Punjabi Lohri Festival

Trip Start Jan 10, 2008
Trip End Apr 26, 2008

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

As is usual in my life in India, I only know what's going on half the time (and that is being generous).  I was informed by my friends Niraj and his wife Shailly that we were going to some program Sunday night, January 13th, (program is what they call an event/party).  I was unsure of exactly what this was.  All that I got was that we were going to meet up with some friends and something about a fire.
In preparation for the festivities, I was presented a wonderful kurta (traditional Indian attire) of Niraj's to wear, and thus, minutes thereafter, I was transformed into an authentic Indian, sans being Indian.  But I did look the part, sans Teva sandals.  Niraj looked dapper as well, and Shailly had on a wonderful sari.
Come to find out that their whole family was going to this affair, even their servant.  All dressed up, we headed out.  I must say that I did not expect what was to come.
This was no minor affair.  A large group of Punjabis, all friends and family of Niraj and Shailly, had rented out a large outdoor event arena, complete with DJ blasting today's popular Hindi tunes.  This was a fully catered event, and staff milled around eagerly to attend to folks.
Being around Niraj and their family before, I was reminiscent when saw some familiar faces, and as has continually been my experiences with both friends and strangers in India, they were most kind and hospitable people, and genuinely excited to have me there to share in the night.
The event is called Lohri (see link for good description), a Punjabi festival marking the changing of the seasons and the harvesting of winter crops.  India has tons of festivals (millions so it seems), and I unknowingly became witness to a wonderful and traditional evening.
After the friendly and jovial crowd had gathered, the DJ's music subsided and all of the women gathered sitting on the ground on blankets, while the men sat in chairs around them.  One woman in the center of things, who appeared to be the ring-leader, had a bongo-like drum.  Lyrics to a song were passed out amongst everyone, and fortunately Shailly explained to me what was going on as things progressed.
Then the singing began.  What a wonderful and traditional thing to experience.  The entire group sang the song; women singing their parts and men singing theirs.  I just sat and listened and felt so fortunate that a random white dude like me was able to participate in such an occasion.  (Throughout all of my travels in India, I really have been blessed to have Niraj take me under his wing and show me the true, authentic side to India and Indian life.  Sights are great.  Temples are amazing.  Beaches are sweet.  Mountain hillstations offer great vistas.  But my most memorable and enjoyable experiences in India have by far been with friends, and friends of friends, all of whom provide to me with great hospitality and invaluable memories, and truly bring me joy and appreciation.)
After the singing, the crowd wanders over to the setup of a bonfire.  A man lights the fire, and another Lohri ritual begins.  Someone passes out what's called Prasad, a mixture of several ingredients such as popcorn, to everyone who then tosses their lot into the fire.  This is followed by singing, and the DJ stokes the tunes and everyone joins hands and dances in a circular motion around the fire.  Passive though I may be, and certainly not a dancer, no one will let me stand by idly by while there is so much dancing to be done, so I join them in dancing around the fire.
After some time of this, a huge buffet dinner is ready and we all enjoy some great food.  Yet there is no impression of the night winding down.  After eating, everyone takes to the patch of grass right in front of the DJ, turning it into a raging dance floor.
As mentioned, I am no dance machine myself, but manage to do alright on the Indian dance floors.  Let me make one thing clear in no uncertain terms:  Indians love to dance.  And I don't mean some lame Indian equivalent of the white guy shuffle.  These people can dance like nothing I have seen before, with fervor, flamboyance and excitement that is unrivaled.  They act out the words of the song, gyrate with all parts of the body, have an uncanny rhythm, and are so artistic and expressive.  It is the most amazing and enjoyable experience, as Indians have such an affinity for music and dance.  They tear it up and then some.  These guys make Michael Jackson look like my pathetic high school dancing attempt as Vanilla Ice in drama class (happens when you're the only white kid in the class... they make you Vanilla Ice in musicals...). 
By now, Niraj and others are sweating their heads off from getting funky on the dance floor.  The music is extremely loud and pulsating.  Even children know the words to each and every song, and act them out and dance to them with such intricacy.  A healthy amount of whiskey and I'm flailing around pretty well out there, though some older guy keeps grabbing me to dance with him, and singing some song lyrics inches from my face and he keeps trying to put a shawl seductively over my head and spin me around.  After ten minutes I am finally able to break free.  I tell Shailly I think that guy is weird and likes me oddly.  She tells me he is just acting out the lyrics of the song.  I get the feeling it was a love song...
All in all, it was a wonderful evening and I am glad that I got to attend Lohri with my Punjabi friends.  We head back to Niraj's house for a nightcap.  On the way, I think to myself how amazing it is to be back in India, to experience these things, and how far away my home world is.  And I love it.  A few days in country, and I am already having the time of my life.
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rano on

i am ankit
lohri is a punjabi festival . i am watching this festival .

Tsha on

"The best time of my life" also sums up how I spent my time in Punjab with my Punjabi husband and his family (I am British). I haven't experienced Lohri but I enjoyed your account very much.

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