A few days back I was in Punjab and Delhi, which were clouded and submerged in the winter chill and fog. With every passing comment about the cold, there is another reference, “it will only last until lohri, after that the weather will improve”. This points to the passing of the winter solstice and the changes in the season. Many of the popular festivals in Punjab are associated with seasonal changes, these are easy markers and reference points before formal calendars and dates arrived, and in this case the winter festival of lohri means anticipating longer and warmer days.
Growing up, there were always certain foods which we associated with lohri (and associated with the winter harvest). Rewris/revdis, jaggery and sesame-based dishes, and peanuts, are all warming and seasonal foods during the winter days of North India. Sarson da saag and makki di roti is another essential. Jaggery, sesame sweets and peanuts are quite often distributed and exchanged amongst friends and families. Traditionally, this special occasion was reserved for the birth of a son, but thankfully many have started celebrating the birth of a child, regardless of its gender.
In Indian Punjab the festival is public holiday but unfortunately across the border in Pakistan Punjab it is barely recognised. In recent years commentators and activists have been trying to revive it and re-introduce it to the wider public, with limited impact. Lohri is not and was not a religious festival, and yet the division of such festivals is emblematic of Partition, which increasingly entrenched what was deemed to be Hindu/Sikh and what was considered Islamic. In the video above for BBC Urdu, you can hear Mazhar Abbas narrate the history of lohri for a new generation.
Going back to Delhi, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Harinder Singh (1469) who was busy curating his lohri exhibition at the India International Centre. Do go and have a look, if you are around Delhi.
Read more about the history and origins of lohri.
Lohri: A joyous bonfire festival of Punjab to mark the end of winter by Mala Chandrashekhar
Lohri the legend of Dulla Bhatti by Aashish Kochhar