| Jespal Singh Brar | Opinion | 10 Feb 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Lohree is a Punjabi cultural event and is a festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years and its genesis is in Western-Eurasia, argues our latest opinion piece on the subject. Even today it is celebrated across Western-Eurasia albeit with different names but always with the same theme of a “bon-fire”, singing, dancing and symbols of rejuvenation such as seeds.
By Jespal Singh Brar
The Punjab has been a region of migrations and the melting pot of races and cultures since antiquity. This is borne by the genotype and phenotype of those who are from Punjab. Punjab shares a contiguous geographical land with the Iranic world. Many religions have also shared in the fabric of the greater Punjab region. The people living in this Punjab region have followed these religions; Animist, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Vedic, Buddhist, Islam and Sikh. Thus Punjab has a mixed heritage in terms of culture, religion and genetics.
Many Sikhs see Hinduism as an existential threat to the Sikh religion. Many apply Vedic metaphysics as a measure to explain regarding Lohree (also spelt as lohri), without using other yardsticks to make comparisons. Thus we have a fundamental weakness by missionaries, Damdami Taksalis and intellectuals to explain adequately what Lohree is. Limited by the knowledge in explaining what Lohree is, the folks in opposition to Lohree have been applying the Hegelian principle without knowing it, when they cannot explain where Lohree originated.
So what is Lohree? Contrary to popular beliefs based on individual perceptions;
- neither is this a festival to recognize the birth of boys,
- neither it is to pray to the fire God,
- neither was it started because of Dullah Bhatti a legendary hero of Punjab who helped get girls married,
- neither it is because of Brahmanical rites,
- neither is it because of the Dhru Prahland mythology and the connection with Holika the aunt of Dhru,
- neither is it a harvest festival,
- neither is it a Sikh Festival,
but it is a Punjabi cultural event and is a festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years and its genesis is in Western-Eurasia. Even today it is celebrated across Western-Eurasia albeit with different names but always with the same theme of a “bon-fire”, singing, dancing and symbols of rejuvenation such as seeds. These “bon-fire” festivals display local cultural variations from the Balkans all the way to the western Indian subcontinent. This “bon-fire” festival has many names and in Punjabi it is Lohree as we all know it and is celebrated as part of the Punjabiat cultural identity just like dances; bhangra and giddha. Thus it is not religious in nature.
To put it in a more clear perspective and to view it from another angle; are we going to deny a person of Chinese ethnicity and who is a Sikh by religion, the happiness to celebrate the Chinese New Year? To affirm his or her Chinese cultural identity? There is a difference between religion and culture. Some Sikhs are in denial that these are two very different aspects of one’s identity.
This “bon-fire” cultural festival is known by many names such as Nowruz also. It is not a co-incidence that the Iranics from the Balkans to the Indian subcontinent celebrated these “bon-fire” festivals after the winter solstice. It is also not a co-incident that the Persians use the word- Aajeel for dried nuts, berries and raisins, as an important symbol in the celebration of Nowruz. This is akin to the Punjabi application of Tael and dried nuts as part of the Lohree celebration. The Persians celebrate on Tuesday night, with people setting up a bon fire, with young and old celebrating around the bon fire with songs and gestures of merriment. The fire is to symbolize rebirth in nature and is a happy occasion. This ancient ritual is practiced after the depth of winter has passed. The dates when these bon-fire rituals are celebrated have been based on the use of different calendars and also due to the modification of calendars over the centuries. In different regions it is celebrated with local variations. But generally these “bon-fire” festivals are celebrated post winter and during spring time.
We collectively need to stop using the straw-man concept of using “Bipraan ke reet” to explain Lohree. In a more crude term, “Bipraan ke reet” has become the “boogey-man” to define what is misunderstood and cannot be explained regarding Lohree.
