Lohri is fundamentally an agricultural festival, filled with merry-making. It is celebrated in the state of Punjab on the on the 13th of January, which falls one day before Makar Sankranti. While Lohri is essentially a Punjab festival, it is celebrated in some other states of North India as well. In cities like Delhi, which have a predominant Punjabi population, Lohri is celebrated to denote the last of the coldest days of winter. The Punjab and other areas of North India get very cold in the month of January, and usually the period of the last week of December and the first couple of weeks in January are the coldest of the season. However, after Lohri, the temperature starts gradually rising.
During the day, children go from door to door singing songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, the Punjabi version of Robin Hood, a thief who helps the poor and fights for their rights. These children are given sweets and savouries, and occasionally, money. These munchies that the children collect are known as Lohri, and they are distributed at night during the festival. Some may be offered to the sacred fire.
The festival of Lohri is celebrated outdoors. As it is usually very cold on the 13th of January, a bonfire is lit, and friends and relatives gather around. If there has been a happy occasion in the family, like the birth of a child or a marriage, Lohri is celebrated with much greater gusto. The happy family usually hosts a party to celebrate the first Lohri of the new child or couple.
Singing and dancing form an intrinsic part of the celebrations. People wear their brightest clothes and come to dance the bhangra and gidda to the beat of the dhol. Punjabi songs are sung, and everybody rejoices.
Sarson ka saag and makki ki roti is usually served as the main course at a lohri dinner. In the villages of Punjab, Lohri is an occasion where the entire village gets together and participates in the celebrations like one big happy family. The bonfire is lit in the main village square, and after a fair amount of song and dance, everyone eats a rich and fulfilling community dinner. During this time, the farmers are undergoing a period of rest because wheat, which is the main crop in Punjab, is sown in October and harvested in March or April. In January, the fresh crop has just started growing, and the farmers are ecstatic.
A prayer is made to Agni, the god of Fire, and Prasad is distributed. The prasad comprises of five main things: til, gazak, gur, moongphali (peanuts), and phuliya or popcorn. An offering is also made of this Prasad to the sacred fire.
Lohri is celebrated throughout the country in different forms, as a harvest festival. It is called Pongal in the South, Bhugali Bihu in Assam, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh and Sankranti in the central part of the country. Modes of celebrating Lohri are also different, but the message conveyed by the festival, that of setting aside differences and rejoicing by celebrating the end of the harvest season and the chilly winter, is the same.
The First Lohri
The first Lohri celebrated by a new bride or a newborn represents a grand occasion and immediate family members are invited for feast and exchange of gifts. Once the party is over, Lohri is celebrated with traditional dancing and singing around the bonfire. Lohri pampers women and children. This is particularly a happy occasion for the couples who for the first time celebrated Lohri after their marriage and also first Lohri of a new born child either a girl or a boy in a family.
On the first Lohri of the the recently wedded bride or a new born, people give offerings of dry fruits, revri (a kind of sweet made of sugar and sesame seeds), roasted peanuts, Sesame Ladoo and other foods to the fire, as well as sharing them with their family and friends gathered around the fire. They perform the ‘Bhangra’ dance, in groups around the fire. The dancing and singing continues well into the night. The Bhangra dance has rhythmic movements of the feet, shoulders and body, with outstretched hands and a lot of clapping by women partners. Food eaten is generally vegetarian and traditionally, no alcoholic drinks are supposed to be consumed.
On Lohri day, colourful fairs or melas are held in many of the villages of Punjab, Himachal and Haryana. These are basically seasonal fairs that celebrate the harvest for the fertility of fields. Lohri fairs are enchantingly picturesque with bustling market springing up, in which food and products of local handicrafts such as toys, glass bangles and an assortment of all kinds of articles for domestic use are on display.
People come to participate in Lohri Melas from far-off places, trudging dusty distances. Men, women and children of all ages, classes and creeds flock in hundreds and enjoy the numerous fascinating futures of the fair; races, wrestling bouts, singing, acrobatics, etc.,. They play on folk instruments, such as vanjli and algoza. There is fun and frolic all round the place where the Lohri fair is organized.
The old as well as the young enjoy these fairs to the fullest as these fairs reflect the joy of the community. In big cities and towns Lohri melas are organized before or after the festival to give people an opportunity to get together. Stalls of handicraft and other products besides those selling food or organized in these fairs. Bonfire, joyful competitions along with swings and games are other attractions of the traditional Lohri melas.