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Lohri, festival of fire & sun

The Lohri of north India coincides with Sankranti in Maharashtra and Pongal in Tamil Nadu.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2006 17:23 IST
CD Verma
CD Verma

Our ancient festival, Lohri that falls on January 13 every year, marks the beginning of the end of the winter and the coming of spring and New Year in mid-April. The fires lit at night, the hand-warming, the song and dance and coming together of an otherwise atomised community are some of its highlights. The Lohri of north India coincides with Sankranti in Maharashtra, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Magh Bihu in Assam, Tai Pongal in Kerala, all celebrated on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti on January 14, the day after.

Elders say Bhattis, a Rajput clan that gained prominence during Emperor Akbar’s reign once inhabited Rajasthan, Punjab (parts of Pakistan) and Gujarat. Akbar got king of Pindi Bhattian, Dulla Bhatti killed for revolting against him. The clan’s ‘mirasis’ (singers) who trace its pedigree interestingly claim Maharaja Ranjit Singh as a Bhatti scion.

The people of that region loved Dulla Bhatti who was a Robin Hood like figure for them. He once rescued a young girl from her kidnappers, adopted her as a daughter, and married her off. His people would remember their hero every year on Lohri. Groups of children moved from door to door, singing: Dulla Bhatti ho!/ Dulle ne dhi viyahi ho!/ Ser shakar pai ho! (Dulla married off his daughter and gave her a kilo of sugar as a marriage gift.) Some believe that Lohri takes its name from Loi, the wife of Sant Kabir, for in rural Punjab, Lohri is pronounced Lohi. Another view is that since eating til (sesame seeds) and rorhi (jaggery) is essential as a symbolic warm-up on this day among those who honour Sankranti, perhaps til and rorhi merged into Tilorhi, which eventually became Lohri. Even today in Maharashtra, people exchange a taste of the two as a mark of goodwill with the greeting, Til-gud ghya, god-god bola (eat til-gud and speak sweet words).

Lohri is essentially a festival dedicated to fire and to Surya (Sun God). It is the time when the sun transits the zodiac sign Makara (Capricorn), and moves north, which astrologers call by the beautiful name Uttarayan.

First Published: Jan 13, 2006 14:06 IST