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Lohri Festival: Date, History, Significance and Celebrations

If you travel anywhere in Northern India during the middle of January, the air will be rich with the fragrance of freshly cut winter crops, the crackling of bonfires, and a general feeling of festivity. The Lohri festival is celebrated in many parts of Northern India a night before Makar Sankranti on 13th January. Every year, during the month of Paush, Lohri marks the beginning of the harvest season for rabi or winter crops with much fanfare, especially by the people of Punjab. The importance of celebrating this festival lies in its significance as a joyous occasion that signifies the commencement of the harvest season, fostering a sense of community and cultural bonding. This festival is also very popular in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu

Originally, Lohri was celebrated on the night before the winter solstice, but more recently, it is celebrated the day before Makar Sankranti. Lohri also goes by many other names like Lohadi or Lal Loi and is very similar to Makar Sankranti. Lohri festival is traditionally associated with the harvest of winter crops and Punjabi farmers see it as the financial New Year. Lohri festival is a time of unrestricted festivities with folk songs, splendid bonfires, dancing to the beat of the dhol, performing bhangra, gidda and chajja, delicious makki ki roti and sarson ka saag and munching gajak, peanuts, tilkut, puffed rice, revdi and popcorn by the crackling bonfires.

History of Lohri

There are numerous stories about why we celebrate Lohri but what is indisputable is that it is the celebration of the winter solstice. Everywhere in the world, winter solstice festivals are marked by the lighting of a bonfire which marks the return of longer days.

The theme of many of the Lohri songs is related to the legend of Dulla Bhatti who lived in Punjab in the 16th century during the reign of Akbar. The words of the folk song sung by the bonfire on Lohri are “Sundar Mundariye Ho, Tera Kaun Vichara ho, Dulla Bhatti Wala Ho”. He is hailed as a hero of Punjab as he saved destitute Punjabi girls, Sundari and Mundari, from being sold in the slave marketplace of the Middle East. He is believed to have been a dacoit and a brave warrior who used to rob from the rich and help the poor with money and food making him very popular in Punjab. The festival of Lohri is believed to commemorate Dulha Bhatti’s valour against the tyranny of the Mughal rulers. During Lohri, bonfires are lit, sweets are exchanged and traditional Punjabi folk songs and dances are performed to Dulha Bhatti.

Some people believe that Lohri derived its name from the word ‘Loi’ who was the wife of Saint Kabir. Others believe that Lohri derived its name from the word ‘Loh’ which refers to the warmth and light of a fire. While many others believe the word ‘Loh’ refers to a tawa which is used to make rotis or chapatis.

Significance of the Lohri Festival

Lohri is not just about festivities, it also celebrates our deep connection to nature and tradition.

In the state of Punjab, wheat is the major winter crop. It is planted in October and reaped in March or in April. In January, the fields are golden with the rich harvest and farmers celebrate the Lohri festival during this period before they get busy with the cutting and gathering of the crops.

It also marks the end of the winter solstice, when the earth is farthest from the sun.  It begins its journey towards the sun in the month of Paush, which is the coldest month of the year. It heralds the beginning of Magh and the favourable period of Uttarayan. It brings with it the promise of spring and celebrates the renewal of nature.

It’s a great time for community bonding as families gather, exchange gifts and gather around bonfires to celebrate.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna revealed himself in his full splendour at this time. Hindus wash away their sins by taking a dip in the holy Ganges river.

Regional Variations of Lohri

All across India, the sun’s northward journey and the beginning of spring are celebrated under different names.

  • What is Lohri in some states is celebrated as Makar Sankranti in others and signifies the sun entering the Makara or Capricorn sign, the official beginning of spring.
  • In Tamil Nadu, it is celebrated as Pongal with the festivities going on for 4 days.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, it transforms into Bhogi, a celebration of letting go of the old to welcome the new. In some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it is celebrated as Pedda Panduga which means ‘big festival.’
  • In Assam, the spring harvest festival is celebrated as Bihu and is a time for feasting, singing and dancing to celebrate the harvest of the first rice crop.
  • In Gujarat, it is celebrated as Uttarayan, the delightful kite festival.
  • In Karnataka, the harvest season is celebrated as Suggi Habba.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, it is celebrated as Makar Sankranti in some places and Khichdi Parv in others.
  • In West Bengal, this harvest festival takes a more spiritual turn and is known as Poush Sankranti.

These are just a few of the many names this harvest festival wears and stands testimony to the cultural diversity and regional pride of our country.

Traditions and Celebration of Lohri

There are 7 important traditions on how to celebrate Lohri without which Lohri festival celebrations are incomplete.

  1. Bonfire
  2. Huge bonfires are lit in harvested fields and yards of homes. People gather around the fire and circle it while tossing puffed rice, peanuts, sesame seeds and popcorn into the fire, dance and sing popular folk songs. Prayers are offered to the fire god to bless the land with abundance and prosperity. Fires are also believed to ward off evil spirits and are a way to welcome the sun after a cold winter.

  3. Prasad
  4. Prasad is a traditional offering of sweets or savouries made to the gods. For Lohri both sweets and savouries like til laddoos, gajak, jaggery, popcorn, and peanuts are offered as prasad to the gods and then shared with family and friends.

  5. Feasting
  6. From sweets to savouries like khichdi, tilkut and gajak, each region boasts of its own delectable culinary gems for Lohri.

  7. Kite Flying
  8. Kite flying is an extremely popular Lohri tradition where people gather on rooftops and fly different colour kites of different shapes and sizes. Kite flying is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.

  9. Folk Songs and Dances
  10. Lohri is incomplete without traditional folk songs and dances Traditional songs like ‘Sunder Mundriye,’ ‘Jind Mahi’ and ‘Satti Satrangi’  set the mood for the evening as people dance to them around the bonfire.

  11. Exchanging Gifts
  12. Gifts like clothes, sweets and money  are exchanged with friends and family on Lohri to express love and gratitude.

  13. Prayers for a Good Harvest
  14. People pray for a good and plentiful harvest and prosperity during Lohri.

Lohri is a time to celebrate with family and friends along with gifts, food and music. But it is also the ideal time to celebrate the rich traditions of this festival. For more information on Lohri festival, its history, significance and how it’s celebrated in different regions, do log into the EuroKids website.

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