Lohri is a festival connected with the solar year. Generally, it is an accepted fact that this festival is celebrated to worship fire. This is particularly a happy occasion for the couples, who would be celebrating Lohri for the first time after marriage and, also for the family who are blessed with a son as he would be celebrating his first ever Lohri. Celebrated enthusiastically in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and parts of Himachal Pradesh, it signifies the beginning of the end of winter.
The day begins with children collecting money from houses in the neighborhood. Children go from door to door singing songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi version of Robin Hood who robbed the rich and helped the poor. These "visitors" are given either money or gajak, til bhuga, moong phali, gur and rewri. In the evening, a bonfire is lit, winter savories are served around the bonfire and everyone gathers around it. Munchies, collected from each house, are thrown into the fire.
The festival assumes greater significance if there has been a happy event in the family during the elapsed year, like the birth of a male child or marriage. The family then plays host to relatives and friends, wherein the eateries take a back seat and merry-making takes over. Bhangra, dhol, gidda and light-hearted flirtation rein the overall scenario. Liquor flows freely and guests are served dinner. A popular belief in this region is that if someone seeks a radish roasted in the bonfire lit by a family that has reason to celebrate, then blessings are bestowed on the family of the seeker as well.
Geographically speaking, the earth leans towards the sun along the Tropic of Capricorn (Makara Rekha) from the day following Lohri, also known as Winter Solstice. The earth, farthest from the sun at this point of time, starts its journey towards the sun along its elliptical orbit, thus heralding in the onset of spring. It is this transition which is celebrated as Lohri in Northern India, as Makara Sankranti in the central part of the country and as Pongal Sankranti in South India.
In South India, the festival is spread over three days and signifies the beginning of harvesting season. A rath yatra is taken out from the Kandaswamy temple in Chennai on Pongal. The day is celebrated as Ganga Sagara in West Bengal. According to a belief, Hindus purify their sins by taking bath in the Ganges. A big fair is also held on the Sagara Island, 64 km from the Diamond Harbor where the Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.
Call it Lohri, Pongal or Sankranti, the festival conveys the same message that the bond of brotherhood and the spirit of oneness should prevail despite all odds!