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Lohri: The Winter Bonfire Festival for Hindus.

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Sat, 13/01/2018 (All day)

 13th January.

Lohri: The Winter Bonfire Festival for Hindus.

by Subhamoy Das

Amidst the freezing cold weather, with the temperature wobbling between 0-5 degrees Celsius and the dense fog outside, everything seems stagnant in the northern part of India.  However, below the apparently frozen surface, you would be amazed to find a palpable wave of activity going on.  People, especially in the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and parts of Himachal Pradesh, are busy making preparations for Lohri-- the long-awaited bonfire festival--when they can come out of their homes and celebrate the harvesting of the Rabi (winter) crops and give in to relaxing and enjoying the traditional folk songs and dances.

Festival significance

In Punjab, the breadbasket of India, wheat is the main winter crop, which is sown in October and harvested in March or April.  In January, the fields come up with the promise of a golden harvest, and farmers celebrate Lohri during this rest period before the cutting and gathering of crop

According to the Hindu calendar, Lohri falls in mid-January.  The earth is at its farthest from the sun at this point of time as it starts its journey towards the sun, thus ending the coldest month of the year, Paush, and announcing the start of the month of Magh and the auspicious period of Uttarayan.  According to the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna manifests himself in his full magnificence during this time.  The Hindus 'nullify' their sins by bathing in the Ganges.

In the morning on Lohri day, children go from door to door singing and demanding the Lohri “loot” in the form of money and edibles such as til (sesame) seeds, peanuts, jaggery, or sweets such as gajak, rewri, etc.

They sing in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi avatar of Robin Hood who robbed the rich to help the poor, and once helped a miserable village girl out of her misery by arranging for her marriage, just as if she were his own sister.

The Bonfire Ritual

With the setting of the sun in the evening, huge bonfires are lit in the harvested fields and in the front yards of houses, and people gather around the rising flames, circle around the bonfire and throw puffed rice, popcorn and other munchies into the fire, shouting “Aadar aye dilather jaye” (“May honor come and poverty vanish!”), and sing popular folk songs.

This is a sort of prayer to Agni, the fire god, to bless the land with abundance and prosperity.

After the parikrama, people meet friends and relatives, exchange greetings and gifts, and distribute prasad (offerings made to god).  The prasad comprises five main items: til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn.  Winter savories are served around the bonfire with the traditional dinner of makki-di-roti (multi-millet hand-rolled bread) and sarson-da-saag (cooked mustard herbs).

Bhangra dance by men begins after the offering to the bonfire.  Dancing continues until late night, with new groups joining in amid the beat of drums.  Traditionally, women do not join Bhangra, but instead hold a separate bonfire in their courtyard, orbiting it with the graceful gidda dance.

The 'Maghi' Day

The day following Lohri is called Maghi, signifying the beginning of the month of Magh.  According to Hindu beliefs, this is an auspicious day to take a holy dip in the river and give away charity.  Sweet dishes (usually kheer) are prepared with sugar cane juice to mark the day.

Exhibition Of Exhuberance

Lohri is more than just a festival, especially for the people of Punjab.  Punjabis are a fun-loving, sturdy, robust, energetic, enthusiastic and jovial group, and Lohri is symbolic of their love for celebrations and light-hearted flirtations and exhibition of exuberance

Lohri celebrates fertility and the joy of life, and in the event of the birth of a male child or a marriage in the family, it assumes an even larger significance in which the host family arranges for a Feast and merry-making with the traditional bhangra dance along with playing of rhythm instruments, like the dhol and the gidda.  The first Lohri of a new bride or a newborn baby is considered extremely important.

Nowadays, Lohri offers an opportunity for people in the community to take a break from their busy schedule and get together to share each other's company.  In other parts of India, Lohri almost coincides with the festivals of Pongal, Makar Sankranti and Uttarayan all of which communicate the same message of oneness and celebrates the spirit of brotherhood while thanking the Almighty for a bountiful life on earth.


