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Amrinder Singh
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Lohri: The Bonfire Festival

 

Origin Of Lohri....

 

The origin of the Lohri can be traced back to the tale of Dulla Bhatti. By the end of the first week of January, small groups of boys ring the doorbell of houses and start chanting the Lohri songs related to Dulla Bhatti. In turn, the people give them popcorn, peanuts, crystal sugar, sesame seeds (til) or gur as well as money. Turning them back empty-handed is regarded inauspicious.

Lohri marks the end of winter on the last day of Paush, and beginning of Magha (around January 12 and 13), when the sun changes its course. It is associated with the worship of the sun and fire and is observed by all communities with different names, as Lohri is an exclusively Punjabi festival. The questions like When it began and why is lost in the mists of antiquity.

The origin of Lohri is related to the central character of most Lohri songs is Dulla Bhatti, a Muslim highway robber who lived in Punjab during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Besides robbing the rich, he rescued Hindu girls being forcibly taken to be sold in slave market of the Middle East. He arranged their marriages to Hindu boys with Hindu rituals and provided them with dowries. Understandably, though a bandit, he became a hero of all Punjabis. So every other Lohri song has words to express gratitude to Dulla Bhatti.

Some believe that Lohri has derived its name from Loi, the wife of Sant Kabir, for in rural Punjab Lohri is pronounced as Lohi. Others believe that Lohri comes from the word 'loh', a thick iron sheet tawa used for baking chapattis for community feasts. Another legend says that Holika and Lohri were sisters. While the former perished in the Holi fire, the latter survived. Eating of til (sesame seeds) and rorhi (jaggery) is considered to be essential on this day. Perhaps the words til and rorhi merged to become tilorhi, which eventually got shortened to Lohri.

Ceremonies that go with the festival of Lohri usually comprises of making a small image of the Lohri goddess with gobar (cattle dung), decorating it, kindling a fire beneath it and chanting its praises. The final ceremony is to light a large bonfire at sunset, toss sesame seeds, gur, sugar-candy and rewaries in it, sit round it, sing, dance till the fire dies out. People take dying embers of the fire to their homes. In Punjabi village homes, fire is kept going round the clock by use of cow-dung cakes.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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Harvest Festival of Punjab

Lohri is the harvest festival of Punjab, famously known as the the breadbasket state of India. Thus, people residing in Punjab attach a great significance to Lohri, the festival in feasts and foods. This harvest festival is celebrated to mark both celebration and sharing.

Lohri festival prompts people to be thankful for God's provision and to celebrate his creation, its focus on farming.

In Punjab, wheat is the main winter crop, which is sown in October and harvested in March or April. In January, the fields come up with the promise of a golden harvest, and farmers celebrate Lohri during this rest period before the cutting and gathering of crops. For Punjabis, this is more than just a festival, it is also an example of a way of life.

 

Celebrating The Harvest Festival
Lohri is a festival of zeal and verve and marks the culmination of the chilly winter. In true spirit of the Punjabi culture, men and women perform Bhangra and Giddha, popular Punjabi folk dances, around a bonfire. Enthusiastic children go from house to house singing songs and people oblige them generously by giving them money and eatables as offering for the festival.

Logs of wood are piled together for a bonfire, and friends and relatives gather around it. They go around the fire three times, giving offerings of popcorns, peanuts, rayveri and sweets. Then, to the beat of the dhol (traditional Indian drum), people dance around the fire. Prasad of til, peanuts, rayveri, puffed rice, popcorn, gajak and sweets is distributed. This symbolizes a prayer to Agni for abundant crops and prosperity.

Lohri is also an auspicious occasion to celebrate a newly born baby’s or a new bride’s arrival in the family. The day ends with a traditional feast of sarson da saag and makki di roti and a dessert of rau di kheer (a dessert made of sugarcane juice and rice). The purpose of the Lohri harvest ceremony is to thank the God for his care and protection. During this festival the people prepare large quantities of food and drink, and make merry throughout the day and night. Therefore everyone looked forward to this day.

Thus the jubilation at a bountiful harvest becomes the reason for the celebration of Lohri. It is one of the most popular harvest festivals of Punjab, with fairs held at various places. Dancing men and women, sing and dance around the bonfire and people come out of their houses to greet one and all.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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Legends of Lohri

There are few renowned legends associated with this historic festival of Punjab, the most significant of them being the Dullah Bhatti, which evolved around the Festival of Lohri. Lohri marks the end of the dreary and awfully cold month of Pos (mid Dec to mid Jan) and the next day of Makar Sakranti, ushers in the bright and sunny month of Magh. This is particularly a happy occasion for the couples who for the first time celebrated Lohri after their marriage and also the first Lohri of the son born in a family.

