himself'clean' by shaving, cutting the hair, paring the nails and bathing. He must observe a partial fast, taking only one meal of foods considered 'clean'- no meat, onions or garlic. Next morning, on janai purnima day, a Brahman, usually the family priest, comes to the home. The entire family gathers round while he reads from the holy book, performs a ceremony which sanctifies the new thread in the name of Lord Vishnu, and places it about the recipient's neck. In payment the priest is given foodstuffs and money in an amount commensurate with the family's means.

Now for men, women and children of station, Hindu and Buddhist alike, Janai purni is the day when the sacred yellow thread called Rakdha Bandhan is tied about the wrist-the left for females, the right for males. Raksha means 'protection', while b andhan signifies a bond or restriction. The wearer believes that it will endow im with good fortune, Tradition says that this sacred wrist-string should be worn for three months-until Laxmi puja, during th efestival of Lights, when, no longer yellow, it is removed and tied to the tail of a sacred cow. Thus when death comes to th edonor he has a better chance that a cow will be waiting to assist him across the River Bhaitarna, and through various other barrirs along th eroute to the Gates of Judgment,by allowing the dead soul to cling to her tail.

On the night before Janaipurni hundreds of worshippers gather at the sacred sunken square pond called kumbeshwar in patan. this pokhari lies in the courtyard of the five-tiered temple of Mahadev (another name for shiva) which houses two three-three-foot  shiva lingams. These phallic idols represent Lord shiva himself and are found in great number throughout th ealley, All are sacred, but certain ones, such as Kumbeshwar, possess greaterpowers an dattributes than others. The first lingam in this tempe is a pillar of gilded metal with five faces of shiva carved around the head. Beside it stands a second,the entire body of which is covered by a coiled snake carved  in gold. It is this second lingam which must be moved into the sunken pond the night before Janai Purni.

To Lord Shiva's great temple at Pashupatinath, northwest of Kathmandu, crowds also converge long before daybreak on Janai Purni. Woorshippers give a alms of rice and coins to beggars and cripples on the walk that leads to the temple gated, take holy baths in the Bagmati River, do puja to the sacred Shiva lingam and receive the raksha thread for the wrist. People say on the day before Janai Purni this famous temple is closed, the only occasion in the year, for on that day Lord Shiva visits the sacred lake of Gosainkund.

This beautiful lake, twenty -five miles north of Kathmandu Valley at an altitude of about 16000 feet, was created, legend says, by Lord Shiva himself. It seems he drank poison, which threatened to engulf the world and all mankinds, and in search of fresh water gushed forth to quench his thirst and formed thish sacred lake. On Janai Purni thousands of pilgrim's trek, sometimes form great distances and for several days, to attend the religious mela or fair, camp on the sacred shores, take holy baths in the worship in Shiva 's name. On the climb through rarified air to Gosainkund, awe-struck pilgrims become weak and dizzy, and their sight blurs; then they know they have been 'possessed' by the poison which Shiva drank. Some faint and have to be carried back to their himes, never reaching the lake. Returning pilgrims tell of seeing an image of Shiva 'lying in the water', while others tell of seeing his long-handled trident or the vessel of holy water he often carries.

It is believed that in ancient times a Shiva temple actually stood on the rocks in this lake, since there exists today a reddish-brown stone which resembles a great kneeling bull, the same Nandi, servant and companion of Shiva, whose image is found before all Shiva temples.

A legend persists that long ago a devotee, while bathing in Gosaindund lake, dropped his brass whater pot and it sank out of sight. Some time later it miraculously appeared in Kumbeshwar Pond in Patan, mentioned lake through some subterranean river into Kumbeshwar pond, a belief given  further credence by the fact that water of the patan pond remains abnoramally cold throughout the year. The on Janai purni day thousands of devotees, unable to make the long mountain tred to Gosaindund, are content to bathe at Kumeshwar.

Thus the day of the August full moon means many things to many people and the Janai Purni ceremonies enhance the welfare of the living, bring comfort eventually to the souls of the dead, and sustenance to the frogs in the fields.

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