On 13th January every year, Hindus and Sikhs across North India rise up as a collective to celebrate the festival of Lohri. The traditional festival involves a number of rituals and also the exchange of Lohri gifts amongst family and friends to welcome a new harvest season. Apart from ushering in the harvest season, the festival also pays homage to the winter solstice, a day when the Earth experiences darkness for the longest time. Symbolically, the winter solstice signals the coming of a new rejuvenated sun.
The Rituals of Lohri
The celebrations of Lohri have come a long way since the festival’s inception. Nowadays, apart from engaging in traditional rituals and festivities, people also send gifts for Lohri to friends and family members. All in all, the modern-day avatar of the festival is an amalgamation of age-old practices and rituals and modern-day additions to make it one of the merriest Indian festivals.
Some of the rituals typically witnessed during Lohri celebrations in North India are:
• Song and Dance: Singing and dancing are the two primary activities of those celebrating Lohri with their friends and family. The songs performed during Lohri are primarily offerings to God, thanking Him for his blessings and for looking over the well-being of the people.
There are numerous folk songs that are performed and the central character of these songs is ‘Dulla Bhatti’. Dulla Bhatti was a Punjabi who lived during the 16th century. He was a practicing Muslim and he was most notable for his highway robberies. However, he did not rob to satisfy his own desires. He robbed so that he could share the riches of the rich with the deprived and the poor. He is fondly remembered as “Punjab’s Robin Hood”.
• Prayers Offered to the Sun: As Lohri signals the coming of a rejuvenated sun, it is a common practice for people to light a bonfire and assemble around it to chant a mantra. The mantra is basically offered to the Sun God to thank Him for protecting the people from the harsh winter cold.
• Children Accepting Gifts: Once the initial rituals are performed, the time comes for the children to roam around their neighbourhood going from one door to the next asking for Lohri gifts. As people in North India take their Lohri celebrations very seriously these days, they typically spend a lot of time thinking about Lohri gift ideas to decide on gifts that would please the children the most.
• Afternoon Feast: Once the morning comes to a close, families begin preparing a grand afternoon feast. This feast involves gorging on some of the most delicious North Indian recipes such as Pindi Channe, Makki ki Roti, Sarson ka Saag and Gur ki Roti.
• Evening Bonfire: Once the afternoon feast is done and dusted, people get ready for the next round of celebrations, which take place across the evening. The people get dressed up in brand new clothes and assemble round the evening bonfire, where they offer butter, puffed rice, peanuts, sesame seeds and popcorns to God. The evening prayers typically involve asking God to keep everyone happy and healthy and to maintain peace and prosperity in the world.
• Meeting Friends and Relatives: Once the bonfire prayers are complete, people go around their neighbourhoods visiting friends and family members exchanging blessings and gifts. Those who are away from their homes and can’t participate in the celebrations typically send gifts for Lohri to their family members and close friends.
• Second Round of Song and Dance: The second round of singing and dancing begins shortly after the meeting with friends and family members. The evening song and dance routine feature the use of dhol, a popular Indian percussion instrument. People perform traditional dances such as Giddha and Bhangra as the celebrations slowly start coming to an end.
• Evening Feast: The Lohri celebrations come to a close with the evening feast, where people assemble again around the bonfire and take their seats, as they are served some of North Indian cuisine’s most delectable dishes.
Even as North India continues to embrace modern lifestyles and practices, the tradition of celebrating Lohri is something that will never go out of fashion. The spirit of togetherness and the feeling of gratitude towards God are at the core of this age-old festival and the tradition is sure to pass on from one generation to the next as the wheels of time continue to turn.
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