India, the land of festivals, has a festival for every season and Lohri is the harvest festival of the breadbasket of India, i.e. Punjab. Lohri falls in the month of Magh and during the auspicious period of Uttarayan when the Sun moves northwards from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the Tropic of Cancer. It is usually celebrated on January 12 or 13 as per the Gregorian calendar.
Lohri marks the culmination of the winter season and is celebrated by worshipping the fire which is symbolic of the Sun God. This festival is also celebrated in Delhi, Haryana and parts of Himachal Pradesh. Natives of these states celebrate this festival with great fervour, gaiety and splendour. During this time, the fields of these Northern states gleam with the harvest of wheat, the main crop of this region, and the festival honours the elements of nature like the fire and the sun as a mark of gratefulness.
The Name ‘Lohri’
The festival is named Lohri because of the following reasons:
– Some believe that the name is derived from Loi, wife of the Sufi Saint Sant Kabir.
– Loh in Punjab means the pan used for making rotis during community feasts. Since Lohri is a community festival, the name has been derived from the word Loh.
– Lohri was also the sister of Holika.
– The main ingredients used for making sweets in this festival are gajak and rewri, or til and rohri. Thus the name Lohri is a combination of these two words.
The Origin of Lohri
The history of the celebration of Lohri finds its roots back in the era of Akbar. As per legends, Dulha Batti was a Muslim robber, who during the rule of Akbar, would steal from the rich and distribute the loot among the underprivileged of the society. He was indeed the Robin Hood of that era for he also helped girls who were being taken away against their wish. Dulha Batti, was contemporary in his thinking and would arrange inter-caste marriages between Muslim girls and Hindu boys. Thus the people of Punjab loved and respected him and sang songs in his praise to express their gratitude. These songs are still sung during the celebration of Lohri.
Customs and Traditions
The joyous occasion of Lohri is marked by many age-old customs and traditions. Some of them include:
– The celebrations start a few days prior to Lohri with young girls of the village going from house to house collecting cow-dung cakes which act as the fuel for the bonfire to be lit on the day of the festival. The young girls sing a song asking for the cow-dung cakes.
– On the day of the festival an idol of goddess Lohri is decorated and the bonfire is lit before this idol. Songs are sung in the praise of Goddess Lohri.
– January is the time to harvest sugarcane and thus the products made from sugarcane like jaggery find an important place in the celebrations.
– The bonfire is symbolic of the most important element of nature – the Sun God – and is lit after sunset. It is believed that sun is the source of all life on the earth and represents both the physical as well as the spiritual energy in man. The bonfires can be seen burning in the wheat fields as well as at the porches of houses where people get together as a community to celebrate Lohri.
– People circle the fire as a mark of respect and offer sesame seeds, jaggery, sugar-candy, puffed rice, popcorn and rewaries to the sacred fire.
– The prasaad of til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn are then exchanged among family and friends along with gifts and wishes.
– People chant the words ‘Aadar aye dilather jaye’ which literally means “May honour come and poverty depart”.
– Popular folk songs are sung and people perform the Bhangra and the Gidda, the traditional folk dances of Punjab to the beats of Dhol.
– The dying embers and ashes of the sacred bonfire are taken home by the people as ithey are considered to bring in wealth and prosperity.
– The til is of great significance in this festival. As the people throw sesame seeds into the fire, they pray for as many sons in the family as the number of sesame seeds offered to the sacred fire. Sons are important especially in the agrarian culture of rural Punjab as they are expected to act as farmhands and eventually take over the farms.
– Lohri is also considered to be the beginning of the financial year by the Sikh community.
The First Lohri
The first Lohri after a wedding or the birth of a child is of great importance. The new bride and groom, and the new born baby are showered with gifts by family and friends. A grand celebration is organised with a feast as family and friends gather to wish the newly-wed couple or the newborn.
The Modern Version
With changing times and more awareness among people about the ongoing global warming, Lohri has now donned a contemporary outlook. With the aim towards a green and a clean environment, people have started planting saplings to replenish the trees that are cut for wood that serves as fuel to the sacred bonfire. Today, the people are indeed very conscious about the environment and in order to sustain it they are working towards growing more trees as a community.
Be it Lohri, or Makar Sankranti, or Pongal, these festivals are indeed a celebration of life and are markers of the common man’s gratitude towards the various forces of nature. Happy Lohri!!
This year Lohri will be celebrated on January 13, 2020.