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Lohri is the festival of bonfire celebrated mainly by the people of Punjab region. Explore more about its significance, customs, celebrations and date.

Lohri is one of the prominent Punjabi festivals celebrated by Punjabis spread across the Indian subcontinent and other countries where Punjabis are settled. Just like Pongal, Sankranti, and Bihu, Lohri is also a harvest festival celebrated during the harvest of the rabi crops. The festival is celebrated by cooking delicacies, singing/dancing, taking holy dips in rivers, and giving alms to the poor. Lohri is considered more than a festival for the people of Punjab. Being a fun-loving and energetic race, Punjabis consider Lohri as a symbol of their love for celebrations.

Why is Lohri Celebrated?
Despite being a harvest festival, it is popularly believed that Lohri is celebrated to mark the end of peak winter. Being an agrarian country, harvest festivals are widely celebrated across India. Lohri is celebrated in January on the shortest day of the year. Lohri has a lot of cultural and economic significance in Punjab. Due to the presence of fertile land and five rivers, Punjab is traditionally an agricultural region. The importance of agriculture to Punjab has only increased after India became independent. Punjab benefited a great deal from the green revolution during the 1960s. The fruits of green revolution made Punjab one of the richest states in India during the 1970s and 1980s. Due to the prosperity resulting from agriculture, the harvest festival has a lot of significance in Punjab.

Lohri is celebrated not only by the Hindus, but also by people of other religions in Punjab like Sikhs. Sikh farmers also give a lot of significance to Lohri. The significance given to Lohri in Sikhism can be gauged by its mention in the holy book of Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib. The book praises Lohri as one of the most auspicious time of the year and says that any person who meditates before fire will be blessed.

Legends Associated with Lohri
The main legend associated with Lohri is that of Sunder Mundriye. The word Sunder Mundriye is heard in the song sung by the Punjabi women called 'Sunder Mundriye Ho!' while going around the bonfires on the day of Lohri. Sunder Mundriye is the tale of a man called Dulla Bhatti (Dulla). Dulla lived during the times of the Mughal emperor Akbar. He was like Robin Hood and used to rob the rich and distribute the money among the poor. Dulla was especially concerned about the Punjabi young women who were abducted and sold in the slave markets of the medieval period. Dulla used to rescue these young women and get them married to young men in the villages. He used to pay dowries for the marriages from the money robbed from the rich. Among the women he got married were two young women called, Sundri and Mundri. They were married on the day of Lohri and villagers associate the festival with the rescue of two innocent women.

Another popular legend associated with Lohri is that the name of the festival was derived from Loi, the wife of Saint Kabir. People in some partsd of Punjab believe that the festival is celebrated in reverence to the popular Saint who lived during the medieval period. Another legend has it that the festival's name is derived from two sisters, Holika and Lohri. While Holika died when she was burned alive in the Holi fire, the latter survived along with Prahlad. Hence, the festival is celebrated in reverence to her.

Lohri Celebrations

One of the key celebrations during the period of Lohri is the bonfire. The culture of lighting bonfires is common to all the harvest festivals in India. On the day of Lohri, bonfires are lit during the evening time in fields where the harvest is cut down and kept in the front and backyards of houses. People circle (called as parikramas in Punjabi) the bonfires praying to fire god to give a good harvest during the next year. While circling, people throw rice, popcorn, and other such stuff into the fire. They also chant 'Aadar aye dilather jaye (Let the honor come and poverty disappear). After the circling ritual is over, people sit around the bonfires and sing popular folksongs. Despite being celebrated by people belonging to all ages, the bonfires of Lohri are said to be of special importance to new born babies. It is widely believed that new born babies are blessed if they are taken around the bonfires on the day of Lohri.

Singing and Dancing
Singing and dancing is another important way through which people celebrate the Lohri festival. Bhangra dance, one of the most popular traditional dances of North India, will start immediately after the ritual of bonfires. It is mostly performed by men. Dancing will continue till late in the night and new groups of dancers join amid the beating of traditional drums. Women do not participate in the Bhangra dance. A separate bonfire will be lit for the women in the backyards where women celebrate by performing the elegant gidda dance.

The Maghi Day
The next day after Lohri is called the Maghi. The day signifies the start of the month of Magh. People celebrate the Maghi day by taking a holy dip in the river and by giving away charity. A number of sweet dishes like Kheer are prepared by the women of the households and distributed to people in the village.

Other Similar Festivals in India
A number of harvest festivals similar to Lohri are celebrated across India. The other most popular harvest festival is Sankranti/Pongal, which is celebrated in north India and the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Sankranti/Pongal is celebrated by cooking delicacies, organizing bullfights, singing, and dancing to folksongs. Another popular harvest festival is Magh Bihu celebrated in the North Eastern state of Assam. Buffalo fights are the main attractions during the celebrations of Magh Bihu. Other popular festivals that are similar to Lohri are Onam and Baisakhi. In Kerala, Onam is celebrated with Snake boar races and other celebrations.