The Legend of Sun God
Few days before Lohri, a bevy of village maidens assemble and visit the households to ask cow-dung cake. The girls gather round the house and chant: We've come, all the girls of the village! We've come to your courtyard! And so they go from house to house collecting cow-dung cakes till they have a veritable pile. They deposit all of them in one house and return to their homes. Their is a valid reason for girls to perform this ritual.

Lohri is celebrated on the last day of the month of Pans to mark the end of winter. It is said that the forefathers formulated a sacred mantra which protected them from the cold. This mantra invoked the Sun God to send them so much heat that the winter cold would not affect them. And, in thanks-giving to the Sun God, they chanted this mantra round a fire on the last day of Pans. The Lohri fire is symbolic of the homage to the sun. A song is sung on this occasion:

“Where have the shawls and braziers gone?
To the golden mountain Where's the golden mountain gone?
To the sun's ray Where has the sun's ray gone?
To the sun Where's the sun gone?
To the fire The fire burns, the ray warms
The snows melt, the cold days have ended.”

Our ancients believed that the flames of the fires they lit took their message to the sun, and that is why on the morning after Lohri, which is the first of the new month Magh, the sun's rays suddenly turn warm and take the chill out of people’s bones.


12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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Another version of Lohri
"There is also another version of Lohri. In olden times, human beings lit fires to keep away flesh-eating animals and protect their habitations. Everyone contributed to this communal fire, for which young boys and girls collected firewood from the jungle. That is why even today when people burn cow-dung cakes it is teenagers who go around collecting them. The Lohri bonfire is symbolic of our old method of protecting ourselves as well as a form of fire worship. It is to the Lohri fire that couples pray for more children and parents for husbands for their unmarried daughters.

 

The Legend of Dullah Bhatti
On the eve of Lohri the most popular songs sung by groups of boys invariably end with the exclamation 'ho':

 

Sundri Mundri Hei! Hoi!
Tera Kaun Bechara! Hoi!
Dullah Bhatti wala! Hoi!
Dullah Di Dhi viyahi ! Hoi !
Sher ShaKar pai! Hoi!
Kuri de Mamme aaye! Hoi!
UnaNe ChuRi Kuti! Hoi!
Jimidari Lutti! Hoi!
Ik kola GhuT Gaya!
Jimidar Apni......


Since Lohri is also associated with weddings, many Lohri songs are based on the old love story of Dulla Bhatti. This is the tale of a man who rescued a girl from her cruel abductors and adopted her. Finally he arranged for her marriage, as if she were his own daughter. These songs exhort the youth to protect the honor of their sisters and daughters, and punish those who try to dishonor them. Everywhere in Punjab ‘Vars’ (songs) of his heroism and valor are sung and recited.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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Customs & Tradition

The various customs and traditions attached to the festival of Lohri signifies the harvesting of the Rabi crops. The people of Northern India, especially Punjab and Haryana celebrate Lohri, to mark the end of winter. Harvested fields and front yards are litup with flames of bonfires, around which people gather to meet friends and relatives and sing folk songs. For Punjabis, this is more than just a festival; it is also an example of their love for celebrations. Lohri celebrates fertility and the joy of life. People gather around bonfires, throw sweets, puffed rice and popcorn into the flames, sing popular and folksongs and exchange greetings.

In the morning, children go from door to door singing songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi version of Robin Hood who robbed from the rich and helped the poor. These visitors are usually given money as they knock on their neighbor’s doors. In the evening, people gather around bonfires, throw sweets, puffed rice, and popcorn into the flames, sing popular folk songs and exchange greetings.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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The Bonfire Customs & Tradition
In the evening, with the setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit in the harvested fields and in the front yards of houses and people gather around the rising flames, circle around (parikrama) the bonfire and throw puffed rice, popcorn and other munchies into the fire, shouting "Aadar aye dilather jaye" (May honor come and poverty vanish!), and sing popular folk songs. This is a sort of prayer to Agni, the fire god, to bless the land with abundance and prosperity.

After the parikrama, people meet friends and relatives, exchange greetings and gifts, and distribute prasad (offerings made to god). The prasad comprises five main items: til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Winter savories are served around the bonfire with the traditional dinner of makki-ki-roti (multi-millet hand-rolled bread) and sarson-ka-saag (cooked mustard herbs).

On the Lohri day everyone gets into their best clothes and is festive. Gifts of sweets are exchanged. The courtyard and rooms of the house are swept and sprinkled with water. As the sun sets, all people dress up in their best and gather around the bonfire. Newly wed ones wear jewelery. The new-born are given little combs to hold. The a burning fagot is brought from the hearth and sets the Lohri bonfire alight. As the flames leap up, the girls throw sesame seed in them and bow. Someone sings:

“Let purity come, dirt depart
Dirt be uprooted and its roots Cast in the fire.”

