In the shivering cold winter of north India, the month of January brings the Lohri festival that gives us warmth with its blazing bonfires, the company of loved ones, songs and sweet treats.
Lohri is celebrated every year on the 13th of January. This festival is also traditionally the most popular folk festival of Punjab and is associated with the harvest of the rabi crops. People worship the sun and the fire and thank them for the abundant harvest. The day is observed by all communities with different names. It is believed that from this date onwards the freezing winters ease a bit and it starts to get warmer in northern India.
Traditionally Lohri is celebrated by lighting a huge bonfire in a yard after the rabi crops are chopped. The bonfire is lit at sunset and people donning traditional attires, circle around it and throw sesame seeds, jaggery, nuts and sing traditional folklores. Sugarcane products such as gajak, jaggery are an important part of Lohri celebrations as these are made from the crops harvested in January. Apart from this til, peanuts, and popcorn are also distributed among the people as prasad (offerings made to god). People sit around the fire and sing and dance till the fire dies out. In this way, they pray to the god of fire, to bless their land with abundance and prosperity. Following this people exchange greetings and gifts with their friends and family members. Sarson ka saag (mustard greens) and makki ki roti (millet bread rolled flat and roasted on a pan) and sugarcane kheer (pudding) are the special Lohri food items prepared on this day.
As part of this auspicious occasion some people take a dip in the holy waters of rivers to cleanse themselves of their sins. Others donate to charity as a mark of sharing the bounties they have been blessed with.
Lohri is also often associated with the legend of Dulla Bhatti, the medieval warrior who rose up against the Mughal Emperor Akbar. He became a folk hero by stealing from the rich and rescuing young Hindu girls who were to be sold into slavery. He would get them married to Hindu boys in the presence of fire (Agni) and sing songs in celebration. Thus, began the tradition of the Lohri bonfire. Two maidens named Sundri and Mundri, who were so rescued are included as part of Lohri folklore, Sunder Mundriye. Songs hailing this hero and his brave feats are still sung today. It’s common for children to go door to door singing songs about Dulla Bhatti, receiving treats and money in return.
Lohri is also a grand affair for a new bride and newborn child. I remember my cousins first Lohri celebration in her home town Amritsar, Punjab after she was married. On the day of the festival, a different kind of vibe had set in. My cousin dressed in traditional clothes, adorned herself with flowers, jewellery and fragrance. She and my brother in-law then sat at the centre of the celebration, friends and family went up to them to wish and gift them. The whole ambience was electrifying, cheerful and upbeat.
Festivals like Lohri mark those unique times, that connect the dots between our past, present and future. The culture and history from the past touch our present moment in the form of an ecstatic spirit of celebration and creates a distinct legacy for our future generations.
(Archita Baweja of Melbourne is an engineer by profession but a writer at heart)
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