India is the land which has the people of various faiths, communities and languages living harmoniously together setting the unique example of ‘unity in diversity’. As a result of multi culturism and multiracialism pervading along the length and breadth of our country, our country is famous for various festivals which reflect our age old rich composite culture and traditions. These festivals, besides serving to break the monotony of life, help in bringing all the people together irrespective of their caste, community, religion,social background etc.Among the festivals which are celebrated with gaiety, fervour and enthusiasm in India, Baisakhi, Deepawali, Christmas,Holi, Eid, Guruparab etc. have great religious and social significance and are celebrated by the young and the old alike with great pomp and show. One such folk festival which has more social than religious significance and is eagerly awaited by one and all throughout the year, is the wonderful festival of Lohri. Like all over northern India, this festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and gaiety in Jammu region, invariably on January 13 every year. This festival marks the beginning of the end of biting chill of winter season and people welcome the arrival of longer days after the Winter Solstice .Lohri is also associated with the harvest of Rabi crops and it is during this time that the fields of Rabi crops such as wheat, mustard, radish, sugarcane etc promise a good harvest and farmers, on seeing their fields overgrown with rich crop feel happy and joyful and cannot help celebrate the occasion and spread their joy. Various legends are also associated with this popular festival. The most famous among them is the legend of Dulla Bhatti whose real name was Abdullah Bhatti. He is believed to have lived in Punjab during the reign of emperor Akbar. According to Punjabi folklore,he used to act in the ‘Robin Hood ‘manner, steal or rob the money of the rich and rescue the poor girls from being sold as slaves in the slave markets.He would arrange their marriage to boys in the village and give them dowry from the money stolen from the rich.Among these rescued girls were Sundri and Mundri who have now come to be associated with the popular folklore’Sunder Munderiye’.Besides ‘Sunder Munderiye’, girls sing other Lohri songs such as’ Hulle nee maiye hulle! Do beri patte jhulle/ Do jhull payeaan Khajuraan, Khajuraan sutya meva’ etc.
This beautiful festival is celebrated with great exuberance all over Jammu region, especially in the rural areas.Preparations for the celebration of Lohri begin weeks ahead of the festival. People in villages begin to collect dry logs, twigs, branches, cowdung cakes etc days before to make bonfire on eve of Lohri. On the day of the festival, young boys and girls are in high spirits. The girls visit houses where new births have taken place and sing in chorus ‘Aan kure tricholiye, aan giga moriye, aan giga jammya, taan gur panya, taan gure diyan rewrian, taan pan masorian’ and demand money and gifts from the elders. The young boys prepare Chajjaa from bamboo and decorate it with coloured paper. Carrying the Chhajja, they perform ‘Chajja dance’ and move from house to house in the villages/towns singing and shouting ‘Bhambora bhai bhambora, chhaja mora bhai chhaja mora’ drawìng applause from the elders.
Most people consider it auspicious to give them something and ensure that they don’t leave their home empty handed. The childre lavish praise on those people who give them good gifts and money by singing ‘Dabba bharya leeran da/Ae ghar amiraan da’ (The box is full of cloth strips/ This house belongs to rich people).and for those who refuse to give them anything, the boys sing’Hukka bhai hukka/Ae ghar bhukha ‘(Hukka ! Ae Hukka, This house is of the misers). Throughout the day,people visit the houses of their relatives and friends and exchange gifts and greetings with each other. In these days of technology and social media, people post various colourful messages and videos and SMSs to their friends and relatives . Some schools and other educational institutions also celebrate this festival in their premises on this day or a day before. On this occasion, dried wooden twigs are arranged, a bonfire lit and children and teachers sing traditional songs and dance merrily to the tune of the drum beats. Many days before the festival, bazars wear a festive look and are agog with activity. People buy things such as walnut, groundnut, gachak, popcorns, sesame, flax, gur etc.which are in great demand on Lohri. The shopkeepers and vendors have a hey day. On the day of Lohri,people soak rice overnight and prepare ‘tricholi’by adding groundnut, rewri, gur, walnut kernel etc. to the soaked rice.
This ‘tricholi’ is then offered to gods, demigods and deities then distributed to the friends, relatives and neighbours.People also circumambulate the bonfire chanting Vedic mantras. Many people also take holy dip in rivers and organise havans and yagnas at homes and in temples. The first Lohri celebrated by the bride or the parents of the newborn child has a special significance and close relatives and friends are invited for feast on this special occasion. Gifts are presented to the new bride and new born child. Some well to do people also invite singers and dancers to perform to make it a special and memorable occasion. It is also a custom among Dogras to send gifts to their would be bride(who has been bethored but not married) on this auspicious occasion of Lohri. Though Lohri is celebrated all day, the main function of Lohri is organised at night. People light bonfire, worship the Fire God by offering groundnuts, walnuts, rewris etc to the fire and circling around the bonfire three times.
They also seek the blessings of Agni Devta (Fire God) and Mother Earth for their well being and prosperity.In houses that have recently witnessed pleasant happenings such as marriage, childbirth etc. Lohri celebrations reach a higher pitch of joy and excitement. The newly wedded couples put on new dresses and seek blessings from their elders/relatives for their prosperous and happy married life. The star attraction of Lohri celebrations at night in villages is the ‘Heran Dance'(Deer dance) performed by a group of dancers.Two artists bend down to become deer or heran and perform dance.They are surrounded by five other dancers including one dressed as joker and four others dressed as girls.While dancing, the ‘Heran’ lies down at the feet of the Head of the family and gets up only when some gifts in the form of money/grains are offered.They move from house to house all night dancing and revelling and demanding gifts from the elders.Many others join them as they move on and the number of the revellers may swell to hundreds.It is a festive occasion with everybody participating in fun and merry making and moving on braving the cold weather.
Lohri is essentially a festival devoted to fire and the Sun God. It symbolises warmth and fertility.It is the time when the Sun transits the Zodiac sign Makar (Capricorn) and moves towards the North, which , in astrological terms, is referred to as the Sun becoming Uttrayan.This new configuration brings warmth to the earth and lessens the ferocity of the biting winter. The period of Uttaryan (Jan14 to July 14) is considered propitious by Hindus and according to Scriptures, Lord Krishna manifests Himself in full magnificense during this period of time. It is also to beat the January chill that people light bonfire,dance around it and pray to the God of Fire by offering til, gajak, groundnut etc and seeking his blessings for prosperity and good health.The fires lit at night and dancing and singing coupled with coming together of an otherwise atomised community makes this festival all the more enjoyable.This festival helps to relieve people from routine tensions and make them relaxed, cheerful and happy.It is time when people from all walks of life irrespective of caste, communty, social strata come together forgetting all their differences and grudges and celebrating the festival together.It is an occassion to share warmth and festivities with one and all.
This eagerly awaited folk festival of fire and chajja dance reflects our rich culture of celebration of joyous ocassions by one and all. But our young generation is always glued to the phones and desktops/laptops and fast losing craze for the traditional folk festivals including Lohri. It is, therefore,the duty of parents to aquaint their children with our culture and tradition and celebrate this festival with their children together and expose them to our rich culture.These festivals serve to spread the message of amity and brotherhood among all the people and we should carry forward this legacy and transmit this rich culture to the posterity.
(The writer is serving as Lecturer in English, in Govt.Hr. Sec. School, Thial (Udhampur).