Contrary to popular belief, Lohri is not only a festival in the northern Indian region, primarily Punjab, but also one that is celebrated in Southern regions albeit with different names like Pongal and Makar Sankranti. It is also a scientific phenomenon because it is purely based on the science of astronomy and crop cycle which is religion agnostic. Basically, it is a celebration of the revival or return of sunlight into the northern hemisphere and it coincides with the harvest season as well.
Lohri is widely celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus across India, marks the end of winter. It is observed a night before Makar Sankranti and is celebrated with great pomp and show in the north Indian region. The first of the many Hindu festivals in the year, Lohri hold a special place among the farming community as it is a festival of harvest.
The Legend of Dulla Bhatti
Numerous legends are associated with Lohri, the most famous and interesting one being “Dulla Bhatti”. Dulla Bhatti was a popular figure, somewhat similar to Robinhood which made him a local hero among the poor. As the legend goes, he once rescued a damsel from some men and took care of her like his own daughter. There are many jovial folk songs on the figure of Dulla Batti which commemorate his feats. During Lohri, children in neighbourhood collect sweets from all houses in the form of loot which is then offered first to the bonfire and leftover is relished as “prasad”.
People gather together, light a bonfire, distribute popcorn, peanuts, rewari and gajak (traditional winter sweets) to friends, neighbours and relatives. In north India, Lohri holds special significance for the newly-married couple or the new-born child in the family as family members and relatives gather together to celebrate their first Lohri. It is also traditional to eat sesame rice which is made by mixing jaggery, sesame seeds and rice on this day.
Interestingly, it is also a held belief that Lohri is the coldest night of the year, followed by the longest night and the shortest day. Since it is the coldest night, people protect themselves by lighting a fire and spending time around it. Towards evening, people assemble in an open space and gather wood logs, dung cakes, and sugar cane and light it. There is also some religious value attached to the fire there is a circumambulation around it as a mark of respect and thanksgiving for a good harvest. A lot of traditional sweets are offered to the fire. Punjabi folk dance and song are highlights of the festival which culminates with a good feast.