Change is the law of nature. In these fast-changing modern times, our ways of living have also changed, as have the colours and contours of our festivals. The saga of festivals does not retain the same glory. The festivals that brought us immense joy are no more celebrated with customary fanfare. They have been reduced to perfunctory ritualism sans any real traditional values. I have observed the changing face and dying spirit of Lohri.
Basking in the sun one afternoon in our street, I observed that some street urchins rang our doorbell, crooning folk songs and asking for money and eatables as Lohri (part of the custom to go door to door asking for small gifts without any sense of shame). But they were disdainfully shooed away by my sister-in-law. I was instantly transported to my own childhood. Those were the bubbly days when we friends would get together a few days before Lohri to painstakingly rehearse ‘Dulha Bhatti vala’. We would knock at every door in the neighbourhood to collect money and eatables. Unlike today, there was no stigma attached to the custom of seeking small monetary favours. It used to be that time of the year when our pockets were filled with coins. We would carefully spend that treasure to buy kites for the succeeding festival of Basant Panchami.
Modern kids of the digital age have not inherited the folk culture of ‘Dulha Bhatti vala’, who was also popularly known as the ‘Robin Hood’ associated with the harvest festival. Dulha Bhatti also represented the glorious secular tradition of the Lohri bonfire. But now only some urchins go from one place to another, singing folk songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a thief who helped the poor and fought oppressors. There are hundreds of stories associated with this legendary figure. One such medieval folklore claims that he was the contemporary of yet another ‘superhuman’, ‘poet divine’ Guru Arjan Dev, who sacrificed his life at the altar of humanity in Lahore.
The festival of Lohri, in a way, extends a very cordial welcome to the spring season. The harsh winter gives way to sunny days, coaxing the blooms back to life. Those were innocent days when wandering, singing and stuffing pockets with the collected dividends was a joyful symbol. Unlike today, the kids were never shooed away. Unfortunately, this beautiful custom has now become synonymous with beggary. It is a big shock to our rich cultural heritage. Certainly, we have lost the fervour of festivals.
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