Amidst the freezing cold weather, everything seems stagnant in the northern part of India. However, below the apparently frozen surface, you would be amazed to find a wave of activity going on. People, especially in the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and parts of Himachal Pradesh, are busy making preparations for Lohri — the long-awaited bonfire festival. On this auspicious day, they celebrate the harvesting of the Rabi (winter) crops.
Lohri is celebrated with great enthusiasm in North India, but it is also celebrated in different parts of the country, as different festivals. Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Sukarat in Madhya Pradesh, Uttarayan, Bihu and Makar Sankranti, all interestingly coincide with Lohri. Among the Sindhi community Lohri Festival is known as Lal loee.
It is the time of change in season, as winter chills begin to ebb, Lohri festival is celebrated on 13th January every year. Lohri is a festival of great social significance, rather than religious significance. It is celebrated with a bonfire, as friends and family gather around it. Lohri is all about traditional songs, dancing around the bonfire.
In the morning on Lohri day, 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, etc. They sing in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi avatar who robbed the rich to help the poor, and once helped a miserable village girl out of her misery like his own sister.
The Bonfire Ritual
In the evening, with the setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit in the harvested fields and in the front yards of houses and people gather around the rising flames, circle around 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 sort of prayer to Agni, the fire god, to bless the land with abundance and prosperity. After the ritual, people meet friends and relatives, exchange greetings and gifts, and distribute prasad. The prasad comprises five main items: til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Later they served dinner around the bonfire with the traditional makki-di-roti and sarson-da-saag.
Song & Dance
Bhangra dance by men begins after the offering to the bonfire. Dancing continues till late night with new groups joining in amid the beat of drums. Traditionally, women do not join Bhangra. They hold a separate bonfire in their courtyard orbiting it with the graceful gidda dance.
Lohri is a highly prominent harvest festival very close to the heart of natives of North India who joyfully get along with their family and friends each year. Lohri brings in an opportunity for people in the community to take a break from their busy schedule and get together to share each other's company.