Lohri has been celebrated for thousands of years, however no one really knows when it started although there are many stories.
Astrologically, this is the time when the sun transits the zodiac sign Capricorn and moves towards the North meaning the chill of winter wades off making the earth warmer. In other words it’s the end of winter and beginning of spring.
For thousands of years India has been symbolically celebrating this by lighting bonfires and gathering around singing, dancing and of course there’s food! Yum!
Furthermore the fire represented life and death just like water which symbolises transformation and regeneration, of crops and also newborns that survived their first winter. It also symbolises the sun or the Suns Rays, which stimulate growth of cornfields and wellbeing of man and animals. The sun also supplied light and heat and was seen as an image of energy and spiritual strength. This is why the Lohri fire was sanctified and venerated like a deity by offering peanuts, popcorn, sweets made of til-chirva, gajak, revri to appease the sun god.
Hindus all over India celebrate Lohri in different variations and have different names for it.
Nowadays It’s not just Hindus, Punjabi Sikhs also celebrate Lohri and have done for many years.
One of the popular legends that you will hear is of Dulla Bhatti. During the Reign of Mughal King Akbar, Dulla Bhati was born in to a Muslim family who lived near Faisalbaad in Punjab which now comes under Pakistan.
Following the foot steps of his father and grandfather Dulla Bhatti became known as a rebellion against King Akbars reign and famously robbed from the riches and distributed the goods to the poor. He also helped children and rescued girls from prostitution and helped them get married. Eventually he was deceitfully captured by King Akbars Army and hanged to death. Dulla Bhatti became a legend for these reasons and that’s why people of Punjab remember him on Lohri.
Lohri is celebrated all over the world by Indians now, when there is a newly married couple or newborn (in many communities emphasised by the birth of a baby boy, but that’s a discussion of its own) and the rituals can vary by family but are generally similar. This year my family are celebrating Lohri as we have a new baby girl (my daughter) and my nephew who was born a few weeks earlier. There are also other relatives celebrating on the birth of their babies too. These celebrations don’t all happen on the same day nor necessarily on Lohri day it self, simply because it’s impractical to be everywhere at once.
How does Lohri get celebrated?
Typically, a bonfire is lit in the evening at the home of the person celebrating or in a large open area. People get together throw peanuts, popcorn, sweets made of til-chirva, gajak and revri to the fire, whilst newly weds and new borns are walked around the fire and appear to be praying towards the fire.This is then followed by a traditional meal of Saag (cooked spinach) and Makki di roti (corn flour roti) accompanied by white radishes, whole green chillis, rice pudding and plenty of Indian sweets.Families also sing songs whilst around the fire and dance to express their joy and happiness.
What does this have to do with Sikhi?
Simple answer, nothing!
Religiously there is absolutely no significance of celebrating Lohri. I mean our Guru Ji’s made it easy for us to live with out meaningless rituals and materialism such as, walking around and praying to fire, but Punjabis just can’t help it, we love having a reason to celebrate, dance, sing and in some not all cases be merry. Even if we don’t really know why we do it or if we do know, we do it anyway, because we are being told to and that’s better than arguing or upsetting our elders, right? Don’t get me wrong some people actually do want to celebrate Lohri and that’s fine but letting go of our egos for Sikhi, I guess seems harder than ever. Or is it?
How do you balance this in a family of religious and non religious people?
Some people just don’t celebrate Lohri but as families grow and integrate there are mixture of opinions. Some want to celebrate Lohri for newly weds and/or newborns and others don’t. My in laws don’t celebrate the festival as such but my family does so by communicating with each other and understanding each other’s way of life a mutual decision can be made. In our case we had a huge family meal with out the bonfire, which allowed the family to come together but without possibly encouraging praying to fire and that’s a fair compromise I think.
It is great though, that we have our very own Robin Hood legend. He is an example that reminds us that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, it is your actions that matter the most. Therefore if legends like Dulla Bhatti encourage us to come together regardless of our backgrounds and create harmony across communities, (and by that I mean Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus etc) Lohri can hold a deeper relevance in today’s modern Indian society. Balle Balle to Robin Hood.