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Nice article from a new Sikh.

My First Lohri


This is my first Lohri.

As a "newly-minted" Sikh of non-Punjabi origin (having formally embraced Sikhi through taking Amrit this past Vaisakhi), it is of utmost importance to me to seize every opportunity to explore the incomparably beautiful heritage that I have been blessed by the Guru to legitimately claim, along with all of the customary cultural trappings it has accrued.

So, with Lohri fast approaching, I set out to discover whatever I could about this Punjabi festival, and to try to devise ways to meaningfully relate it to my own sense of spirituality and my everyday life in the North American milieu.

Here's what I found out about Lohri, which occurs on January 13 this year.

The answers to when and why the bonfire festival of Lohri began are lost in the mists of antiquity, but are certainly as old as the story of civilization in the ancient Indus Valley itself. Even for our 21st century selves, it is easy to empathize with the age-old need to believe in the inevitability of life's renewal during the harshest and most desolate days of winter.

What could have been more natural to Lohri's creators than the desire to celebrate the spark of fertility and promise of new birth, especially in a place like Punjab, with its deeply-rooted agricultural traditions? What could have been a better vehicle for doing so than fire, with its intrinsic symbolism of transformation and regeneration? And, what could have been a more opportune time than the end of the month of Poh and the beginning of Magh, the point on the calendar when the Earth is at its most distant from the Sun, heralding the start of the spring season?

Some believe that Lohri derived its name from Loi, the wife of Sant Kabir ji, for in rural Punjab, Lohri is pronounced "Lohi". Some think it comes from loh, a thick iron tawa used for baking bread. Others speak of the mythological sisters Holika and Lohri; the former perished in the fire (now commemorated in the Indian festival of Holi), while the latter survived.

Then, there are those who opine that the names of two foods associated with the day, til (sesame seeds) and rorhi (jaggery or sugar syrup), combined to become "tilorhi", which eventually got shortened to "Lohri".

Like so many other folk festivals, Lohri boasts its own iconic personage: Dullah Bhatti. The "Robin Hood of Punjab", legends depict him as a Muslim dacoit who lived during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Besides robbing the rich and distributing their stolen wealth among the poor, he is credited with rescuing kidnapped Hindu girls being forcibly taken to be sold in the slave markets of the Middle East, arranging their marriages with Hindu boys, and providing them with dowries.

The hilarious "Song of Dullah Bhatti" recounts one such exploit, where a girl (Dullah's "daughter") in disgrace (symbolized by her torn shawl) was not only honorably married off, but provided by Dullah with a sack of sugar as a wedding gift. Prime fodder indeed for becoming a bona-fide Punjabi hero of the people!

Even today, in a practice akin to Halloween in the West, children go door-to-door, intoning the Dullah Bhatti song in hopes of being given money and sweets, and taunting, in rhyming verse, those miserly householders who do not summarily hand over the desired loot.

Not surprisingly, along with the bonfire itself, calorie-rich foods, perfect for generating bodily warmth and energy, play a central role in this festival. With the joyous celebrants gathered together around a crackling blaze, not only til and jaggery, but other scrumptious munchies such as moongphali (peanuts), chivra (puffed rice), phuliyan (popcorn) and gajak (a hardened confection of peanuts and jaggery) are consumed with gusto and, for good measure, cheerfully tossed into the flames.

Quintessentially, Punjabi dishes such as makki ki roti (a corn-based bread), sarson ka saag (cooked mustard greens), and rao di kheer (a slow-simmered mixture of rice and sugarcane juice) are also indispensable additions to the communal feast.

Besides the effort of simply staying warm, another way to burn off all these toothsome edibles is enthusiastic folk dancing. Whether it is bhangra for the men or giddha for the women, "shaking a leg" around the bonfire to the hypnotic beat of the dhol is an equally essential and much-loved component of celebrating Lohri.

It seems natural that a festival of jubilation at the promise of fertility and bounty - both of crops and of people - would be particularly meaningful to those families blessed with a recent marriage or birth. Lohri is no exception to this, with the first Lohri of a newlywed couple or a newborn baby holding special importance. (Hence my delight, as a nascent Sikh, that I found out about it just in time!)

It must be said that, as traditionally practiced, Lohri has often reflected the deeply unfortunate cultural predilection of many families for a male child. While it must be kept in mind that Lohri is a Punjabi cultural festival of non-Sikh origin, these overtones of discrimination, anathema to Sikhi, have led some Sikhs to feel they must abstain from commemorating the holiday.

