India is the "Land of Celebration and Festivities". According to the Hindu mythology, there are 3.3 million gods and goddesses. Lohri is one of the most important Hindu festivals celebrated to honour Agni (the Vedic god of fire) at the beginning of the year. Every year, on 13th of January (as per the Gregorian calender), Lohri is celebrated with great pomp and grandeur mainly in Punjab, Haryana, parts of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu. Amidst the freezing temperature accompanied by dense fog and icy winds, North Indians seem to be getting busy with preparations for enjoying the long awaited bonfire festival “Lohri” with traditional folk songs and dances.
As per the Hindu calendar, in the mid-January, the earth starts its journey towards the sun bringing end to Paush, the coldest month of the year. According to the Shrimad Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna manifests his full divinity during the period of Lohri. A day later, the auspicious Makara Sankranthi helds which marks the end of the winter season. Thousands of Hindus bath in the Ganges to nullify their sins.
Wheat is the main winter crop in the northern parts of India. This winter (rabi) crop is sown in the months of October and harvested in March or April. Farmers and their families celebrate Lohri during January (rest period) before the cutting of crops. Thus, Punjabis and Haryanavis celebrate Lohri as the “harvest festival”. Most farmers from rural Punjab consider the day after Lohri as the starting of new financial year. The Sindhi community popularly call Lohri as “Lal loee”. On the festive day, children request their grandparents and aunties for wood sticks which are burnt in the bonfire.
On the morning of Lohri, enthusiastic children dressed in new clothes arrive at the neighbourhood doors singing praise songs on Dulha Bhatti (a legendary Punjabi rebellion alike Robin Hood who led protests against the powerful Mughal emperor Akbar) and asking for generous Lohri ‘loot’ in the form of money and delicacies such as sesame seeds (til) ladoos, peanuts, jaggery, and traditional sweetmeats like rewri, gajak etc.
Lohri marks the end of the chilly winter. In the evening, after the sunset, huge logs of woods are gathered and lit in the harvested fields. True-spirited, fun-loving men and women circle around the rising flames, do parikrama (rotate around the bonfire) thrice and toss puffed rice, peanuts, and sweets into the fire, uttering “Aadar aye dilather jaye (May prosperity arrive and poverty fade away!)”. After praying to the fire god (Agni), people meet their relatives and friends to exchange greetings and prasad (offerings made to the fire god). Hindus pour milk and water around the bonfire. This ritual is performed to honor the Sun God for his warm protection. Traditionally, the offering comprises of five main eateries: roasted sesame seeds, jaggery, gajak, popcorn, and peanuts. Then, sturdy, hearty men beat the dhol (traditional drum) announcing the starting of the festivity. Both energetic men and women dressed in colourful ethnic attire perform Giddha and Bhangra (popular folk dances) circling the bonfire.
Many wealthy families arrange for private Lohri celebrations in their houses. Several rituals are performed to rejoice the birth of a baby or arrival of a new bride.
Lohri harvest ceremony ends with scrumptious dinner. After merry-making throughout the day, everyone looked forward to the traditional banquet comprising of makki di roti (hand rolled bread made of millet), sarson da saag (cooked mustard greens), and rau di kheer (dessert made of rice and sugarcane juice).