Tera kaun vicharaa ho!
Dullah Bhatti walla ho!
Dullhe di dhee vyayae ho!
When you hear this song resonating in the air, you know that Lohri festival is almost here and while most people tend to see this as a harvest festival, Lohri actually goes far beyond that. Even though this is a festival that is celebrated with most fervour in Punjab, there are other states like Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir that celebrates it too. As a matter of fact, in most of these states, Lohri is a declared holiday. It is interesting to note that the festival is celebrated in some parts of Pakistan too and special efforts are being taken by the government to keep the ethos of the festival alive.
Lohri is primarily a winter festival and is observed on the night before Makar Sankranti, which is in reference to the Vikrami calendar. In most cases, this day falls on January 13th and rarely on January 14th. The common belief is that Lohri is meant to mark the completion of the winter solstice and the end of the winter season. The celebration marks the start of longer days and the passage of the sun into the northern hemisphere.
What are the origins and history of Lohri?Lohri is generally meant to signify the last of the coldest days of the year and while most people might not know about it, the word Lohri actually comes from the word Tilohri – til which means sesame seeds and rorhi which means jaggery; two ingredients that are extremely important to Lohri celebration. It is believed that these foods could help cleanse the body and give a person renewed energy to enter the new year.
During the 19th century, the revenue for all the winter crops would be collected on Lohri day, because it was considered truly auspicious. There are a fair few stories associated with this festival and the most prominent ones include:
- There was a man named Dulla Bhatti, who as per some versions was a Muslim bandit and as per others was the son of a Punjabi landlord, living in the Mughal times. He rescued several Hindu maidens from the hands of slave traders, and got these girls married off to Hindu boys, in the presence of a fire. The most popular folk song, Sundar Munderiya is based on the same legend, as two girls named Sundri and Mundri had been rescued by Dulla Bhatti.
- As per another folklore, there were two sisters – Holika and Lohri; Holika perished in the Holi fire, but Lohri lives on.
- Yet another legend claims that Lohri meaning could be related to the word “loh”, which refers to the light and warmth emanated from a fire.
- This festival is also meant to celebrate the Sun god, for his benevolence of lending heat and light for the crops to grow and flourish.
How is Lohri celebrated?What is wonderful about Lohri festival is that it is the time just after the harvest of the Rabi crop, which means that people have sufficient money in their hands to celebrate. They take this opportunity to thank the Sun God for his benevolence and the land for allowing them to use it to grow the crops. This is a time to rejoice, which is why people will take the time to meet each other, wish each other happy Lohri and generally have a good time.
People get all dressed up and wear new clothes and meet their families and loved ones, mainly during the evenings, post sunset, because the bonfire is lit at that time. This is one of the times in the year, when Punjabi families will look to buy Guru Nanak paintings or Golden Temple paintings to add an air of purity and spirituality to their home. For most part, Lohri is celebrated at home, but in some places, communities will come together for the evening celebrations. To the sounds of the dhol, vigorous dances will be performed, mainly bhangra and gidda and sarson ka saag with makki ki roti and home-made butter is generally served as dinner.
- The bonfire – The lighting the of the bonfire is perhaps the most important aspect of Punjabi Lohri; many families will purchase brand new brass diyas online specially for this occasion. Several food items are tossed into the fire and these are symbolic of the winter crops – this includes sugarcane, corn and sesame. So, popcorn, til rewari, gud gachak are all ‘fed’ to the fire as a gesture of thanks and that the end of the winter season reduces the need for these foods. By offering all these things to the fire, the people are also giving thanks to the fire god and bidding farewell to the year and getting ready to welcome the new year. As the fire burns on, people will walk around the bonfire, because there is a belief that this will bring prosperity in the new year.
- The music and dance – When you think of the Punjabi festival Lohri, it is the music and dance that comes to the mind first and foremost. Folk songs are sung with immense fervour and folk dances are like Bhangra and Gidda are performed. In Jammu, the chajja and hiran dance are popular – children will prepare a replica of a peacock and carry it from house to house and also perform the deer dance, while wearing garlands made using candies, dry fruits, popcorn and peanuts. Children in other states, including Punjab will go to each house, singing Sundar munderiye and will receive Lohri gifts, in cash or kind, because sending away these children empty handed is considered inauspicious.
- The children – Children are perhaps the most important part of the Lohri celebration, because not only do they sing and dance, they also have a fun game. One child, generally a boy, will have their face covered in ash and a rope tied around their waist. Another group will be holding the tied up boy and at each home, they will ask for a Lohri gift – if they do not get a gift or feel that the gift is inadequate, they will threaten loosening the rope around the boy and allow him to enter the house and break things! This all, of course in fun and game, and there is no intention to bring about any real harm to anyone.
- The food – As is with almost any festival in India, Lohri too is associated with an abundance of food – while the main course is generally makki di roti (a handmade flatbread that is made using maize flour) and sarson da saag (a dish made using mustard greens), there will be plenty of sweets. Barfis and laddoos made using sesame seeds and jaggery are very popular as are panjiri and pinnis. Large plates of groundnuts, popcorn, rewari and gachak will also be kept for the guests to munch on and throw into the fire. Several families will also offer freshly roasted corn on the cob, fresh from the harvest and send people home with Lohri gift items.
- The newlyweds – In the northern parts of India, especially in Punjab, the first Lohri after marriage is a very important for newlyweds. The bride is of course the centre of attention, wherein the in-laws will host a lavish feast in her honour. The bride will be decked up in new clothes, jewellery, flowers in her hair and mehendi on her hands. The in-laws and immediate family members will give Lohri gifts for newlyweds.
- The new born – If there is a new born child in the house, then too Lohri becomes very important, because this is an auspicious occasion. The entire family and close friends and neighbours will be invited home for a meal and everyone will be asked to bless the baby. While gifts are often given to the new parents and the baby, these days a lot of people are choosing to give Lohri gift hampers to the guests as a gesture of thanks.