The festival of Lohri is synonymous with the areas in Punjab & Harayana belt. Celebrated with great fanfare on the 13th of January each year, it is a festival dedicated to Agni, God of fire. It is specific to the month of Paush or Magh which is just one day prior to Makar Sankranti.
The general school of thought regarding the festival of Lohri is that it was a festival to declare the end of winter, in other words the winter solitice. it is also looked upon as a harvest festival, particularly the Rabi crop. Being the mid-January period, that day of the year is said to be the shortest day and the lengthiest night, and from that day the earth starts moving towards the sun, thus bringing an end to Paush month considered as coldest month during the entire year. It also brings in the month of Magh and the sacred period referred to as Uttarayan.
On the auspicious morning of Lohri, the atmosphere is filled with fun and gaiety all around. Groups of children can be seen singing Lohri songs and visiting homes asking for some kind of ‘give away” such as money or edible munchies. These give-aways are called ‘Lohri.’ Usually it is in the form of sesame seed Rewri, peanut chikki, jaggery based sweets or other forms of sweets like Gajak and sometimes in the form of cash. The songs are based on eulogizing Dulha Bhatti who is an ancient character on the lines of Robin Hood; someone who helped the poor by robbing wealth from the rich. Dulha Bhatti is supposed to have considered a girl from his village to be like his own sister, gave protection to her, and took the responsibility of getting her betrothed to a suitable man. Certain parts of Punjab and Haryana also consider Lohri day as the day for flying kites and thus venture out in the open to indulge in kite-flying activity.
Lohri can never be complete without the quintessential dance and music. Punjabis are well known for their exuberant nature and are loud and expressive in their merry-making. Both men and women wear colorful clothes. The menfolk dance the Bhangra and Gidda in tune to the beat of the dhol.
The food served is a rich spread of typical Punjabi food such as Sarson Ka Saag and Makki di Roti. Lohri is more of a community celebration with all the society or village people gathering together at one venue, lighting the bonfire, and enjoying the night. Placed above the bonfire is the Lohri Goddess made from cowdung and then decorated.
People around sing songs in praise of the Lohri Goddess and God of Fire, Agni, begging for blessings and abundance of good crops and prosperity in life. The prayer songs are then followed up with Prasad distribution. For Prasad people offer eatables such as sesame seed, jaggery gajak, peanuts, puffed rice and popcorn.
Lohri marks the resting period for farmers in Punjab. Since wheat is the primary crop grown in Punjab, it is usually sown in the month of October each year. By January the fresh crop takes shape and begins growing. Then towards end March or April, the harvesting is done. Hence overall Lohri is a happy period for the people of Punjab.
Similar to Lohri in Punjab, harvest festivals are celebrated by various names in other parts of India as well. You have the popular Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh, Bhugali Bihu in Assam, and Sankaranti in central India. The customs and ritualsfor celebration of Lohri festival might differ but the underlying message of overcoming ill-feelings towards one another, staying united and rejoicing together stays the same whether it is in Punjab or elsewhere.
There are many Lohri songs. For example, the following song which has words to express gratitude to Dulla Bhatti:
Sunder mundriye ho!
Tera kaun vicharaa ho!
Dullah Bhatti walla ho!
Dullhe di dhee vyayae ho!
Ser shakkar payee ho!
Kudi da laal pathaka ho!
Kudi da saalu paata ho!
Salu kaun samete!
Chacha gali dese!
Chache choori kutti! zamidara lutti!
Bum Bum bhole aaye!
Ek bhola reh gaya!
Sipahee far ke lai gaya!
Sipahee ne mari itt!
Bhaanvey ro te bhaanvey pitt!
Sanoo de de Lohri, te teri jeeve jodi!
(Cry or howl!)