 

ਈਸ਼ਰ ਆ ਦਲਿੱਦਰ ਜਾ.. ਦਲਿੱਦਰ ਦੀ ਜੜ ਚੁੱਲੇ ਪਾ...


People throw sticks of sugarcane into the fire and an aroma of burning sugar spreads in the atmosphere. Girls light fireworks and sparklers. The fire's glow lights faces with a golden hue. People sing and dance till the early hours of the morning, and little children sleep in their mother's laps.

When people throw sesame seeds in the fire they ask for sons. The saying is: As many as the elder brother's wife throws, so many sons the younger brother's wife will bear. That is why in homes where there is a new-born son or a newly wed man, Lohri is celebrated with even greater enthusiasm, and sweets made of molasses and sesame seed are sent to relatives and friends. Since the Punjabi word for sesame seed is til and for molasses rorhi the festival is also called Tilori.

Lohri is also an occasion when parents give presents to their newly married daughters. "For peasants, Lohri marks the beginning of a new financial year because on this day they settle the division of the products of the land between themselves and the tillers.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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History of Lohri

The history of Lohri, a seasonal festival of North India is as old as that of story of Indus Valley civilization itself. The Festival of Lohri marks the beginning of the end of winter and the coming of spring and the new year. The fires lit at night, the hand warming, the song and dance and the coming together of an otherwise atomized community, are only some of the features of this festival. The Lohri of north India coincides with Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti in Bengal, Magha Bihu in Assam, Tai Pongal in Kerala, all celebrated on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti.

There are some interesting socio-cultural and folk-legends connected with Lohri. According to the cultural history of Punjab, Bhatti, a Rajput tribe during the reign of Akbar, inhabited parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, and Gujarat (now in Pakistan). Dulla Bhatti, Raja of Pindi Bhattian, was put to death by the Mughal king for revolting against him. The tribal mirasis (street singers) trace the history of the tribe and interestingly, claim Maharaja Ranjit Singh as one of its scions.

Dulla Bhatti, like Robin Hood, robbed the rich and gave to the poor. The people of the area loved and respected him. He once rescued a girl from kidnappers and adopted her as his daughter. His people would remember their hero every year on Lohri. Groups of children moved from door to door, singing the Dulla Bhatti folk-song: "Dulla Bhatti ho! Dulle ne dhi viyahi ho! Ser shakar pai ho!" (Dulla gave his daughter a kilo of sugar as a marriage gift).

Lohri is essentially a festival dedicated to fire and the sun god. It is the time when the sun transits the zodiac sign Makar (Capricorn), and moves towards the north. In astrological terms, this is referred to as the sun becoming Uttarayan. The new configuration lessens the ferocity of winter, and brings warmth to earth. It is to ward off the bitter chill of the month of January that people light bonfires, dance around it in a mood of bonhomie and celebrate Lohri.

Fire is associated with concepts of life and health. Fire, like water, is a symbol of transformation and regeneration. It is the representative of the sun, and is thus related, on the one hand with rays of light, and on the other with gold. It is capable of stimulating the growth of cornfields and the well being of man and animals. It is the imitative magic purporting to assure the supply of light and heat. It is also an image of energy and spiritual strength. That is why the Lohri fire gets sanctified and is venerated like a deity. On this occasion, people offer peanuts, popcorn and sweets made of til- chirva, gajak and revri – to propitiate fire as a symbol of the sun god.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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Dulha Bhatti

Dulha Bhatti also popularly known as Robinhood is the heroic icon that is associated with the harvest festival of Lohri. The legendary figure of Dulha Bhatti also represents the glorious secular tradition of Lohri bonfire. Even today, children go door to door singing traditional folk songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a thief who helped the poor and fought for their rights. There are hundreds of traditions and stories associated with this legendary figure in Punjab. The medieval folklore relates the celebration of Lohri to the legendary figure of Dullah, who was the contemporary of yet another Super Human, poet Divine, Sri Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth Master, who sacrificed his life at the altar of humanity at Lahore.

History of Dulha Bhatti
Centuries ago, rulers of Delhi controlled large parts of the fertile province of Punjab. However, due to weak governments at Delhi, there was a perennial flow of hordes of invaders from Afghanistan, Central Asia, Persia, Greece and Asia Minor through the Khyber Pass into the sub-continent and the people of Punjab always had to bear the maximum brunt of their pilferage, loot and plunder.

