A Tale Of Two Lohris
Image Credit: Makke ki roti and sarso ka saag | Instagram - @cookingbybavika

“Uddam aa, dalidarr jaa / Dalidarr di jarh chulle paa!” 

(Throw the very roots of apathy into the fire, may it be replaced by fiery effort!)

As the Lohri bonfire rages in Punjab, this couplet and others that celebrate the life and times of folk hero Dulla Batti rent the air, along with the peanuts, popcorn kernels, sesame seeds and produce that are cast into the flames. Dulla (Abdullah) Bhatti was known for his revolt against the Mughal empire on behalf of Punjab's peasant class.

The story goes that his father and grandfather had been put to death, a little before Dulla's birth, for opposing a new central revenue regime. On the other hand, emperor Akbar had been told that his son (Jahangir) would achieve great things if he was nursed by a woman who had given birth to a son at the same time. The wet nurse ended up being Dulla's mother Ladhi.

As Dulla grew up and learnt more what had happened to his father, as well as the views of the farmers towards Mughal taxation, he waged an insurrection against the emperor. He was seen as a Robin Hood-esque figure, taking from the rich and corrupt to give to the poor and vulnerable. Dulla was ultimately captured and executed for his rebellion, but he lives on in the lore of Punjab's Lohri celebrations.

Since Lohri celebrates the harvest of the rabi crop — sugarcane, peanuts, sesame — as well as related offshoots like gur (jaggery), these elements feature prominently in the associated rituals. They are also the main ingredients of the dishes prepared on the day of the festival. In the days leading up to Lohri (observed on January 13), children gather wood for the bonfire and also visit all the homes in their neighbourhood to collect sweets ("Lohri booty"). 

On Lohri, as the bonfires are lit, and folk songs dissipate the stillness of the night sky, one imagines spring gently yet firmly pushing away the mists of winter, readying a people and their land for a new year of plenty.


Oh people of the house! / Please come out, it is cold and our feet are feeling the chill. / It is cold and we are shivering from inside. / We have come to take our Lohri grains. / If you will give, please give or else we will leave.

Khichdi is the traditional lohri meal in Kangra valley

In Himachal's Kangra Valley, Lohri is seen as a time of transformation, when the inauspicious month of Paos ends, and the rabi harvest of wheat, linseed, potato, onion et al, is brought in.

Since agriculture is such a vital part of the lives of the people in the Valley, each aspect of it involves rituals and customs of some kind: from apologising to the earth for ploughing it (by placing flowers on it), to appeasing the nag devta (snake god) in order to request rain. There are folk songs centred on activities like planting, hoeing, harvesting, threshing.

Small wonder then, that Lohri occupies such a prominent place in Kangra's cultural calendar; villages like Pragpur even organise entire fairs for the festival, a must-see for any tourist. Like the Punjabi practice of "Lohri booty", in Kangra too children go from home to home, singing the song whose verses are mentioned above. Families give the children grains, and a sweet mixture of poha, jaggery, coconut and peanuts.

If sarson ka saag and makki di roti form the mainstay of the Lohri meal in Punjab, in the Kangra Valley, it is khichri that is the traditional dish. Once the entire family has eaten the khichri (with a mandatory spoonful of ghee!), the bonfires are lit, and sweets are cast into the fire to signify the community coming together with joy.