In the biting cold of the Northern Indian Winter, amidst sub zero temperatures and blankets of thick fog and mist enveloping the surroundings, there is something almost everyone looks forward to. Residents, young and old alike of the states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh eagerly await the celebration of Lohri or the Bonfire Festival.
As per the Hindu Calender, Lohri falls in mid January. Heralding the end of the cold winter month of Paush and the beginning of the Hindu month of Magh,this period is regarded as highly auspicious and is called Uttarayan, in the state of Gujarat, Purification of one's sins is done by bathing in the holy waters of the river Ganges.
Lohri is celebrated by children in their own fun way. Adopting the Halloween custom of demanding treats, the children go from door to door asking for Lohri loot in the form of token amounts of money, gifts, sesame seed (til) sweets , laddoos, jaggery etc.
In the evening, with the setting of the sun, the main festivities begin. Massive bonfires are lit in the courtyard of houses where people gather in large numbers. Bhangra or the traditional dance of the menfolk is the highlight of the Lohri celebrations. Elsewhere, Lohri coincides with Makar Sankranti and Pongal, both of which commemorate the heralding of Spring, the harvest season and the celebration of nature's bounty. Married women celebrate Makar Sankranti by organising a Haldi-Kumkum (Turmeric & Vermilion powder )ritual in which they apply the same on their fellow sisters and exchange gifts and good wishes.
Pongal or the Harvest Festival of South India particularly Tamil Nadu, is celebrated around the same time as Bhogali Bihu in Assam, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh and Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. The Assamese people worship Agni or fire after which is held an elaborate feast for family and friends. In Bengal this is the time for the preparation and savouring of the Pitha sweets and the women folk play an active role. In south India, beautiful ornate designs are drawn in front of houses known as Kollam. These are made with the paste of newly harvested rice and accentuated with red soil. The Sun, Cattle and birds are also worshipped during this four day long Pongal celebration.