There is a vast tract of semi-arid region lying between rivers Chenab and Ravi, which now falls in the districts of Sheikhupura and Faislabad, called the Saandal Bar. The people of this area were known to provide stiffest opposition to marauders. The Mahmud of Ghaznawi had carried out one special campaign to subdue the burly and bold Virk Jatts, Gurjars and Bhatti Rajputs of Saandal Bar. Even Babur makes a mention of the resistance offered to him by these chivalrous people in his autobiography ‘Baburnama.’ From a social point of view these valiant tribesmen had a very secular outlook and their lifestyle was a composite blend of Hindu and Islamic rituals and traditions. In due course of time, the Mughals had consolidated their hold over the entire country but dominance of the region lying between the Chenab and Ravi, eluded them. People of this area never paid any taxes rather they openly defied the authorities and indulged in looting the royal caravans and treasures.

‘Saandal’, a warlord of Bhatti Rajput clan led these tribals. He openly rebelled against the Mughal Imperialism. Prince Jahangir, the heir apparent fired with zeal to prove his prowess carried out campaigns to consolidate the Mughal authority in the region. There were many skirmishes in which Saandal and his son Farid were captured and executed. Their skins were peeled from dead bodies, filled with chaff and hanged at the Delhi gate of the Fort of Lahore to instill a sense of fear amongst the rebels.

However, son of Farid, Abdullah or Dullah as he is fondly called remained unfazed and continued his defiant activities. Dullah earned notoriety in the eyes of authorities. He looted wealthy landlords and Imperial officers and distributed the booty amongst the poor. Dullah enjoyed huge popularity amidst the poor tribal folks of the area. He came to be regarded as a father figure for the distressed and oppressed. He became a living embodiment of the chivalrous and secular, socio-cultural character of the region.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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Traditional Stories of Dulha Bhatti
Legendary stories are associated with the brave Dulha Bhatti. He used to rob rich to help the poor and needy. It is believed that Dullah had restored the prestige of an innocent girl whose modesty was outraged by a wealthy Zamindar. There are various versions of the actual story. Some traditions say that Dullah had adopted this girl as his daughter and arranged her marriage in the Jungles of ‘Saandal Bar’. As there was no priest nearby to chant the Vedic Hymns and solemnize the marriage Dullah had lit a bonfire and composed an impromtu song, “Sunder Mundriye Tera Kaun Vichara ! Dullah Bhatti Wala Ho! Dullaeh Di Teeh Viahi Ho! Ser Shakar Payi !” The bride and the groom were asked to take pheras of the bonfire as Dullah sang this hilarious song.

Yet another tradition says he had safely rescued a poor girl from the clutches of a Mughal general and later arranged her marriage. Later on people collectively composed this Lohri song in honor of his chivalrous deed. Dullah Bhatti sacrificed his life fighting the Mughals, in one of the battles.

12 Jan 2010

Amrinder Singh
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Social Significance

Though Lohri festival has no religious significance but it holds a great social significance and is celebrated as a day of imparting social love to one and all. The festival of Lohri is meant to relieve people from worldly day to day routine, and make them relaxed, cheerful and happy. It is the time when people from all castes and social strata come together forgetting all past differences and grievances. Every year Lohri succeeds in bridging the social gap, as people visit homes, distribute sweets and greet each other.

Apart from this, the festival of Lohri is related to the harvest season. Harvest and fertility festivals a special significance for an agrarian country like India. Punjab being a predominantly agricultural state that prides itself on its food grain production, it is little wonder that Lohri is its one of the most significant festival. Thus, Lohri is symbolic of ripening of the crops and of copious harvest. Lohri instill sensitivity among the people towards their environment and culture. The fundamental theory behind the festival of Lohri is the sense of togetherness and the culturally rich legacy of the people of Punjab.

Lohri in Punjab and Haryana have always been celebrated with much exuberance and fanfare. They believe in celebrating this harvest festival together and rejoicing it to the fullest. For the masses this festival is a popular occasion for social intercourse and enjoyment. They make a bonfire and roast 'fresh chholia' (green gram) in pods with its leaves and stems intact, and eat it. They also sing and dance sitting around the fire. Lohri is thus a community festival and is always celebrated by getting together with neighbors and the relatives.

The focus of Lohri is on the bonfire. The traditional dinner with makki ki roti and sarson ka saag is quintessential. The prasad comprises of five main items: til (gingelly) , gajak (a hardened bar of peanuts in jaggery or sugar syrup) , gur (jaggery) , moongphali (peanuts) , and phuliya (popcorn). There is puja, involving parikrama around the fire and distribution of prasad. This symbolises a prayer to Agni, the spark of life, for abundant crops and prosperity.

Therefore, the festival of Lohri has great social significance. This time is considered auspicious for marriages and to undertake new ventures. The farmer, comparatively free from his yeoman's duties, takes to fun and frolic. The golden color of the ripening corn in the fields pleases him. For newly-weds and newborns, Lohri is a special occasion. Families of the bride and groom get together and celebrate by dancing around the fire and expressing their joy. Lohri is a grand event of social and cultural integration, bringing about unity, amity, harmony among all castes and communities.

12 Jan 2010

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