If there’s one thing that we Indians are known for, it is our unabashed love for festivals. We don’t spare a reason or a season to celebrate and the crescendo is not just restricted to our homes but we open our doors and hearts to welcome as many to join in the fun.

The advent of the New Year marks the transition of the Sun to the Northern Hemisphere thus mellowing the bitter chill. Considered as the “Wheat Bowl Of India”, Punjab looks forward to the harvest of their rabi crops. The winter solstice celebrated on the 13th of January as Lohri is a day of revelry for the farmers – a day to chill out and celebrate the bountiful harvest. There are bonhomie, happiness, celebration, and Bhangra.

Even though every Lohri that I have celebrated had bonfires and the propitiation of fire by way of sweets, peanuts, and popcorn, it was the celebration right after our wedding that holds warm, fuzzy memories. The first Lohri for a newly-married couple is a huge thing in Punjabi families. Coming from a fauji background where things are kept rather simple, I was married right into a sau pratishat Punjabi khandaan where celebrations meant everything on a grand scale.

I remember waking up to the clink and clank of cups and pans and the sweet aroma wafting into the room. Bhiru Bhaiya, the family khansama was busy crushing peanuts in a mortar pestle while my mother-in-law or mama as I called her, was stirring jaggery in a big kadai. She was making “Til ke ladoos“. Even though halwais, specially called from Old Delhi were making fresh sweets like gur ka halwa, makhane ki kheer, dry fruit chikki and til ki burfee outside, she wanted to make these herself like she had been doing on every Lohri. By noon, the bawarchis joined in the storm with their cooking. The verdant lawns were covered with shamianas in yellow and fuschia. Strings of marigold and hangings made of glass bangles enhanced the place with the colors of happiness. A bonfire was built in the center of the lawn. By evening the entire house looked resplendent. The party was ready to begin.

Decked in the intricately embroidered fuschia suit and heavy jewelry gifted by my mother-in-law to me, I looked a bride again. Dressed in a dhoti kurta and a deep pink turban matching my outfit, my 6 feet 3-inch tall husband looked dapper himself. The guests filtered in with their gift tokens of blessings. My family arrived with huge thalis filled with sweets, fruits, and dry fruits. Shawls were gifted to all the relatives.

Soon everyone flocked around the bonfire and started singing the “Sunder mundriye” song. Folklore goes that a dacoit Dulha Batti during Emperor Akbar’s reign had saved two girls, Sundri and Mundri, from being sold off in the slave market. Considered to be the Robin Hood of Punjab, he distributed all his loot with the poor and needy. Ultimately after getting instructions from the Emperor, he was hanged to death in Lahore. The “Sundar Mundriye” song since then has got attached to this “Son of Punjab” and the good deeds done by him.

As everyone sang the song with gusto and fiesta, rewari, peanuts and popcorn were offered to the blaze. To the beats of the dhol and the crackling fire, the aunties clad in heavily embroidered silk suits and glittering gold jewelry jiggled their shoulders while two men at some point in time lifted one foot, locked it with the ankle of another and hopped around in a circle doing the bhangra. As the evening progressed and liquor flowed an Uncle displayed his applaud worthy talent of precariously balancing a whiskey glass on his head and dancing. The rest of the crowd cheered.

As a demure bride, I watched all the fun while in my heart I wished I could throw caution to the winds and join the frenzy gathering in their shimmy and go “Ho! Ho!” myself. As if he could read my mind, Sam locked his fingers with mine, gently whispered “Go for it babe” before pulling me into the crowd. It was at that moment where I merged as a bahu with my new family – laughing, dancing and being a part of them. Deep into the night when most of the guests had gone, a few of us sat around the glowing embers. Between passing bowls of popcorn, chikki, til ke ladoos, rewari, peanuts, and chomping on them, I heard family stories and funny anecdotes of Sam’s growing up years.

New beginnings! Yes, Lohri does mark new beginnings for newlyweds. For me, it was not just getting acquainted with the relatives and friends on a casual level for the first time but drawing closer to my new family.

Though we have continued to celebrate Lohri every year since then and nothing much has changed in the way it has been celebrated, every year the size of the bonfire and the number of friends that join in has reduced. In our house too, Bhiru Bhaiya works no more due to his old age and mama passed away a few years ago. With the growing environmental awareness and the need for saving trees the concept of bonfires may soon die altogether. Perhaps, the e-cards or WhatsApp messages will replace friends being present physically. Nothing is constant in this life, isn’t it? Except for this recipe that I hold in my family archives. Thank God, when everything changes the taste of these til ke ladoos and my sweet memories will always remain the same.

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Lohri - Til Ke Ladoo
Print Recipe
Til Ke Ladoo
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
pieces
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
pieces
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a griddle, on a low flame dry roast the sesame seeds till golden. Keep aside.
  2. In the same griddle, dry roast the peanuts till tiny black spots appear on the outside. Remove and allow them to cool on a plate.
  3. Once again, dry roast the coconut powder till golden in colour. Each of these steps will take about a minute or two.
  4. Blow away the outer covers of the peanuts and coarsely crush the whites in a mortar pestle.
  5. Mix the sesame seeds, peanuts, elaichi powder and coconut powder together.
  6. In a kadai, add 2 tsps ghee and the roughly chopped jaggery. Keep stirring on medium flame till it melts. Once it starts boiling, give it a minute and switch off the gas.
  7. Add all the dry ingredients to the jaggery. Rub 1 tsp ghee on the palms of your hands and while hot, scoop about 1tablespoon of mixture and start rolling into even sized balls. Once cool, it's difficult to gather it all together so ensure that the balls are made when the mixture is still warm.
  8. The til ke ladoos are ready to be served. They stay for as long as a month and make a healthy snack treat during tea time too.
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