Lohri, the winter harvest festival (13 January), is celebrated with great enthusiasm all across the north Indian states like Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and parts of Himachal Pradesh. Like every year, this year too I waited eagerly for Lohri celebrations with my neighbours.
A large, twelve foot square brick platform had been made in the middle of the grounds of the Community Centre of the Residents Welfare Association of our neighbourhood. A huge bonfire was already roaring when I reached there, its warmth and light spreading far. People had by now gathered in large numbers. The elderly were seated in chairs while the younger crowd stood chatting in groups--but all sought the warmth of the fire. The air was thick with the spirit of cheer and camaraderie. Someone added a few more logs of wood and soon the flames grew higher as the wood crackled and hissed and sparks flew about, dancing merrily in the air before turning to nothingness.
Every now and then people headed towards the large decorated baskets laden with peanuts, popcorn, puffed rice and revari, little, flat sweets made with gur (jaggery) and til (sesame seeds), scooped a little from each basket and threw it into the fire. Some circled the fire before making their offering and then proceeded to munch on these savouries known to produce heat within the body and hence popularly eaten in winter. Music blared loudly in the background, mostly Punjabi pop, keeping in sync with the nature of the festivities. Some time later, large square polythene packets were distributed. I too got one and curiously opened it. It turned out to be a floating paper lantern, long and cylindrical in shape with a little contraption for holding a small lighted diya. Shortly enough, those colourful lighted lanterns were released into the air and as they rose, everyone craned their necks as they watched them disappear into the night. More fun and food followed until the fire started dying out and people reluctantly returned home.
Lohri, a primarily north Indian festival, is celebrated on the 13th of January every year. It is the winter harvest festival of the Punjab region as it is at this time that sugarcane is traditionally harvested. This is also the last day of the farmers' financial year. Lohri is associated with the worship of fire and the sun. Agni, the fire god, is invoked to bless the land with abundance and prosperity.
According to the Hindu calendar, Lohri falls in mid-January. It is also the day when the earth, farthest from the sun at this point of time, changes its course--the start of its six-month long journey towards the sun or the Uttarayanam, thus ending the coldest month of the year, Paush and starting the month of Magh.
There are many traditions and stories associated with Lohri. In Punjab, children go knocking from door to door and are given savouries like til laddus, gazak, peanuts, puffed rice and gur ki patti (candy made from jaggery and peanuts). Turning them away is considered inauspicious. Songs are sung in praise of Dulha Bhatti, the Punjabi equivalent of Robin Hood, who robbed the rich and gave his loot to the poor. He is also said to have prevented the village girls from being sold off as slaves and arranged their marriages, complete with dowry and all.
Harvest festivals are celebrated all over the country at this time of the year though by different names--Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Magh Bihu in Assam, Pedda Panduga in Andhra Pradesh and Makar Sankranti in Gujarat and other parts of India. All these festivals signify health, wealth and prosperity and the coming of warmer days.