Lohri: The Sun Travels North

Quick Facts and Stats

  • Summary: Winter Solstice Punjabi Folk Festival
  • 2020 Date: 13th January
  • Celebrated by: Punjabi People, Hindus, Sikhs.
  • Linked Holidays: Makar Sankranti, Winter Solstice, Yule

Background and Theological Significance

In the Punjab region that straddles the border between India and Pakistan, Lohri ties together multiple significant strands. It takes place at the time of the Winter Solstice, the symbolic beginning of the end of Winter. From this point on the days start to get longer. Traditionally, it was also the day on which the revenue for the winter crops was collected in. These things make it a natural time for celebration.

These reasons for celebration have been compounded over time. First, it has been tied together with celebrations of the Sun itself, as the Sun travels north in the sky more warmth is brought to the region, this is reflected in songs that thank the sun god Surya for returning. This return of heat also can be seen in the celebration of Agni, the god of fire.

One particular story has come to be associated with the festivities of Lohri; that of Dulla Bhatti. Dulla Bhatti lived in the 1500s, the only sure date we have is his death in 1599. His life has since been shrouded by legend in Punjab. A rebel and an outlaw in the mold of Robin Hood, he is famous for championing the common folk against oppression. He is particularly associated with preventing girls from being abducted and sold into sexual slavery. Many songs and stories celebrate Dulla Bhatti, and it is especially around Lohri that he is remembered most keenly. The focus on community and family is seen in the special significance that Lohri is seen to hold for newlywed couples and people celebrating a newly born member of the family.

This yearly celebration is a time for the community to come together and rejoice in the returning warmth that comes at the end of winter, reflected in the warmth found in true community where people stand up to protect and provide for each other in whatever way they can. 

History

Lohri is a truly ancient celebration that offers a perfect example of how the significance of a festival can evolve, expand, and compound over time without ever truly losing its core. Some practices on the day are truly ancient; such as lighting bonfires and gathering around them to share stories and food. But over time specific stories, like those associated with Dulla Bhatti, and specific foods, like sesame seeds, can to prominence for different reasons. Like layers of rock compressing on top of each other; Lohri is a festival that seems to have grown in meaning over time as new generations have added to it over the centuries and millennia.

What Happens?

There are many different traditions associated with Lohri; the most prominent of which is the lighting of bonfires. Something which symbolises the return of warmth, fire, and light to the land after the depths of winter have passed.

During the day while the bonfires are prepared, it is customary for children to go around the neighbourhood and ask for treats. Not unlike trick-or-treating at Halloween time in the US. It is seen as unwise to send children and even newlyweds away empty handed on this day as it invites bad luck for the coming year. These treats are often much less sugary than Halloween candy; sesame seeds, peanuts, popcorn, etc; and can even be presents or money on occasion. They are brought back and shared with the family while they gather around the bonfire which is lit either as a family or as a community in a town square or equivalent; this depends on the region. Sometimes the treats are thrown in to feed the bonfire as well. 

During the day, and especially around the bonfire, food is prepared and shared alongside traditional stories. Many of the more traditional stories are connected in some way to the folklore surrounding Dulla Bhatti. Only fragments of these stories remain from the original medieval legends that were written down; but, especially at Lohri, the stories that animate this community live on and remain fresh, ready for new generations to learn and add to as the festival, and through it the community itself, continues to grow and evolve. Layers of meaning built on the past reaching into the future.

“_B063506” by generalising is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

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