I have lost count of the Lohri parties that I have attended in my life but the one that is most memorable is the one we had right after our wedding. In Punjabi households, all the festivals that the newlyweds celebrate together for the first time as a couple are special and these celebrations are a huge affair. Exactly a month after our December wedding we had Lohri. The house reverberated with laughter and chatter of family and friends. A huge bonfire was lit and heaps of Til (Sesame), Gajak, Gur (Jaggery), Moongphali (Peanuts) and Phuliya (Popcorn) were picked up to be thrown into the crackling fire as everyone took the parikrama.The dholwalas dressed up in their vibrant kurtas, lungis and juttis, beat their dhols fervently while the guests danced the bhangra. Deeper into the night, the elderly ladies warmed their hands on the simmering fire and sang traditional Lohri songs. Others wrapped their shawls tighter and chomped on til ke ladoos, gajak, chikki and revaris.
Lohri falls on the 13th of January usually. It commemorates the arrival of longer days after the winter solstice. It’s also time to harvest the winter crops and it becomes customary to eat winter foods on this day. For this reason, Makki ki roti and sarson ka saag become an essential part of the menu this day. Besides these, til and gur form the main ingredients of all things sweet. For some, Lohri actually comes from the word ‘Tilohri’ i.e. ‘til’(sesame) and ‘rorhi’ (gur) and form the main ingredient in many dishes and sweets.
There are versions to the origin of Lohri. Is it linked to the folklore of Dulla Bhatti, a Punjabi hero during the reign of Emperor Akbar or is it a celebrated as a reverence to the Sun God? The derivation of the name ‘Lohri” has different stories too. Some say Lohri came from Loi, the wife of Sant Kabir while others believe that ‘loh’, the thick iron tawa used for baking chapattis for community feasts is how the festival got its name.
In the Tasting India Symposium 2017 in Delhi, the world-renowned food writer Madhur Jaffrey CBE, has said that the mantle of preserving our food lies on each one of us and we should be proud of its heritage. There cannot be many more occasions other than this where a diversified country like India unites over food on a single day. Whether it is celebrated as Pongal in the South, Bhugali Bihu in Assam or Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh the whole country shares the festive spirit today. Have you noticed that of late, festivals such as Rakhi have become modern in terms of chocolates replacing sweets? It somehow misses the grandeur of the traditional Rakhi of yesteryears. Today, we have stopped singing and sharing the folklore of Lohri too. The manner in which it is celebrated will gradually change or disappear with time. Perhaps its time to start taking care of the traditional folklore and the rituals around our celebrations as well.