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Eating, Dancing, Bonfire….Oxford Celebrates Lohri

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Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England

Oxford, the Knowledge City of Britain, celebrates Punjabi festival of Lohri ….writes Kanwal Toor

Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England
Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England

Last evening unexpected plans lead us to celebrate our favorite Punjabi festival – Lohri. The enchanting festival brings back so many beautiful childhood memories. The typical being – eating rewardi (Sesame Seeds Candy), Moongfali (Monkey nuts), and other delectable Indian sweets while sitting around the Bonfire singing folk songs.

What is this intriguing, often forgotten festival? – There are many origins of Lohri all forming part of folklore. However, the main theme of Lohri is the belief that it is the cultural celebration of the North India.

People believe the Lohri night is meant to be the longest night of the year and on the day after Lohri, day light is meant to increase. Accordingly, the day after Lohri is celebrated as Maghi Sangrand when the days are meant to start getting longer. It is believed that nights gradually shorten “by the grain of one sesame seed” once the winter solstice passes.

Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England
Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England

However, instead of celebrating Lohri on the day of the winter solstice, Punjabis celebrate it on the last day of the month of the winter solstice. This is due to linking Lohri to the Bikrami calendar and the twinning of the festival with Makar Sankranti which is celebrated in the Punjab region as Maghi Sangrand .

A key feature of Lohri is the bonfire. Lighting of the fire has been common in winter solstice festivals throughout time all over the world signifying the return of longer days.

Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England
Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England

A quick search on the net and off we went to celebrate it – this time in Oxford though. The fact that Oxfordshire is one of the most traditional English counties and the locals welcome “other” traditions so well – was a sight that cannot be obliterated easily. We arrived at this charming and traditional English pub (at least from the outside) which from the inside had been transformed into an almost “posh” dhaba (Indian road side restaurants) and in the middle of Oxford! Expectedly (it’s the English countryside after all) we were greeted by English folk – which to me for more than one reason is welcoming.  The blending of traditions and festivals that don’t define borders, traditions that celebrate life, happiness that is shared – are the symbol of changes in today’s society. Shape in or ship out!

Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England
Lohri celebrations in Oxford, England

Anyway, coming back to the evening.  After pleasantries with the enthusiastic and endearing locals, we were welcomed by this super energetic woman – Kavita Pal – the owner of the property The Tree Hotel in Iffley. A personable lady indeed with a zeal to make the formulae of running restaurants work. In a saturated market, this could potentially be ruinous. Well, every uncle and his nephew aspire to own a restaurant! Kavita was energetic, meticulous and very well organized – the locals seemed to adore her. She invited her patrons to dance and they obliged happily (even the ones who didn’t know bhangra). The musician belted out some beaty dhol beats. After folk songs, bhangra dances and a few glasses of wine we were invited  inside for dinner- prepared lovingly by a Keralite Chef – Which again depicts intriguingly the merging of defined borders – a Keralite (South Indian) chef cooking for Lohri (north Indian festival) –  the food was excellent and homely.

The Spirit of women entrepreneurs, their business attitude and organizational aptitude, people management skills – are recipes for success. On top of that being able to run a posh “dhaba” in the middle of Oxford is commendable. Successfully bringing together people who believe in the language of love – top notch!