Our last night in Dehradun was Jan 13, which happened to be the same night as Lohri, a Punjabi festival. Once again, Mayank, our wonderful CFHI coordinator, had a connection and scored us an invitation to a Lohri celebration. Historically, the festival celebrates the halfway point of winter and is held just before the winter solstice. It is celebrated differently in different regions but one commonality is the bonfire which is there to provide warmth and light during the longest of winter nights. The celebration becomes particularly important if you’ve been blessed with marriage or a child in the past year.
The celebration we attended was hosted by Raja and his brother and it was a particularly joyous occasion as Raja had had a son in the past year as well. To simply call the celebration a party would be the understatement of the year. It was perhaps one of the most extravagant affairs I’ve ever attended. The driveway was lined with strings of lights on every tree while a multicolored tunnel of lights covered the walkway leading to the grassy plaza where the party was being held. Both sides of the plaza were lined with colorful cloth tents, a DJ and dance floor stood in one corner, and at the far end was yet another tent full of food. In the center of it all was a massive bonfire waiting to be set ablaze. We were greeted by Raja and his brother who were the most gracious of hosts. After all, it is it every day that you walk into a party and are told “you have elevated the status of our party by being here” (talk about flattering).
With the sound of drums playing in the background, the host family gathered around the fire as it was lit by the family patriarch. Ceremoniously they walked around the growing flames while tossing in handfuls of popcorn and nuts (part of the Lohri tradition) as Lohri songs were played. Although I can’t speak for everyone in my group, I think it would be safe to say that we all felt really lucky to be a part of the experience. Following the fire, we spent the evening mingling the crowd (everybody loved talking to and taking pictures with us foreigners) and eventually ended up on the dance floor where we were totally shown up by the locals (as everybody knows, white people can’t dance)!
For my first Lohri experience I couldn’t have been more impressed. I was expecting a small bonfire in somebody’s back yard out in the countryside. Instead, we were invited to a celebration fit for a king. Honestly, after seeing Raja and his brother dressed in their black and gold suits while the women wore their most colorful saris it actually felt like we were amongst royalty too! As far as cultural experiences go, this has by far been my favorite to date while in India. There was simply something special about getting to experience such a fun and joyous occasion while making some new friends and learning more about the local traditions. Words aren’t enough to describe how awesome the night was nor are they enough to express our gratitude to our hosts and Mayank for the opportunity.