If Lohree was rooted in Hindu spirituality, it would have been celebrated as a pan-Indian Hindu cultural event like Diwali. The reality is, it is not celebrated in the same context across the sub-continent. Aspects of Aryan culture have spread across the sub-continent by the introduction of Sanskrit (Vedic) civilization across the sub-continent albeit slowly over the last 3 thousand years. Thus you might see some aspects of this “bon-fire“, which is reflected in other parts of the sub-continent. However, you will not find it in the same similarity of cultural celebration like dancing and singing around the “bon-fire” and the application of teal and seeds in celebration. You cannot find this similarity anywhere in the sub-continent but you will find it in the Iranic regions. Trying to use the concept of the movement of the sun to explain the “bon-fire” is ambitious but fails because it does not define the “bon-fire” festival in its entirety and the comparison is not valid. The Punjabis are using the calendar that is local and are celebrating their ancient cultural memory via the local Punjabi calendar. To define the movement of the sun, and then to explain it across so many different cultures in the sub-continent and to find something in common to justify an explanation is simply a huge stretch by Veer Karminder Singh Ji.
Regarding the Damdami Taksalis, they can only explain Lohree within the context of “Bipraan Ke Reet” in connection with the Dhru Prahlad story because that is the limit of their knowledge. Same is with Veer Karminder Singh Ji’s explanation because of the limitation of his understanding and he can only relate from within the context of “Vedic” traditions. Both Taksalis and Veer Karminder Singh Ji, have failed to recognize that the subcontinent and especially the north-western region where Punjab is, it has been within the cultural and religious sphere of the Iranics over many different time periods. The genetics of Punjab show this anomaly, and only within Punjab region the mitochondrial DNA reflects about 45% West Eurasian genes. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child and a father cannot pass it on. Majority of the sub-continent’s Mitochondrial DNA is indigenous with the exception of the Punjab which has a large percentage of Western Eurasian genes. Does this not show that Punjab culturally and genetically is distinct from rest of the sub-continent? Even the traditional clothes reflect this influence.
Nowruz “bon-fire” festival as a cultural item has not been erased from Iran, the mullahs of Iran have tried to stop its celebration but have not succeeded. Even the Taliban are hard-pressed to stop Nowruz in their areas. These “bon-fires” cultural festivals are a part of the cultural memory of Western-Eurasia and of the Indo-Iranians specifically.
Aspects of this cultural memory can even be seen during midsummer in Scandinavia and the Baltics, where it is celebrated with bonfires. Within the Punjab, the regional variation of this “bon-fire” festival came within the cultural ambit and overlapping of the Vedic tradition. Hence there are regional variations in the celebration of this festival from the Balkans to the Punjab. Every year, at the end of January, Zoroastrians celebrate the religious feast of Jashn-e Sadeh by creating bon-fires and singing and dancing around it. To signify the coming of spring and as a symbolic token of the eternal fight with darkness. The Persians sing; “(Sorkhi-e to az man) Give me your beautiful red color, (Zardi-e man az to) take back my sickly pallor!” The Iranics sing with words “take my paleness and tiredness, and give me your strength (health)”. In Punjabi it is; “Diledeer Jaah, Eesar Aah, Dileder Dee Jarr, Chullae Paah”. There are regional variations from the Balkans to the Punjab / Kashmir region. The Kurds celebrate the “Churshama Kulla” which is the tradition where people jump over the fire and dance around it when they are happy and in celebratory mood. This bon-fire ritual was recently celebrated at the liberation of Kobani from the Islamic State. Always the same theme of bon-fires and celebrating and dancing around it to celebrate the rebirth in nature across all the areas where the Indo-Iranics live, irrespective of religions.
Our ancestors moved into the sub-continent from Central Asia and brought their culture with them. Lohree reflects this cultural memory and so do Punjabi costumes and genetics. You may call this the Jespal thesis on Lohree.
The author, Jespal Singh Brar, is a Managing Partner in a technology consulting company located in the Silicon Valley, US.
EARLIER ARTICLES ON LOHREE:
Kee Lohraa Aa Gya by Karminder Singh – ASIA SAMACHAR (13 Jan 2015)
Lohree, Birthdays, Culture and New Year by Karminder Singh- ASIA SAMACHAR (21 Jan 2015)
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. Go to www.asiasamachar.com]