Lohri

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Yesterday was Lohri. Lohri is an agricultural festival that originated in the Punjab but is also celebrated in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu. Some Sindhis also celebrate this festival and it is called Lal Loee. It marks the end of the winter solstice and the worst of the cold.

In villages children go from door to door singing folk songs and are given sweets called gajak and chikki, and popcorn and peanuts. Both in the villages and the cities families get together in the evening and light a bonfire. They throw offerings into the flames and a mixture of water and unboiled milk, called kachi lassi, is poured around it. Everyone sits around the bonfire, eating gajak, chikki, popcorn, puffed rice, peanuts and green Bengal gram (hara chana) which is roasted on the fire. They sing and dance traditional songs.

There is a Robin Hood legend associated with Lohri. Dulla Bhatti was a tribal chief in the 16th century who fought the Mughal emperor. Treasure looted by him from the Mughal army and from rich merchants was distributed amongst the poor. But besides that he also rescued girls from being sold off in the slave markets. A lot of the folk songs are sung at Lohri praising him.

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Boxes of gajak and laddu

Gajak is a type of sweet eaten in North India which is made of sesame seeds (til) and jaggery (gur). Gajak has a strong, earthy flavour and is warm, winter comfort food. Making it is very labour intensive. The dough is hammered until all the sesame seeds have broken down and released their oils. I found a youtube video of a small gajak making factory and it was fascinating seeing the skill of these craftsmen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4c8G_r0jv4o

Chikki is a type of a toffee usually made from peanuts and jaggery, but puffed rice, Bengal gram, sesame and desiccated coconut can be used with or instead of the peanuts. One can even get almond, pistachio and rose petal chikkis now. It is very similar to peanut brittle. Chikkis are made by heating the jaggery until it melts into a syrup, adding nuts to the syrup and then cooling them into flat sheets, after which they are cut into rectangular or round slabs.

Rewri are little button shaped toffees made with jaggery and sesame seeds. Most of the rewri is produced in Rohtak in Haryana and was first made in the late Mughal period.

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1. A shop selling gajak, chikki and rewri 2. Popcorn, peanuts and flattened rice (poha)

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Fresh green Bengal gram

Image from the top – clockwise from left to right –

Gajak Roll, Kurmura (puffed rice) Chikka, Rewri, Khopra Singdana (coconut peanut) Chikki, Kala Til (black sesame) Papdi, Mungphali (peanut) Chikki, Mungphali (peanuts), Mungphali or Singdana (peanut) Ladoo, Till Ladoo, Mungphali or Singdana (peanut) Chikki

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