Reminiscing the childhood days when I took part in Lohri celebrations in the north, and later learning how similar yet different the celebrations are in the south.
My earliest memories of Lohri(harvest festival in the north of India) include going around houses with a bunch of friends seeking sweets made out of sesame seeds, peanuts, puffed rice, and jaggery.
Sounds like children trick or treating during Halloween, doesn’t it?
That was me in Jammu, around 10 years of age, excited to have an excuse to roam around past my curfew hours.
Once the appropriate amount of sweets were gathered and a few eaten in the process, we would set out to forage some twigs, branches & leaves to burn the bonfire.
Little did we know then, it was a ploy by the adults to keep us busy while they set up their own festivities. The celebrations would begin once the night sets and the cold intensifies.
A bonfire would be lit up to the tunes of dhols(drums) and songs, friends and their families would gather around donned in their best traditional wear, covered up enough to save themselves from the biting January cold(which sometimes reached below zero).
The cold did not matter around the bonfire, huge flames giving warmth to everyone in its vicinity. Spreading its energy to each one of us singing and dancing, aunties offering the traditional prayers around it.
Meanwhile, the children could be seen giggling(from sugar rush), watching in awe, their parents performing bhangra to the tunes of dhols, while they nibble the sweets stuffed inside their pockets.
Songs were sung describing the origin of Lohri. An old Punjabi uncle would narrate stories and tell us the significance of this day.
The first festival of the year, Lohri(in Punjab, Jammu & Himachal Pradesh) pays homage to the farmers and their hard work in bringing out a bountiful crop during the winter season. The farmers in return, thank the gods for helping them.
The harvest of the winter crop, wheat, is celebrated by the farmers to say adieu to winters, and welcome the spring.
It is celebrated at the end of the winter solstice which witnesses the shortest day and the longest night of the year. When the sun starts moving from the South to the North, thus, marking the start of longer days.
Not only in the north but this festival is also celebrated across the country, under different names. In some parts, people celebrate it as Makar Sankranti. In Tamil Nadu, it is celebrated as Pongal.
Being a little unaware of the Southern part of the country, having lived in the north for the most part. It was a pleasant surprise to witness the differences in celebrations here. The celebrations were much quieter, much somber, and much more sophisticated.
I learned about Pongal in school as a festival celebrated in the state of Tamil Nadu, but never partook in it because it is not celebrated in the Southern state(Kerala) I come from.
It was during my college days in Tamil Nadu, I understood what it meant to the people there and its significance in their culture.
A holiday during those days meant a reason to visit home.
So my knowledge would have been limited to the holiday if it wasn’t for my classmates, roommates, and friends who were from the state. We looked forward to the generous amounts of sweets & snacks they would bring for us “outsiders”.
Pongal, similar to Lohri, is a harvest festival celebrated at the start of the Tamil solar calendar. It marks the beginning of the Sun’s northern movement and is hence, dedicated to the Sun god.
People celebrate the festival by donning new traditional wear, paying visits to temples, and preparing Pongal.
The name of the festival is derived from the dish Pongal which means “to boil over or overflow”. Pongal is a sweet dish made from freshly harvested rice boiled in milk with jaggery.
I have had the good fortune of savoring different types of Pongal from sweet to salty to savory over the years. And my favorite still remains the sweet one.
Traditionally, women of a community would gather around and prepare Pongal for the entire community but with times it has reduced to a family affair. Although, you will still find the traditional way being followed in some parts.
It is prepared in an open area as a tribute to the Sun god. Once prepared, an offering is made to the deities of the community and animals like cows(since they are revered), then it is served to the people.
What I miss most, is the skills my friends showcased while creating the traditional kolam, made from rice powder over a clean surface on the floor. It amazed me to watch them skillfully drawing straight lines & circles without any tools or measurements and it still does.
Though the festivals have become mere holidays these days, the memories from my childhood keep the celebrations alive.
As they say, those were the good ol’ days, which left some good ol’ memories to cherish.
Even though the difference in mood and fervour is stark in comparison when you go from north to the south. The essence, devotion, and zeal of the people celebrating their traditions and culture remain the same.
And, that’s what makes everything worth celebrating. Isn’t it?
Do you have such childhood memories of your own? Comment below.