Lohri Festival - the Bonfire Festival of Punjab - Festivals of India
Lohri Festival 2020
Lohri festival will be celebrated on 13 January 2020
The Lohri Bonfire
Lohri: The Bonfire Festival Of Punjab
Lohri is a North Indian festival of the people of Punjab and is traditionally a harvest festival when fresh sugarcane is just about harvested and also a time to relax for a brief period before wheat, the main crop of Punjab, is harvested in March/April.
Lohri also is the start of the new financial year for the Punjab farmers. The lohri day is the shortest, and the night, the longest of the year, as from now on, the days will start lengthening with the nights shortening. Lohri also marks the end of the winter season and the advent of spring, with the climate warming up, now on.
According to the Hindu calender, it marks the end of Paush & start of the Magha month.
Though lohri is a Punjabi festival, this day is celebrated by many communities under different names like, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti in West Bengal, Magha Bihu in Assam & Tai Pongal in Kerala.
On this day bonfires are lit, songs sung and dancing done to the accompaniment to dhols (drums) & ritualistic celebrations carried out.
This festival is a special occasion for celebrations for families who have newly wed couples or newborns, celebrating their first lohri.
Lohri Festival Origin
A few folk legends are associated with the origin of lohri festival whose actual origin is lost to time. Some of these are :
- Probably the most famous of these is the one that connects Dulla Bhatti, a robber, with it. He was a Punjabi avatar of Robin Hood during the time of Emperor Akbar who looted the rich and gave to the poor. Alongside this he is believed to have saved a number of girl who were to be sold for ulterior purposes and thus in this process adopted one girl as his daughter and later off married her off giving her a marriage gift of a kilo of sugar.
All these acts made him quite popular & respected among the people. To honor him, to this day, every year on lohri groups of children go door to door singing his name asking for lohri treats in the form of sweets and money which people happily provide in the form of rewri, gachak, peanuts, til ladoos, puffed rice and jaggery along with a small amount of money. Returning them empty handed is considered inauspicious.
- Another legend associates this festival to the Sun God.
It is said that in olden times village maidens used to go to all households in the neighborhood to collect cowdung cakes, to be burnt in the form of a community bonfire, which were then dumped in one house when it became a sizable quantity.
This ritual was performed in the belief that their ancestors had formulated a mantra to protect them from the biting cold and which would be invoke the Sun God to send out heat to bear the winter. This mantra was chanted by them with the belief that the flames of the lohri bonfire would reach out their message to the Sun God.
- One more legend has it that people in olden times lit fires to protect themselves and their habitation from wild flesh eating animals. To this community fire everyone; boy, girl or elder, contributed by bringing firewood from the jungle.
This ritualistic bonfire not only symbolises the protection of people by the fire but also in a way worships it.
- Others believe lohri derived its name from Loi, the name of Saint Kabir's wife. (Incidentally in rural Punjab Lohri is pronounced as Lohi).
- Some others believe the word Lohri comes from the word loh, meaning a thick iron sheet used for baking rotis or Indian flatbread for community feasts.
Traditions differ from place to place rurally.
At some places a small image of the Lohri goddess is prepared with cow dung and decorated. Then a fire is lit beneath it and praises of the goddess are sung.
Some other places no image is made but a bonfire of cow dung & wood is lit. Some people go around this fire chanting places but all of them sit around the bonfire singing and eating the traditional lohri sweets and also offering these sweets to the bonfire by tossing them in. They keep singing and dancing late into the night till the bonfire dies out on its own.
Traditional dinner of Makki Ki Roti & Sarson Ka Saag is relished on this day.
These celebrations become more arduous in families that have a newly married couple or a newborn among them. In most such cases, the music is accompanied by professional dholis beating drums and professional dancers doing bhangra & gidda, the popular folk dances of Punjab. Gifts are given to relatives & friends.
Gifts of sweets, clothes & dry fruits are the popular forms of gifting on this occasion.
Kite flying also takes a prominent stage on this occasion.
Makki Di Roti & Sarson Da Saag
About Lohri Sweets
Among the sweets that are specific to lohri festival and a must eat are:
- Gajak made with peanuts & gur (jaggery) or jaggery & til (sesame seds)
- Chikki made with dry fruits & sugar
- Til ladoo, rewri, pinnis & ganne ki kheer (rice cooked in sugarcane juice).
Whether it is Lohri, Pongal or Sankranti the message these festivals send out is of love and also that the spirit of universal brotherhood and oneness must prevail over all odds.
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© 2016 Rajan Singh Jolly