As the festival of Lohri approaches each year, it’s no longer strange to see Sikhs greeting each other with ‘Happy Lohri’ messages, exchanging traditional sweets and savouries and getting ready to do some nightly bonfire celebrations to mark birth of boys or newly-wedded couples.
No doubt Festivals like these are beautiful, but in Sikhi, what we do – or do not do – is sanctioned only by the Guru. Nowhere in Sikh history has any Sikh Guru known to have accepted any customs or rituals.
So what’s the harm in commemorating the day?
‘So what’s the harm in commemorating the day?’, is the usual counter-arguement of those Sikhs that accept the practice. There’s no harm in doing any of these things, but our Guru just did not approve them for his Sikhs. He’s taken us out of all the clutter of all those things that have no meaning in Sikhi and have instructed us to focus more on God than on worldly funfairs that eventually take the mortal away from God.
The heritage of the Sikhs is so unique, that the men and women have been given an equal status. Why would a Gursikh ever do discrimination by favoring the birth of male off-spring over female child? Unfortunately, many misguided people do worship fire or Lohri because of its strong links to Punjabi culture. Punjab has earned the dubious distinction of “Kuri Maaran Da Desh” (a state of girl child killers). The birth of a daughter or son is equally joyous for Sikhs. The practise of giving sweets and celebrating Lohri only on the birth of a boy alone is a taboo for Sikhs and is entirely contrary to the Sikh way of life.
Traditions can be healthy and give us a sense of stability and belonging in our communities and society. On the other hand, unhealthy traditions and rituals such as Rakhee, Lohri, Kurva Chauth, dowry etc… while may be acceptable to some cultures, they are not in concert with the Sikh way of life.
Those traditions that glorify male gender preference or encourage female neglect and perpetuate the view of a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter as a liability are not in keeping with the Sikh teachings.
Happily, in keeping with the gender equality that is at the very core of Sikhi, innovative ways of enjoying the festival should be devised that place it in a context more acceptable to many Sikhs. Events marking this holiday should be used to voice outrage against the odious practices of female feticide and infanticide that continue to infest Punjab and elsewhere, and to push for much-needed reforms.
I think changing the Lohri tradition is completely up to us, the new generation. If we do not change these traditions, it will seem odd to future generations that Lohri was celebrated just for boys and that Sikhs worship fire. So lets reverse this whole thinking and appreciate the birth of little girls in the same way as the birth of boys.
Let us sing Gurbani hymns on this day to remind ourselves of the lessons on equality of men and women and seek Waheguru ji’s blessings for a wonderful crop harvest for farmers.
Dhan Guru Nanak