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Lohri: What is the festival and how is it celebrated?


Girls in traditional attire dance around a bonfire as they celebrate Lohri festival (Picture: Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Lohri is celebrated all around the world every January 13, with this year’s celebration starting on Thursday.

The festival signifies the end of winter and is one of the most prominent events on the Punjabi calendar.

But what is Lohri all about? How did it get its name? How do people mark the day and what are its origins?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Lohri?

Lohri is a festival traditionally celebrated by people from the Punjab region in India and Pakistan.

The event marks the passing of the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the region, and the beginning of the harvest season.

Indian women in traditional Punjabi dress perform a ‘giddha’ folk dance (Picture: NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)

Lohri is always celebrated a day before Makar Sankranti, a festival dedicated to the Sun god, which falls on January 14-15 according to the Hindu calendar.

It is seen as religious festival for people of the Sikh faith and is celebrated culturally by Hindus as well as many other faiths.

How is Lohri celebrated?

Lohri is traditionally celebrated by lighting bonfires, which communities often gather around to worship the blaze.

Festival goers also mark the occasion by eating festive foods, dancing to traditional music such as bhangra and gidda, and exchanging gifts.

The bonfire symbolises Agni, the god of fire, and the worshippers will sing, chant and throw in offerings, mainly foods like sesame seeds, popcorn, nuts and sugar cane.

Students and teachers throw popcorn in a bonfire (Picture: Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

The offerings pay thanks to the gods and ask them to bless the forthcoming harvest and bring the people prosperity and abundance.

Traditionally, on the morning of Lohri, children go door-to-door around the neighbourhood, singing and asking for sweets, nuts and money.

The songs they sing are themed around Dulha Bhattu, the Punjabi Robin Hood, who robbed the rich to give to the poor – and who, legend has it, helped a poor village girl out of poverty by finding her a husband.

At home, people perform Lohri rituals, accompanied by Lohri music and song.

Indian school children hold kites during Lohri festival. (Picture: NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)

Lohri also coincides with the Indian festivals of Pongal, Bhogali Bihu and Bhogi.

What do people eat?

During Lohri, people enjoy treats such as Til ladoo (sesame seed, coconut and peanut balls made with jaggery – cane sugar), and Gud Gujak (another sweet treat made with sesame).

Peanuts are given as snacks, thrown into the fire and given to children as treats, while sweets are eaten in abundance.

For the main course, traditional Punjabi foods such as Sarson da Saag and Makki di Roti (a spinach dish with Punjabi flatbread) are served.

Sweets, peanuts and puffed rice are enjoyed during the festivities (Picture: Saqib Bhat /Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

How did Lohri get its name?

The festival is also known as Lohadi or Lal Loi, but no one is certain how the name Lohri originated.

Many believe the name comes from the word Loh, meaning the light and warmth of fire – some people in rural Punjab call Lohri ‘lohi’.

While others think Loi, the wife of Saint Kabir, gave Lohri its name.

There’s also a popular theory that the name has something to do with the sweet treats consumed during the festival.

Til (sesame seeds) and rorhi (jaggery, or cane sugar) are foods traditionally eaten during the celebrations, and some suggest that the words were brought together to make tilorhi, which would have eventually been shortened to Lohri.


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