India is a land of Unity in Diversity and Haryana, one of the Hindi speaking states celebrates some of the festivals which are full of colour and vigour. Since Haryana shares its borders with Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, there is an influence of the cultures of these states in the lifestyle of Haryanvis (residents of Haryana) which is also seen in the Haryana Festivals.
Lohri is an important Haryana festival for the farmer community. It marks the end of winter and welcomes spring- vasant ritu which is also known the season of fertility and love. It is celebrated on 13th or 14th January as per the lunar Indian calendar. It is celebrated one day before Makar Sankranti (Makar Sankranti Marks the transition of the Sun into Makara rashi (Capricorn).
The legend which is associated with Lohri is the legend of Dulla Bhatti. He was like Robinhood and used to rob the rich to help the poor. He also rescued many women from being sold off in the slave markets of Middle East. It is believed that Dulla Bhatti lived during the time of Mughal Emperor Akbar and till date the songs of Dulla Bhatti are sung during Lohri in the Punjab and Haryana. My favourite Dulla Bhatti song which I often sing even now in Bangalore is
‘’Sunder mundriye ho!
Tera kaun vicharaa ho!
Another reason why this festival is my favourite is because of gajjaks. Gajjaks are made with sesame seeds and jaggery or peanuts and jaggery. It I loaded with dry fruits like raisins, cashews, dates etc. When I lived in Delhi, one of my neighbours made amazing sarson da saag (mustard shrub’s vegetable) and makki di roti. I even love to gorge on gajar ka halwa (a sweet dish made of grated carrots) during this season of Lohri.
In the evening we used to make a huge bon fire and used to sing the songs of Dulla Bhatti around it. We also used to throw popcorns, mishri (crystallised sugar), chuare (dried dates), puffed rice into the burning flame. We used to dress up very well in traditional salwar kameezes and apply mehendi on our palms. Once I got a chance to visit one of my friends in Karnal, Haryana during the Lohri festival and we had a lot of fun. Even though they were Punjabis, they were settled in Haryana for generations. My friend’s mother made hot gobhi ke paranthes (Indian bread made of wheat flour and cauliflower) and served with homemade curd.
This is not exactly a festival, as twice a year in May and October, as per the Hindu calendar Shraadh is observed to bring peace to the dead souls of the ancestors. This ritual is known as pitra-tarpan and this is done by the eldest son of the family in a holy river. In Haryana, the Sohna river is considered very auspicious for its sulphur springs and has cured millions of people from various skin ailments.
While the men are busy with the rituals, the women cook a special dish with wheat and jaggery near the river on a fire lit on wood. It is difficult to light this fire, however this food is offered to the dead as the shraddh Arpan.
After the rituals are over, the family goes to do some shopping in the fair which is organised nearby. There are traditional handwoven shawls, handicraft jewellery made by the craftswomen of Haryana which will definitely attract you towards them. This is a part of our tradition and a way of life.
Baisakhi starts the Solar year for Hindus on Baisakh month’s first day. It is treated as first day of the year for many states in India like Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Tamil Nadu and a few other states. A good harvest is celebrated on April 13th or 14th as per the date of the Hindu calendar.
Baisakhi is special for Sikhs. Their last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji mandated a Sikh to wear Turban, and keep a Kripan (small sword like weapon), Kada (Steel bracelet), Kangha (comb inside the turban) and kesh (growing hair) to help the community to create its own identity. Since there are many Sikhs living in Haryana, they celebrate this festival by going to the Gurudwara and organising langars (free lunch for the needy) for thousands of people.
I love this festival because of the delicious food which my friends used to bring in school and share with me. The mouth-watering coconut laddoos, wheat flour laddoos, and peele chawal (Yellow rice with saffron) were the main attractions for me. I used to go to their places in the evening after school (I am talking about the day after Baisakhi- the school used to be closed on Baisakhi) and their mothers used to serve hot bhatures (Indian bread made of flour and friend in oil or ghee) with pindi chana.
I also loved visiting the local fairs which were common during Baisakhi in the entire Northern region. There were traditional bhangra dancers who used to dance to the tunes of dhol (Indian drums). I used to feel like dancing with them and we friends used to end up dancing in the fair in our own groups.
This Haryana festival is celebrated only in some parts of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in association with prayers to the snake. It is believed that Saint Gugga Pir started this tradition and his devotees use turmeric to paint his image on walls. This festival falls on the ninth day of Bhadon which falls sometime between August and September.
The devotees serve sevian (Sweet dish made of milk and a noodle like substance made of wheat- Sweet Vermicelli) to the guests. I remember the seven day long procession which a community used to observe with the idol of Gugga Pir which they called ‘’ ‘Gugga Kichhari’. The group sang folk songs which talked about the miracles performed by Gugga Pir, and the flowers, colourful flags and other paraphernalia attracted my attention as a child.
I personally was never involved in this festival, however my Haryanvi friends in school told me about the celebrations they did in their respective villages. For me the poori and sevian which my friends brought in school made it special.