Other Sikhs have taken the stand that, instead of boycotting it, events marking the day should be used to voice outrage against the odious practices of female feticide and infanticide that continue to infest Punjab and elsewhere, and to push for much-needed reforms.

Happily, in keeping with the gender equality that is at the very core of Sikhi, innovative ways of enjoying the festival have been devised that place it in a context more acceptable to many Sikhs. To give just one example, the Trinjan Punjabi Folk Academy in British Columbia, Canada has sponsored a Kuri Munday di Lohri ("Girls' and Boys' Lohri"), celebrating both males and females equally.

Another element of Sikh significance may be provided by the fact that Lohri is also the eve of Maghi, the first day of the month of Magh.

On that day, a mela at Muktsar, a district town of Punjab, is held, commemorating the martyrdom of the Chaali Muktae (literally, the Forty Liberated or Immortal Ones) remembered daily in our Ardas.

Fearlessly led by the brave woman General, Mata Bhag Kaur (also known as Mai Bhago), these former deserters, who had previously abandoned the side of Guru Gobind Singh, returned to the battlefield to heroically lay down their lives at Khidrana di Dhab (present-day Muktsar), fighting alongside their fellow Sikhs against the armies of Wazir Khan, the Nawab of Sirhind.

The changing of the month at the confluence of Lohri and Maghi also might lead one to blissful vichaar on two particular sections of Guru Granth Sahib: the Baran Maah ("Song of the Twelve Months") of Guru Arjan (pages 133-136) and of Guru Nanak (pages 1107-1110). Consider the following exquisite excerpts from the parts on the months of Poh, the last day of which is Lohri, and its successor, Magh, the first day of which is Maghi.

Pokh tukhaar na viaapaee kanth miliaa har naahu

Man baydhiaa charnaarbind darsan lagrhaa saahu. (...)

Maagh majan sang saadhooaa dhoorhee kar isnaan

Har kaa naam dhiaaay sun sabhnaa no kar daan.

"In the month of Poh, the cold does not touch those whom the Husband Lord hugs close in His Embrace.

Their minds are transfixed by His Lotus Feet. They are attached to the Blessed Vision of the Lord's Darshan. (...)

In the month of Magh, let your cleansing bath be the dust of the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy.

Meditate and listen to the Name of the Lord, and give It to everyone".

(GGS, M5, p. 135)

Pokh tukhaar parhai van tarin ras sokhai

Aavat kee naahee man tan vaseh mukhay. (...)

Maagh puneet bhaee tirath antar jaaniaa

Saajan sahj milay gun geh ank samaaniaa.

"In Poh, the snow falls, and the sap of the trees and the fields dries up.

Why have You not come? I keep You in my mind, body and on my lips. (...)

In Magh, I become pure; I know that the sacred shrine of pilgrimage is within me.

I have met my Friend with intuitive ease; I grasp His Glorious Virtues, and merge in His Being".

(GGS, M1, p, 1109)

[both transliterations and translations courtesy of SikhNet.com]

So, as a "newborn" Sikh, whose initial introduction to the golden fields (and festive bonfires!) of Punjab is still only a fond dream, what does my first Lohri mean to me?

Exulting in the "spiritual fire" of His Word.

The joys of "beating the chill" through the wonderful warmth of sangat.

The promise that bleakness invariably transitions into regeneration.

Hopes for personal transformation and renewal.

And the certitude that, no matter the season, our Eternal Guru always sustains us and provides everything we need!

Happy Lohri!

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I had to give danaie to fire yesterday in my fire place because of lohri party of my son, i dont beleive doing pooja of agan devta. Sikhs are Nirgun beloved(upasak). However, I did it just to keep my mother happy.

Also Lohri is good cultural festival if only punjabis celebrate lohri when daughter is born, because orginal whole concept of lohri is to celebrate both sons and daughter. I think if people celebrate their daughters lohri too, i think lohri will turn out to be good awareness festive for people of punjab against kurimars/narimars( fetocide of female).

btw, here is good source of what lohri is all about: http://www.lohrifestival.org/origin-of-lohri.html

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first of all congrats on the birth of ur son,

secondly i also found out that lohri in sikhism is celebrated in commemoration of Bhagat Prehlaad's Bhua who tried to kill him by sitting him in her lap on a pyre but instead got burnt herself even though she had a vardaan from Bhrama Ji that fire could never harm her.

Thats Holi right? Atleast for Hindus thats Holi.
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