Lohri, the bonfire harvest festival of Punjab celebrated in the month of Magh, is symbolic of new beginnings. While as per popular belief Lohri marks the end of peak winters, and the beginning of the Sun’s journey towards Northern Hemisphere on the celestial sphere, the festival is traditionally associated with the harvest of the rabi crops and is celebrated on January 13 each year.
The Authentic Lohri – Promoting National Integration
Lohri is indeed a joyous occasion for all Punjabis. Considered as the financial New Year, it is the time for gur, rewri, peanuts in the form of gajjak (a sweetmeat), popcorn, sarson da saag and makki di roti, a time when families and friends celebrate together in the form of a community.
There was a time when the entire community celebrated the festival together; when while some cooked the sarson the saag, others prepared the sweets, and some the makki the roti, which they partook together. The bonfire had the entire community dancing around it to the beat of drums and, of course, the song “Sunder mundriye ho!”
The legend behind the song “Sunder mundriye ho!” is the tale of a man called Dulla Bhatti during the rule of Mughal Emperor Akbar. He played the role of Robin Hood and stole from the rich and helped the poor. He also rescued Punjabi girls being forcibly sold in the slave market and went on to arrange their marriages to boys of the village, and provided them with dowries (from the stolen money).
Amongst these girls were Sundri and Mundri. They were married on the day of Lohri and villagers associate the festival with the rescue of two innocent women.
Lohri has even been mentioned in the Holy Book of the Sikhs, Shri Guru Granth Sahib, where it has been praised as one of the most auspicious time of the year, and it has been said that any person who meditates before the fire will be blessed.
Has Commercialisation Eroded its Real Significance Today?
Lohri has always been about community celebrations: When people bond with each other around the bonfire, celebrate by singing and dancing and following the rituals of throwing rice and popcorn into the fire.
Unfortunately, today, the flood-gates of commercialisation of festivals have opened, snatching away from them, the very essence and spirit they are known to signify and celebrate.
Nowhere has it been mentioned that Lohri is a time to exchange gifts. But come January, the markets have a plethora of speciality items related to Lohri which can be given away as gifts. Gone are the days when the womenfolk would distribute home-made rewri and gajjak. Today, shops have state-of-the-art gifts packages with these sweets to be given away as gifts.
Rich, cutting edge variety of greeting cards, Lohri specific feasts at restaurants, Lohri-themed shopping malls and super markets, the list actually is endless. To add to the traditional items related to the festival, today, gifts like gadgets and electronic items are also given away as gifts. People have the money to splurge, and they do not hesitate to do so.
But in all this are we missing out the real essence of the festival?
Is commercialisation destroying the soul of the festival?
Instead of being a community based non-profit event, festivals such as Lohri, Diwali, Christmas have become consumer-oriented commercial events.
The aim of Lohri, which is basically to thank the Sun-God for a good harvest, has now been forgotten, and the entire festival can be summed up with everyone involved thinking, “What am I going to get/ give on this festival?”
Maybe, it is time to take stock of things. A time to realise that the commercial aspect of the festivals is just destroying the true spirit of the festivals, and we, as consumers, are allowing ourselves to be used.
This Lohri let’s make it all about the true essence of the festival. Instead of scampering to the shops to buy gifts, and awaiting gifts from others, let’s make it the community celebration that it is meant to be. Happy Lohri!