Lohri is a popular Punjabi festival celebrated in northern India. It falls on 13th of January this year and usually falls around this date according to the Gregorian calendar. There are some interesting socio-cultural and folk-legends associated with Lohri. According to the folk lore, the festival commemorates the passing of the winter solstice as Lohri was originally celebrated on winter solstice, being the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The main reason behind its celebration was that people believed 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. The day after Lohri is celebrated as Maghi Sangrand when the days are meant to start getting longer.

The Bonfire Ritual

The night of Lohri is marked by lighting a bonfire and it is believed that newly married couples can fill their lives with happiness and prosperity by taking rounds of the bonfire. People gather around the rising flames, circle around (parikrama) the bonfire and throw puffed rice, popcorn and other munchies into the fire, shouting “Aadar aye dilatherjaye” (May honor come and poverty vanish!), and sing popular folk songs. Bhangra dance, mainly performed by men begins after the offering to the bonfire. Dancing continues late into the night with new groups joining in amid the beat of drums. After the parikrama, people greet friends and relatives, exchange gifts and distribute prasad (offerings made to god). The prasad comprises of five main items: til-gajak, rewaries, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Winter savories are served around the bonfire with the traditional dinner of makki-di-roti (multi-millet hand-rolled bread) and sarson-da-saag (cooked mustard herbs).

The Golden Harvest

Punjab, the breadbasket of India has wheat as the main winter crop. Wheat is sown in October and harvested in March or April. In January, the fields come up with the promise of a golden harvest, and farmers celebrate Lohri during this rest period before the cutting and gathering of crops. Itis traditionally associated with the harvest of the rabi crops. The traditional time to harvest sugarcane crops is January and therefore, this festival is seen by some to be a harvest festival. Punjabi farmers see the day after Lohri as the financial new year.

Customs and Legends

In the morning of the festival, 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 of Robin Hood who was known for robbing the rich to help the poor. He once helped a village girl who was in a miserable condition by getting her married to a guy she admired.

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