The Traditional Festival of Lohri and Vaisakhi

The Lohri and Vaisakhi, also called Baisakhi, Vaishakhi or Vasakhi is an important festival in northern India across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Delhi, celebrated by all regardless of the religious affiliation on 13 January and April each year respectively. Originally, this festival took place at the winter solstice and thus greeted the long night which followed longer days and essentially is a festival dedicated to fire and the sun god. Lohri marks the beginning of the end of winter and the coming of spring and the new year.

Lohri coincides with Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti in Bengal, Magh Bihu in Assam and Tai Pongal in Kerala. Multiple theories have been proposed regarding the derivation of the term Lohri. Most believe that the term Lohri originates from 'loh', the name of an iron pan used for the preparation of food.

Lohri is a celebration of fertility and thanksgiving for a good harvest for future to natural elements such as water, wind and fire. Lohri is traditionally associated with the Rabi crops. People offer peanuts, rewri, a traditional sweet made with sesame seeds, flour, butter and various food products to pray to nature for a good harvest.

During the day, boys and girls, dressed elegantly in their salwar kameez, go from house to house singing to collect peanuts. Coming back empty-handed was considered a bad omen. Adults and children, played with beautiful kites that colored the whole sky. In every village the party goes on with colorful markets, skillful jugglers, and compelling games of Kabaddi.

In the evening the party continues and is particularly strong in the houses inhabited by newlyweds or where a child had just been born. During this festival, gifts are exchanged. Newlyweds and newborns receive it. It is tradition to offer guests gachak, a cake made with brown sugar and peanuts, gur, sweet made with cane sugar, moongphali or peanuts and phulia or popcorn In the main square and in the courtyards of the houses people gather around a campfire.

Around, everyone sing typical songs of Lohri and dance, especially girls to the typical traditional dance of Punjab called Gidha, while the boys dance the Bhangra, a dance that tells the story of the entire agricultural process, from tilling, sowing and harvesting to the beats of the dhol, the traditional drum until the fire extinguished. Sesame seeds, gur, sugar candy and rewari's are thrown into the flames.

At the end of the night, newlywed couples give their offerings to the fire and walk around the stake asking for prosperity, health and fertility. People also pour milk and water around the bonfire. This ritual is performed to thank the Sun God and seek his continued protection. The meal ends the day. There is a dish called sarson da saag made from mustard leaves to which spinach leaves can be added. This dish is accompanied by makki di roti, an unleavened bread. As the dessert, people enjoy the kheer, a rice pudding called the rau di kheer and sugar cane juice.

There may be variants from one region to another in the way of celebrating Lohri. Nothing has changed except for the fact that today the good wishes of Happy Lohri are sent and also received through SMS, whatsapp and facebook.