Festival of Lohri

Festival of LohriLohri, a North-Indian but largely Punjabi festival, falls unfailingly on the 13th of January, with extremely few exceptions, unlike other Hindu festivals which keep changing dates every passing year.  While traditionally it is believed that Lohri denotes the end of peak winter and very cold days, actually, the festival signifies the period of harvest of the Rabi crops which also includes sugarcane and is a kind of thanksgiving to the Sun God for returning to give them some heat and making the days longer.

This is the phase when farmers take time out to rest before getting down to harvest activities and enjoy some community singing and dancing. That is why, Maghi or Makar Sankranti, the day after Lohri, is considered the start of another new financial year by farmers.  For Punjabis, Lohri is not just another festival. It displays their penchant for celebration of life and fertility and the first Lohri, especially, is special for newly weds and newborns.

This festival is celebrated around a bonfire with jaggery (gur) – revri, popcorn and peanuts. In many places, people walk around the fire, throwing some of the popcorn, peanuts and revri into it, which is symbolic of burying the old year and bringing in the new year on Maghi. They pray for wealth and prosperity. On this day, people in the villages prepare the famous Punjabi fare of makki di roti, sarson da saag and tuck into the popular sesame seed (til) sweet called gajjak. They also eat a sweet rice made with til and jaggery. Raddish is another staple during this festival. All these items are a ritual for this festival because these are the crops that are harvested between December to March and are seasonal.

About a fortnight before this day, the youth go around the village collecting logs for the bonfire and along with this they sometimes also collect jaggery and grains which are sold and the money received is shared amongst all of them. Or at times, people give them both sweet and savoury items which include the peanuts, popcorn, revri and jaggery which is distributed between them on the night of Lohri. It is considered inauspicious to turn away these kids or youth empty-handed.

Lohri festival in AmritsarPeople wear brightly coloured clothes, sing and dance to some very lively beats of the dhol {drums}. Many of the songs sung are dedicated to a man called Dulla Bhatti, who according to folk tales, was a thief who looted the rich and helped the poor. He also saved a lot of the girls in Punjab from being sold as slaves and thus this is the time that people sing quite a few songs as a thanksgiving to him. The traditional dances of bhangra and gidda are indulged in and it is a general time for merriment.

Kite flying is another enjoyable ritual followed on this day. This harvest festival is celebrated across the country around the same time but in different names like Makar Sankranti in the west, Bhugali Bihu in  Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh and so on.

 

 

Picture Credits:  indiatoday.in,  The Indian Express

 

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