Janai Purnima is known as the Sacred Thread Festival. On this day Hindu men, especially the Brahmans and Chettris perform their annual change of Janai, a yellow cotton string worn across the chest or tied around the wrist of the right hand. This thread is only given to males during a lengthy and impressive religious ceremony called the 'Bratabandhan'. This cord initiates them into manhood and commands them to faithfuly the follow the relegion. The Janai must be worn everyday of their lives from this day onwards. The 'triple cord' is a symbol of body, speech and mind, and when the knots are tied the wearer is supposed to gain complete control over each. This cord is changed if it becomes frayed or defiled, for example, when the wearer touches a woman in menstruation, during which she is considered 'unclean'. But according to Hindu rules the cord must be changed without fail by a Brahman on this day, Janai meaning sacred thread, and purni meaning Purnima or the full moon, thus pointing to the change of the thread on the auspicious full moon day.
On Janai Purnima, there is a big mela (fair) at Kumbeshwor in Lalitpur. Devotees come here to worship Lord Mahadev and to tie a knot around their wrists. On the preceding day the wearer makes himself 'clean' by shaving, cutting the hair and bathing. He undergoes a partial fast, taking only one meal of foods considered to be 'clean' - no meat, onions or garlic. The next morning the family priest comes to the house. The entire family gathers around him as he reads from a holy book, performs a ceremony, which sanctifies the new thread, and places it about the recipient's neck across the chest. In payment the priest is given foodstuffs and some money.
This is also the day when male, females, and children regardless of station and caste tie a sacred yellow thread around their wrist. The males tie the thread around their right and the women tie it on their left. Raksha means 'protection' and Bandhan means a bond. The wearer believes that it will bring him good luck. It is believed that this thread should only be removed on Laxmi Puja, which falls three months later, and tied to the tail of a cow. Thus when death comes to the wearer the cow will help him to cross the river Bhaitarna, by allowing the dead to cling to her tail.
On the morning of Raksha Bandhan the people crowd around the Brahman who ties the yellow thread around the buyers wrist intoning a quick prayer which goes, 'Thus I tie the Raksha round your wrist, the same which bound the arm of the mighty Bali, King of the Danavas. May its protection be eternal.' Perhaps this is a reminder to the people of the extraordinary acts of charity performed by King Bali.
It seems that King Bali had taken the vow of Charity, according to which he would grant every wish made to him. His deep devotion and boundless benevolence won him a place higher than even Lord Indra, the King of of Heaven did. Seeing their realms under a mere "Danava"(demon), for Bali was the King of the Danavas, the Gods appealed to Lord Vishnu, who came to their assistance disguised as a dwarf. Knowing that Bali had taken the Vow of Charity; the dwarf begged him for as much land as he could cover in three strides. The moment Bali agreed, the dwarfed Vishnu swelled to the size of a tremendous giant and in two mighty strides stepped across Heaven and Earth. When he demanded were he might take the promised third step, Bali who had already recognized Vishnu placed the giant's foot atop his own head and was pushed far into the bowels of the earth. Thus Vishnu restored the Three Worlds to the rightful ruling Gods, and repaid Bali for his last act of earthly charity, by making him the King of the Underworld, where he is believed to be still ruling.
by Vani Shah