A magnificent fire and the spirit of centuries of tradition come together at the Punjabi folk festival entitled Lohri. Traditionally, Lohri is celebrated around the time of the Winter Solstice, and brings with it warmth to pull Northern Indians through the rest of the bitter winter cold. The lighting of the bonfire symbolizes the promise of longer days to come, and makes the celebration an ideal time for families and friends to come together.
OM, the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain spirituality group on campus, spends a night every January giving students at Carnegie Mellon the opportunity to engage in the warmth that is Lohri. This year, the celebration was held on Friday, Feb. 3, behind Stever House on Morewood Avenue.
To raise awareness and advertise the event, OM hosted a photo contest, where participants were challenged to snap "Pics with Punjabis" around campus. Punjabis themselves were not allowed to participate, except as the Punjabi of another in a selfie, but prizes were distributed for both the non-Punjabis with the most selfies, and the most captured Punjabi on campus.
During a typical Lohri celebration in India, items are thrown into a bonfire. Most often this includes snacks made from sesame seeds and jaggery, called "chikki," and a variation made with peanuts, that my own mother has dubbed "Indian peanut brittle." These foods are known to bring warmth to the body, and the sweet jaggery that holds it together gives all its consumers a little kick of much-needed energy. With the progression of more modern celebrations of the festival, the list of items has extended to include popcorn, peanuts, puffed rice, and what ever else will keep the fire roaring.
To bring a relatable edge to the CMU celebration of Lohri, OM provided snacks to roast in the fire, along with the items meant for tossing. The result was a gathering of people in search of a warm fire and great snacks, mixed in with those on campus who were far away from their families, but celebrating with them in spirit.
It is inclusive campus events like this that I find to be truly inspiring. Bringing flair and accessibility to complement what is always a fun and energetic celebration, these events make learning about the many cultures we have here on campus an enjoyable and seamless experience. With the dark of the night and the chill of the winter, the fire symbolized something more this past Friday night, behind Stever. It symbolized togetherness, in a time where we may have not expected it, but sure were glad to have it.