Why the festival of Lohri is celebrated and how to say 'happy Lohri' in Punjabi
The festival of Lohri is taking place this week, marking the beginning of the winter harvest season in India.
Like many of the celebrations associated with the end of the colder months, it is filled with blazing bonfires and indicates that brighter days are coming. Here’s everything you need to know about the colourful festival and how it’s celebrated.
When is it ?
Lohri typically takes places on 13 January each year. The date commemorates the end of the month containing the longest night of the year – or winter solstice.
It is also associated with the start of the harvesting time of Rabi crops – the crops that are sown in early winter and harvested in the spring.
The people of Punjab in north-west India celebrate the harvesting of sugar cane through this festival. Historically, the revenue for winter crops was collected on this day. As a result, some Punjabi farmers still take the day after Lohri as the start of the financial year.
How to say Happy Lohri
A direct translation of “Happy Lohri” in Punjabi would be “Lōhaṛī mubāraka”, while a common greeting is “Lohri di lakh lakh vadhaiya”.
In Hindi you can say “haippee lohadee” or “Ham aapake lie shubh loharee chaahate hain”, and in Bengali “Happy Lohri” would be “Śubha lōhari”.
What are the festival’s origins?
There are several stories and myths surrounding the origin of the Lohri festival.
It is thought to have originated in the Himalayas, where the winters are colder.
Due to the freezing temperatures and after farm work was done, people would keep warm by lighting bonfires and socialising, singing and dancing around them as they looked forward to the dark being driven back.
As such, Lohri is traditionally also a tribute to the sun god Surya, with many songs offering thanks for his heat and praying for his hasty return. The fire god, Agni may also be honoured.
The festival is also often associated with the tale of Dulla Bhatti – also known as the Robin Hood of Punjab – a medieval warrior who led a rebellion against Mughal emperor Akbar.
He became a folk hero by stealing from the rich and rescuing young girls who were to be sold into slavery.
On the morning of Lohri, children will often go door to door singing songs about Dulla Bhatti, receiving sweets, peanuts and money in return.
However, the most important aspect of Lohri celebrations is the sacred bonfire, which symbolises the return of the sun, fertility and good luck.
In the evening, worshippers gather around the fires, set up in common open spaces, to sing, dance and throw food such as popcorn or puffed rice into the flames as offerings to the gods in exchange for a good harvest.
As a harvest festival, it is also traditional to spend Lohri enjoying sheaves of roasted corn from the new harvest, as well as nuts and sugarcane-related snacks.
Maghi is marked on 14 January, the day after Lohri, and is another important date on the Punjab calendar.
It marks the beginning of the month of Magh, and is often honoured with a cleansing dip in the nearest river.
Maghi is also believed to be a good day to give away to charity.