Lohri marks the end of the harvest in Northern India and is characterised by the worship of fire. Amidst the cold weather, with the temperature wobbling between 0-5 degrees Celsius and the dense fog outside, everything seems stagnant in the northern part of India.
But the Punjabi spirits are still on fire!! You would be amazed to find a palpable wave of activity going on. There are various interesting folk stories and legends associated with this festival. This is a cultural celebration that marks the culmination of winter by worshiping fire. The festival is celebrated on Winter Solstice day. As it falls on the shortest day of the year, Lohri is celebrated by lighting a fire and creating a bonfire to mark the onset of longer days.
The day after Lohri is celebrated as ‘Maghi Sangrand’ as the coming days are meant to start getting longer. The usual traditional period to harvest sugarcane crops is January; sugarcane products such as jaggery and ‘gachak’ are central to Lohri celebrations. Another reason that the festival is important for Sikh folks is because Punjabi farmers consider the day after Lohri (Magi) as the financial new year, which holds immense importance to the Sikh community.
In the morning on Lohri day, children go from door to door singing and demanding the Lohri. This tradition gets its birth from a folk story. Very famous story from history is that during the reign of Akbar there was a Raja of Pindi Bhattian, Dulla Bhatti. Dulla Bhatti was known, respected and loved by tribal people as he used to rob the rich and help poor. Dulla Bhatti once rescued a girl from the kidnappers and adopted her as his daughter Bhatti was sentenced to death by the Mughal king Akbar for revolting against him later. Since then this hero is remembered each year on Lohri and the traditional song is sung as a tribute to this hero. On this occasion, children in groups move from door to door and sing the Dulla Bhatti song.
Sunder mundarie, Hoy!
Tera Ki vichara, Hoy!
Dulla Bhatti vala, Hoy!
Dulle di dhi viyai, Hoy! Ser shaker pai, Hoy!
In the evening the bonfire ritual includes lighting the fire after the sunset in the front yards of houses. People gather around the bonfire and circle the bonfire throwing puffed rice and popcorn into the fire, chanting “Aadar aye dilather jaye” which means ‘May honor come and poverty vanish’. People of the Sikh community also sing popular folk songs. What follows is amidst drum beats men dancing to Bhangra tunes and women doing graceful Gidda.
In areas of Ludhiana and Amritsar, another popular custom is to fly kites, kids spend the whole day on roof tops flying kites and hopping on sugarcane products such as jaggery and ‘gachak’.
According to folk lore, in ancient times Lohri was celebrated on winter solstice day It is for this reason that people believe the Lohri night is meant to be the longest night of the year and on the day after Lohri, day light is meant to increase. Accordingly, the day after Lohri is celebrated as Maghi Sangrand , when the days are meant to start getting longer.
For the punjabi community Respect to the seasons and the natural elements of fire, wind, water and the earth is imperative. In the Punjab region, the year is divided into six seasons. The Punjabi months of Maghar and Poh represent the “hemant” season when Winter is at its height. Lohri is celebrated on the last day of Poh and therefore, is a festival dedicated to the end of the Winter season.
Among some sections of the Sindhi community, the festival is traditionally celebrated as Lal Loi. On the day of Lal, Loee children bring wood sticks from their grandparents and aunties and light a fire burning the sticks in the night with people enjoying, dancing and playing around the fire. The festival is gaining popularity amongst other Sindhis where Lohri is not a traditional festival.
But like any other Punjabi folk festival, Lohri, is colorful, vibrant and full of music and dance. The celebrations are private to families and full of sweet eatable and fun.
So go ahead and enjoy the colours of this festival, sing, dance and demand a lot of lohri this year!!