Should British Asians Celebrate Lohri?
By Bea Mahmood
Earlier this week people around the world celebrated the festival of Lohri. The celebration was first established centuries ago in India, and like many traditions over time the true meaning of the celebration has been manipulated by various different groups. However, it is arguable whether these reasons justify the relevancy of the celebration amongst Asians living in the UK.
Historically, the festival bears significance to Dulla Bhatti, a Muslim highway robber who lived in Punjab during the reign of emperor Akbar. Touted as the ‘Punjabi Robin Hood’, Dulla Bhatti was known for robbing the rich and rescuing Hindu girls from the harrowing threat of being taken to the Middle East and forced in slavery. After arranging their marriages to Hindu boys, Bhatti would then provide them with dowries. Although he was a bandit, he became a hero to the people of Punjab. Consequently, many songs sang at Lohri contain lyrics to express gratitude to the ‘Robin Hood of the Punjab’.
Dulla Bhatti is only one facet of the history. The festival is seasonal and is actually a celebration of the end of winter in India. Lohri was commonly celebrated as the oncoming of summer which signalled the return to harvesting crops, subsequently allowing farmers to carry on cultivating their livelihood. While the festival initially began as a celebration for farmers, the tradition of observing Lohri was inevitably adopted into Punjabi culture. Consequently, the celebrations left the Punjab with migrating Asians and joined the diaspora in the Western world.
As Lohri was originally a celebration of the end of winter, for many British Asians, marking the beginning of summer in January is not applicable at all. So then, why is Lohri still celebrated amongst British Asians?
MATV host Harjap Bhangal tells us: ‘Every festival and tradition should continue to be celebrated. These traditions have been built over time and although the actual reasons for them may seem outdated, the occasions are still part of our culture. We live in a multicultural society where almost everyday we are influenced by the culture of where we live – however we need to stay true to our roots. Also, it is not necessary to believe in something to celebrate it and enjoy it. For example we all celebrate Christmas yet some of us don’t believe in Christ’.
Self-employed businessman Amit Sagu agrees: ‘People should carry on celebrating Lohri. Fair enough the younger generation often don’t understand why it’s celebrated but the parents enjoy it. I know a lot of people didn’t celebrate this year and that’s a shame. It’s one of those things that’s nice to keep up. It’s good to keep traditions alive.’
Over time, Lohri also became a celebration amongst both Sikhs and Hindus as a special occasion for families who have had a baby during the previous year. For many, it is specifically the celebration of the birth of a baby boy or the wedding of a son. So if celebrating the end of winter in January is not appropriate, then surely the slightly sexist celebration of baby boys is even less so?
As Lohri is fundamentally a cultural celebration which began centuries ago, it is plausible that it may have connotations of male-chauvinism. However, progression suggests that the discriminatory nature of the tradition should be eliminated or at the very least, developed to include women.
Harjap continues: ‘The practice of celebrating Lohri solely on the birth of a baby boy is discriminatory in nature, however now the times are changing. Many people celebrate on the birth of a child regardless of the gender. We had our first and only child after 9 years of marriage after being constantly told that having kids for us was a bleak option, so we celebrated Lohri for the birth of our daughter. We’re not the first to do this. Many people now celebrate on the birth of daughters and in Punjab many organisation such as Unique Home for Girls do special celebrations just for girls.’
Amit adds: ‘I have two twin boys and one girl. Our Lohri celebrations were the same for both genders. We adhered to all the traditions for both. I think it’s becoming a lot more common for people to celebrate whether they’ve had a boy or a girl. Now in India they celebrate for girls as well – even more so than here. I think it should be for both, it’s only fair.’
It is clear that gender equality is becoming more prevalent in South Asian society. With Lohri celebrations being expanded to include baby girls, it seems sexual discrimination may be decreasing.
The reasons to celebrate Lohri may not be completely relevant to Asians in the UK, but the importance of appreciating your heritage and customs certainly are. Regardless of why Lohri is celebrated, it is refreshing to see young generations want to maintain aspects of their culture.