14th January. 

Uttarayan & Kite Festival

Uttarayan, the Kite Festival of Gujarat

Makar Sankranti Celebrations in Gujarat

by Subhamoy Das

As millions of kite enthusiasts pitch themselves at the rooftops, waves of flying kites overwhelm an otherwise deep blue sky.  On January 14, watch the sky change colors like a rainbow in a glittering sun after the rain and bask in the glory of Uttarayan, when the skies of Gujarat give way to colorful kites.

About Uttarayan

Uttarayan (known as Makar Sakranti in other parts of India) is the day when the sun starts to travel northwards marking the decline of winter.

The days become longer, the skies clearer and the breeze cooler.  A feeling of anticipation, joy and jubilation grips all who celebrate the occasion of thanksgiving and merry-making.

Gujarat celebrates 2,000 festivals every year! Among these, the festival of Uttarayan is one of the grandest and stands tall.  In Gujarat, Uttarayan is a holiday when every family can be met outdoors.  People of all ages fly kites from dawn to dusk.  Crowded rooftops, fun-loving rivalry to outdo each other in kite flying skills and delicious traditional Gujarati Feast are the hallmarks of the day.

History & Significance Of Uttarayan

The fascination and the revelry associated with the kite flying cuts across age groups, class, and communities.  Although Uttarayan is predominantly a Hindu festival marking the awakening of the gods from their deep slumber, history has it that India developed a rich tradition of kite flying due to the patronage of the Kings and 'Nawabs' who found the sport both entertaining and a way of displaying their prowess.

Trained fliers were employed to fly kites for kings.  Slowly, the art started becoming popular among the masses.  Today, manufacturing of kites is a serious business.  It attracts big names of the corporate world as kites provide for the most cost-effective opportunity for branding.  The stakes are high and prizes for the competition grand.

Months before the festival of Uttarayan, homes in the localities of various cities in Gujarat turn into kite producing factories with all family members doing their bit in the seasonal cottage business.  The paper and sticks are cut, the glue is stirred and thousands of kites are prepared in the market.  The string is coated with a special glass powder and rice paste, all set to cut each other's strings and knock down the kites.  The size of the kite ranges from nine inches to three feet.

Members of various communities irrespective of cast and creed are engaged in the business of kites.  Rich or poor, people enjoy this festival in their own ways.  The aerodynamic skill, devotion, and ingenuity that goes into the kite making and flying is almost a religion in itself, honed to the level of an art form, though it looks deceptively simple.

Ahmedabad: Kite Capital

Although the Kite Festival is celebrated all over Gujarat, it is the most exciting in the capital city of Ahmedabad.  The night before is electric with brisk business in buying and selling kites, in amazingly numerous bulk purchases.  The Patang Bazaar (kite market), situated in the heart of Ahmedabad city, is open 24 hours a day during the Uttarayan week.

A visit to the Bazaar in the middle of the night proves beyond all doubt that the entire population of the city is obsessed with kites and they crowd the streets and buy the stocks while negotiating and enjoying through the night.

Uttarayan is the time to indulge in ceaseless amazement — in the most pulse racing kite competitions.  There are kites and more kites, in all shapes and designs, but some stand out for their sheer size and novelty.

And the excitement continues even after dark.  The nights see the arrival of the illuminated box kites, often in a series strung on one line, to be launched into the sky.  Known as tukkals, these kites add a touch of splendor to the dark sky.  What's more, the day is marked with the traditional food/delicacy festival of Gujarat like the undhiyu (a delicacy of vegetables), jalebi (sweets), til laddoo (sweets made of sesame seeds) and chikki for the guests from different parts of world.

The International Kite Festival

Every year, the extraordinary fanfare associated with the paper works of art called kite brings people together from far and wide — be it from Japan, Australia, Malaysia, USA, Brazil, Canada and European Countries — to participate in the International Kite Festival.

For details, visit https://vibrantgujarat.com/

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