Lohri 2021: History, significance and celebrations of the mid-winter festival
Lohri is a traditional winter folk festival celebrated in India by people specifically in the North zone. It is a festival of joy that commemorates the passing of the Winter Solstice and looks forward to longer days as the sun journeys towards the northern hemisphere.
Lohri is primarily celebrated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent by Sikhs and Hindus. Each year, the festival is observed on the night before Makar Sankranti, in accordance with the solar part of the lunisolar Bikrami calendar.
This year, the mid-winter festival is being observed on January 13, 2021.
History and significance
There are several tales surrounding the origin of the Lohri festival. A few accounts attribute the origin of the festival to the Himalayan mountain region where the winters are colder than the rest of the country.
After weeks of harvesting the Rabi crop, people would gather around a bonfire and celebrate the passing of the winter solstice and the promise of the coming spring season. The festival is also dedicated to the sun deity, Surya, as on this day the devotees expect it's returning after the cold winter days and ask it for warmth and sunshine.
Another legend attributes the celebration of Lohri to the tale of ‘Dulla Bhatti’ who was a local hero of the Punjab region and during the reign of Akbar, worked as a saviour of the people. He famously saved a group of young girls from being sold into slavery.
His deeds have been passed down as a legend and are deeply inculcated in the Punjabi folklore. On Lohri, ‘Dulla Bhatti’ is celebrated and various songs and dances are performed in his honour.
Each year the festival of Lohri is celebrated with the traditional bonfire. Unlike most festivals in India which witness people visiting family and friends and distributing sweets etc., Lohri celebrations are marked by people gathering at a common place and set up a huge bonfire with various kinds of sweet delicacies on display for eating together.
In Punjab, the festival is celebrated by eating sheaves of roasted corn from the new harvest. As the January sugarcane harvest also wraps up during this time, many sugarcane products such as gurh and gachak are central to the celebration food.
People gather on this day to dance their hearts out and enjoy the warmth of the fire and friendly spirit. No Lohri festival is complete without the energetic moves of Bhangra and Gidda and some people also decorate their homes.
Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the spirit of Lohri carries on as people connect over zoom calls with their family members to mark the celebrations of this festival. Here's wishing everyone a bright and cheerful Lohri!