Sahildeep Singh Raina
Lohri is a popular Punjabi festival, celebrated by people from the Punjab region of South Asia. The festival of Lohri is Punjabis’ cultural celebration which marks the culmination of winter by worshiping fire. The festival is celebrated on Winter Solstice day. As it falls on the shortest day of the year, Lohri is celebrated by lighting fire and creating a bonfire to mark the onset of longer days. The day after Lohri is celebrated as ‘Maghi Sangrand’ as the coming days are meant to start getting longer. As the Punjabi Folk Religion worships natural elements, the main feature of Lohri is the bonfire which is dedicated as the end of winter season.
Lohri is also celebrated as the harvest festivals. The usual traditional time period to harvest sugarcane crops is January; sugarcane products such as jaggery and ‘gachak’ are central to Lohri celebrations. Another reason that the festival is important for Sikh folks is because Punjabi farmers consider the day after Lohri (Maghi) as the financial New Year, which holds immense importance to the Sikh community.
Lohri is traditionally associated with the harvest of the rabi crops. The traditional time to harvest sugarcane crops is January [ and therefore, Lohri is seen by some to be a harvest festival. The general time to sow sugarcane is January to March and the harvesting period is between December to March with a 12 to 18 month cycle. Sugarcane products such as gurh and gachak are central to Lohri celebrations, as are nuts which are harvested in January  The other important food item of Lohri is radish which can be harvested between October and January.
Singing and dancing form an intrinsic part of the celebrations. People wear their brightest clothes and come to dance the bhangra andgidda to the beat of the dhol. Punjabi songs are sung, and everybody rejoices. Sarson da saag and makki di roti is usually served as the main course at a Lohri dinner. Lohri is a great occasion that holds great importance for farmers. However, people residing in urban areas also celebrate Lohri, as this festival provides the opportunity to interact with family and friends.
Lohri is a festival connected with the solar year. Generally, it is an accepted fact that this festival is celebrated to worship fire. This is particularly a happy occasion for the couples, who would be celebrating Lohri for the first time after marriage and, also for the family who are blessed with a son as he would be celebrating his first ever Lohri. Celebrated enthusiastically in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and parts of Himachal Pradesh, it signifies the beginning of the end of winter. The day begins with children collecting money from houses in the neighborhood. Children go from door to door singing songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi version of Robin Hood who robbed the rich and helped the poor. These “visitors” are given either money or gajak, til bhuga, moong phali, gur and rewri. In the evening, a bonfire is lit, winter savories are served around the bonfire and everyone gathers around it. Munchies, collected from each house, are thrown into the fire.
The festival assumes greater significance if there has been a happy event in the family during the elapsed year, like the birth of a male child or marriage. The family then plays host to relatives and friends, wherein the eateries take a back seat and merry-making takes over. Bhangra, dhol, gidda and light-hearted flirtation rein the overall scenario. Liquor flows freely and guests are served dinner. A popular belief in this region is that if someone seeks a radish roasted in the bonfire lit by a family that has reason to celebrate, then blessings are bestowed on the family of the seeker as well.
In South India, the festival is spread over three days and signifies the beginning of harvesting season. A rath yatra is taken out from the Kandaswamy temple in Chennai on Pongal. The day is celebrated as Ganga Sagara in West Bengal. According to a belief, Hindus purify their sins by taking bath in the Ganges. A big fair is also held on the Sagara Island, 64 km from the Diamond Harbor where the Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.
Call it Lohri, Pongal or Sankranti, the festival conveys the same message that the bond of brotherhood and the spirit of oneness should prevail despite all odds!
Sahildeep Singh Raina