Lohri, a Festival of coming together

Suman K Sharma
Farms and fields are spilling over with corn and sugarcane. The sight enthuses farmers to share their bounty with one and all. Bazars and roadside vends offer a variety of revdis, gachchak, popcorn and peanuts. Neighbourhoods resonate with rousing Bhangra drum beats.
Spurn for a while your quilts and blankets; even though winter has not yet lost its sting. Shake up the lazybones around you. Joyous shouts call everyoneout to join in the warmth of togetherness. Herna, Bhaiherna!Lohri- the festival that brings ‘lo’ (light and warmth) to a cloistered populace – has arrived.
13th of January – Lohri keeps its date almost every year.Marking the winter solstice, it is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The days of the winter season are numbered now. From Makar Sankranti, the day following Lohri, days will grow longer and nights shorter. Lohri is the day to gorge yourself on sweet and crispy preparations of gur,til and peanuts (with saltedslivers of radish to keep your gut in shape), as also to bask in the warmth of a crackling bonfire in the company of your kith and kin.For in the spring season which is not far off, you would scarcely have the need to replenish your body heat by such means.
We celebrate Lohri simply because it fulfils a yearning that we feel from the core of our heart – a yearning for freedom. Freedom from the sigdi-warmed, blower-heated stuffy rooms,freedom from the heavily quilted nights and freedom too from the tyranny of the winter that sequesters even the most outgoing among us from outside world. Lohri is meant to bring everyone out in a matrix of open togetherness and fellow feeling. Even complete strangers are teased to let go of their aloofness and share what they have –
Herna, bhaiherna
Deyopadopi dal
O indifferent one/I won’t borrow from you/Your indifference takes a leap/Give me a measure of dal
Lohri is indeed such a robust tradition that it does not have to fall back upon a sectarian myth to establish its significance. Yet, any festival would lack itscharm if it did not have a good narrative to embellish it. The most popular story about Lohri is that of DullaBhatti. A Rajput of Bhatti clan, Dulla is said to have lived during the times of Emperor Akbar. This brave-heart reputedly saved, at the cost of his life, many a young woman from being sold out in the slave market. So goes a Lohri folk song sung in chorus –
Sunder Mundriyeho!
Dulla Bhattialaho!
O pretty lass/Who bothers about you/It’s Dulla of the Bhattis
It is for the historians to testify to the veracity of the heroics of DullaBhatti, yet the song clearly establishes the moral code of our society. In the substratum of the gaiety of Lohri festival lies the core dictum of safeguarding women’s honour.
Not too long ago in the living memory, Lohri was celebrated with much gusto. Weeks before the festival, boys young and not so young,made rounds of the mohalla, collecting eatables, money, fuel- wood, and of course, news. Which family is preparing for, or has already performed a son’s wedding? Are there any couples recently blessed with son? Any other good tidings like securing a job or buying a new house? Hours were spent crafting a chhajjaout of tinsel paper and bamboo sticks. This artistic contrivance would serve as a prop while dancing on the D-Day. An expert dholia was engaged.
Dresses were made ready. For the boys who would be masquerading as girls, feminine ensembles were borrowed from sisters and sisters-in-law who willingly doled out their rouge and lipstick too for the added effect. Come Lohri and the teams, all done up and fully rehearsed, danced with gay abandon, singing Lohri songs and asking for generous gifts. It was then that the neighbourhood news came handy. Households which had ‘a happy occasion’ were cajoled to part with much bigger gifts in cash and kind than the rest. Those who resisted even slightly were lampooned good-naturedly for their parsimony. At night, everyone romped around the huge bonfire, partaking of the comestibles with much merriment. Long after the hubbub of the younger lot was over, grannies and grandpas shared their old time stories seeping in the warmth of the dying embers.
Even today there is much song and dance about Lohri. The fire is there, and so are theeatables and good cheer. What is lacking is the camaraderie that Lohribrought once. A generation or two ago, Lohri used to be a public festivity. Not anymore. Times have changed and how! The youngsters are busy as ever with their iPhones; and their elders are wary of any intrusion in their space. Howsoever that might be, let’s enjoy the warmth of the bonfire while it lasts.