The festival of Lohri, which is celebrated primarily by Sikhs and Hindus all across India, marks the end of the winter season and is traditionally believed to welcome the sun to the northern hemisphere.
Lohri Festival is observed on 13 January of every year a night before Makar Sankranti.
One of the first Hindu festivals of the year, it is essentially termed as the festival of the farmers, the festival of harvest, whereby, the farmers can thank the Supreme Being.
History of Lohri Festival
Lohri’s origin dates back to the Indus valley civilization. Since this civilization prospered in the areas of northern India and Pakistan, the Lohri Festival is primarily celebrated in a similar manner in those regions.
It has various other names in the other parts of India such as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti in Bengal, Magha Bihu in Assam and Tai Pongal in Kerala.
The stories related to Lohri are numerous and are based on religious as well as socio-cultural traditions and events. The most famous and interesting legend behind Lohri is the story associated with Dulla Bhatti.
Dulla Bhatti was popular among the poor, akin to Robin Hood, at the time of Mughal king Akbar. He used to plunder the rich community and distribute the loot among the poor and needy. This made him famous and revered among the populace. As the legend goes, he once saved a girl from the hands of kidnappers and then took care of her like his own daughter.
The other stories say that the word Lohri has come from the root ‘loh‘, which means a big iron griddle or tava on which chapattis are made for community feasts. Another version says that the Lohri word comes from ‘Loi’, who was the wife of the celebrated reformer Kabir Das.
Why is Lohri celebrated?
Lohri is a festival associated directly with the sun, earth, and fire. Sun represents the life element, earth represents our food and fire maintains our health. All these elements are granted to us free of cost by the supreme personality of the godhead and we are not liable to pay for them.
But, since we require them and are taking the selfless service from nature, it is always advised to say thanks to them in return and pray to them for our protection and prosperity.
The day following Lohri is Makar Sankranti, the day when the sun transits into the zodiac sign Capricorn. This transition has various effects on everyone.
So, to prepare ourselves for the upcoming financial year and to render the farmer with lots of bounty from his field and prosperity in his life, the deities of the sun, earth, and fire are worshipped in Lohri Puja.
Lohri Traditions and Rituals
Lohri is a means to commemorate fertility and the joy of life. Harvested fields and farmyards lit up with lights and bonfires are the central part of the celebrations. Right through the bitter winter day, people go around collecting dry twigs and branches to make a bonfire. The bigger the bonfire the better is Lohri celebration.
In the morning, children go from door to door singing and demanding the Lohri ‘loot’ in the form of money and eatables like til (sesame) seeds, peanuts, jaggery, or sweets like gajak, rewri.
In the evening, people circle around (parikrama) the bonfire and throw puffed rice, popcorn and other munchies into the fire, shouting “Aadar aye dilather jaye” (May honor come and poverty vanish!), and sing popular folk songs. This is a prayer to Agni, the fire god asking for his blessing for prosperity and fertility of the land. The fire signifies the spark of life and prayers are said for goodwill and abundant crops.
On this day people wear new clothes and gifts and sweets are exchanged. The courtyard and rooms of the house are swept and sprinkled with water. Often newlyweds wear jewellry and the newborns are given little combs to hold as part of rituals.
People throw sugarcane sticks into the fire as an offering, and an aroma of burning sugar spreads in the atmosphere. Women also light fireworks. People sing and dance Bhangra till the early hours of the morning. Traditionally, women do not join in Bhangra, they hold a separate bonfire in their courtyard doing the graceful Gidda dance.
In houses that have recently had a marriage or childbirth, Lohri celebrations will reach a higher pitch of excitement. Punjabis usually have private Lohri celebrations, in their houses. Lohri rituals are performed, with the accompaniment of special Lohri songs.
Singing and dancing form an intrinsic part of the celebrations. People wear their brightest clothes and come to dance the bhangra and gidda to the beat of the dhol. Punjabi songs are sung, and everybody rejoices. Sarson da saag and makki di roti are usually served as the main course at a Lohri dinner.
Lohri is a great occasion that holds great importance for farmers. However, people residing in urban areas also celebrate Lohri, as this festival provides the opportunity to interact with family and friends.
Why do we burn fire on Lohri?
The Lohri Festival marks the beginning of the end of winter and the coming of spring and the new year.
That is why even today when people burn cow-dung cakes it is teenagers who go around collecting them. The Lohri bonfire is symbolic of our old method of protecting ourselves as well as a form of fire worship.
The traditional Lohri foods include popcorns, popularly known as phulle, til ladoos, peanuts, puffed rice, gajak and gur or jaggery. Apart from feasting on these traditional treats, they are fed to the fire for various reasons.
It is believed that these foods are fed to the fire in the hope to seek blessings for yourself and your family from the God of Fire or Agni. Moreover, it may also mark the end of all evil as the families pray, positivity and purity are believed to infuse in their households.
This act of feeding foods to the fire may also be auspicious for newly married couples and to-be-parents for a blessed life ahead.