South Asian festivities celebrated in Lohri event

Last Friday starting at 6:30 p.m., students from around campus met in the backyard of Stever House to celebrate Lohri. Native to the region of Punjab in India and Pakistan, Lohri is a festival with ancient roots.

Typically coinciding with the end of winter and the passing of the solstice, Lohri brings together members of the community for a night of lively festivities. Punjab, the only region that straddles India and Pakistan, is known as the “breadbasket” of India because of its fertile soil. Farming has been an integral part of life in the region for millennia, and the festival celebrates the beginning of the winter wheat harvest. Lohri is a cultural event celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims, who share a common heritage despite the political and religious divisions prevalent today.

Geographically, Punjab sits at the northwestern corner of the Indian subcontinent and has borne the brunt of homeland invasions from the time of Alexander the Great. A popular legend associated with Lohri is that of Dulla Bhatti. This Punjabi version of Robin Hood lived in the middle ages, rescuing girls from being sold into slavery during times of turmoil. Many of the traditional Lohri songs commemorate Dulla Bhatti. Punjab is also the birthplace of the Sikh religion, which blends together philosophies of Hinduism and Islam. The region is very culturally diverse, and Punjabi food, dance, and people have come to represent the whole of India abroad.

In Punjab, Lohri festivities take on many different manifestations. In some parts, children go from house to house singing traditional songs. As a reward, they are given jaggery or solidified sugarcane extract. Bonfires are a significant part of Lohri celebrations and serve as the focal point for the activities once the sun begins to set. Bhangra, a traditional Punjabi folk dance, is usually performed around the fire during Lohri. Traditional snacks include fire-cooked corn and sesame seeds.

Carnegie Mellon’s version of Lohri featured performances by the school’s Bhangra team and Deewane, the South Asian a cappella group. True to tradition, the celebrations centered around a large bonfire, with people huddling close for warmth on the chilly evening. A table was decked with snacks and refreshments. Corn was cooked by the fire according to ancient tradition, while s’mores added a more modern flair. Many felt as though Friday’s celebration was an improvement over last year’s event, when there was snow on the ground, and the temperature was well below freezing.

In the weeks leading up to the event, a Facebook campaign called “Pics with Punjabis” was used as a lighthearted way to advertise the holiday, with people taking selfies with participating Punjabis. Contests were held for the most creative picture and the most pictures overall, with winners receiving Chipotle gift cards. The event overall was very successful, bringing together members of the Carnegie Mellon community in much the same way as Lohri celebrations in Punjab. People socialized, enjoyed the food and drink, and got to learn a little bit about Punjabi culture.

The event was organized by CMU OM, a multi-faith Indian cultural and spiritual organization, which is responsible for other popular events on campus, like Diwali Garba and Holi.