Lohri is the harvest festival of Punjab, famously known as the the breadbasket state of India. Thus, people residing in Punjab attach a great significance to Lohri, the festival in feasts and foods. This harvest festival is celebrated to mark both celebration and sharing. Lohri festival prompts people to be thankful for God's provision and to celebrate his creation, its focus on farming.
In Punjab, wheat is the main winter crop, which 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. For Punjabis, this is more than just a festival, it is also an example of a way of life.
Celebrating The Harvest Festival
Lohri is a festival of zeal and verve and marks the culmination of the chilly winter. In true spirit of the Punjabi culture, men and women perform Bhangra and Giddha, popular Punjabi folk dances, around a bonfire. Enthusiastic children go from house to house singing songs and people oblige them generously by giving them money and eatables as offering for the festival.
Logs of wood are piled together for a bonfire, and friends and relatives gather around it. They go around the fire three times, giving offerings of popcorns, peanuts, rayveri and sweets. Then, to the beat of the dhol (traditional Indian drum), people dance around the fire. Prasad of til, peanuts, rayveri, puffed rice, popcorn, gajak and sweets is distributed. This symbolizes a prayer to Agni for abundant crops and prosperity.
Thus the jubilation at a bountiful harvest becomes the reason for the celebration of Lohri. It is one of the most popular harvest festivals of Punjab, with fairs held at various places. Dancing men and women, sing and dance around the bonfire and people come out of their houses to greet one and all.
Origin of Lohri
The origin of the Lohri can be traced back to the tale of Dulla Bhatti. By the end of the first week of January, small groups of boys ring the doorbell of houses and start chanting the Lohri songs related to Dulla Bhatti. In turn, the people give them popcorn, peanuts, crystal sugar, sesame seeds (til) or gur as well as money. Turning them back empty-handed is regarded inauspicious.
Lohri marks the end of winter on the last day of Paush, and beginning of Magha (around January 12 and 13), when the sun changes its course. It is associated with the worship of the sun and fire and is observed by all communities with different names, as Lohri is an exclusively Punjabi festival. The questions like When it began and why is lost in the mists of antiquity.
The origin of Lohri is related to the central character of most Lohri songs is Dulla Bhatti, a Muslim highway robber who lived in Punjab during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Besides robbing the rich, he rescued Hindu girls being forcibly taken to be sold in slave market of the Middle East. He arranged their marriages to Hindu boys with Hindu rituals and provided them with dowries. Understandably, though a bandit, he became a hero of all Punjabis. So every other Lohri song has words to express gratitude to Dulla Bhatti.
Customs and Traditions of Lohri
The various customs and traditions attached to the festival of Lohri signifies the harvesting of the Rabi crops. The people of Northern India, especially Punjab and Haryana celebrate Lohri, to mark the
end of winter. Harvested fields and front yards are litup with flames of bonfires, around which people gather to meet friends and relatives and sing folk songs. For Punjabis, this is more than just a
festival; it is also an example of their love for celebrations. Lohri celebrates fertility and the joy of life. People gather around bonfires, throw sweets, puffed rice and popcorn into the flames, sing popular and folksongs and exchange greetings.
In the morning, children go from door to door singing songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi version of Robin Hood who robbed from the rich and helped the poor. These visitors are usually given money as they knock on their neighbors doors. In the evening, people gather around bonfires, throw sweets, puffed rice, and popcorn into the flames, sing popular folk songs and exchange greetings.
The Bonfire Customs & Tradition
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 (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 sort of prayer to Agni, the fire god, to bless the land with abundance and prosperity.
After the parikrama, people meet friends and relatives, exchange greetings and gifts, and distribute prasad (offerings made to god). The prasad comprises five main items: til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Winter savories are served around the bonfire with the traditional dinner of makki-ki-roti (multi-millet hand-rolled bread) and sarson-ka-saag (cooked mustard herbs).
On the Lohri day everyone gets into their best clothes and is festive. Gifts of sweets are exchanged. The courtyard and rooms of the house are swept and sprinkled with water. As the sun sets, all people dress up in their best and gather around the bonfire. Newly wed ones wear jewelery. The new-born are given little combs to hold. The a burning fagot is brought from the hearth and sets the Lohri bonfire alight. As the flames leap up, the girls throw sesame seed in them and bow. Someone sings:
"Let purity come, dirt depart
Dirt be uprooted and its roots Cast in the fire."
People throw sticks of sugarcane into the fire and an aroma of burning sugar spreads in the atmosphere. Girls light fireworks and sparklers. The fire's glow lights faces with a golden hue. People sing and dance till the early hours of the morning, and little children sleep in their mother's laps. When people throw sesame seeds in the fire they ask for sons. The saying is: As many as the elder brother's wife throws, so many sons the younger brother's wife will bear. That is why in homes where there is a new-born son or a newly wed man, Lohri is celebrated with even greater enthusiasm, and sweets made of molasses and sesame seed are sent to relatives and friends. Since the Punjabi word for sesame seed is til and for molasses rorhi the festival is also called Tilori.
Lohri is also an occasion when parents give presents to their newly married daughters. "For peasants, Lohri marks the beginning of a new financial year because on this day they settle the division of the products of the land between themselves and the tillers.
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