WELCOMING BACK THE LIGHT
On the ritual of Lohri,
Tantrics work with honouring fire,
standing at the threshold of dark and light,
they find the Goddess Lohri,
She keeps the cosmic balance
that ever rocks both ways.
Loh means light and gives its name to this festival day of welcoming back the light.
There are many fascinating mythologies that intertwine with the festival of Lohri.
To the Tantrics she is the Goddess of firelight.
Lohri is the Goddess of fire and light who is ritually invoked on this day.
She be the personification of nature’s brightening force that climbs at this time of year.
Standing at the threshold where dark meets light, she initiates the opening light season
Lohri is an ancient pagan festival that is celebrated in the North of India. It has echoes in several ritual festivals that occur at the same time.
For example, on the other side of India, 1000s of kilometres away in the South, the Bhogi festival is celebrated on the same day, which has many identical elements. These festivals are centred around the lighting of sacred fires.
NATURE IS SPEAKING
Tantrics align to rituals that echo the language that nature is speaking.
The ritual is a way of concentrating energy and listening to what nature is saying.
The ritual is a way to befriend and be befriended by nature, and to tune the ear to oft forgotten but rather obvious secrets.
Such so-called pagan celebrations of the rhythms of nature have often been dismissed by orthodoxly as primitive and based on outdated superstitions.
Let us consider that Tantra did not arise as a reactionary measure towards the orthodoxy as several popular Western scholars of Indian lore have assumed. The Tantric wisdom predates organised form, and is the natural essence that both imbues and developed into organised form.
We could rather simply say that Tantra is a pagan tradition of honouring
the forces of nature.
Some of the traditions and festivals of Tantra became assimilated into the widespread arena of religion, while others remain more obscure or only regionally acknowledged.
Rituals can be understood
as powerful cosmic junction points
of aligning to the energies
that nature is presenting.
Both the modern man and woman suffer from the imbalance of excessive fire and heat in the system. Cooling practices are more called for in this time to balance the solar and lunar forces in both the psychic and physical organism.
Fire rituals came from a pre-electricity era it is be remembered.
The Fire rituals came from a time when people lived more in tune with natural rhythms.
Nowadays most of us live in a very solar oriented society, with an excess of light in terms of electricity. This can lead to an excess of fire in the organism.
For most of us moden folk, practices of balancing the solar and lunar forces are more relevant than adding more fire to the mix.
Hatha Yog is quite literally the art and science of balancing the night and day forces.
The Goddess Lohri is a balincing force. She guards the threshold where light and dark meet. Evoking her ritualistically is a way to find balance between our solar and lunar forces.
TANTRA, THE NATURAL SPIRIT
As modernity has set in and altered the natural structures of living, the celebration of Lohri has started to change from ritual worship into a public holiday. This can be seen even within rural communities over the last decades.
Sacred days often can be lost and turned into commercial festivities where the aspect of ritual is removed from its central position.
Alternatively religious or cultural dogma can pervade such festivities, until the essence and power of the ritual itself can become obscured.
Tantrics are those who keep the sacred rituals and their significance alive by imbuing them with life force and Tapasya (spiritual effort)
If the sacred days are understood as portals, to be worked with and honoured in a ritualistic manner, then the chance of taking them for granted as mere customs, or dismissing them as superstitions is safeguarded.
Lohri reveals how modernity can swallow natural magic
and erode powerful and necessary rights of passage.
Necessary if we are to align to the Wisdom of Nature.
The festival of Lohri has much to show us, if we reflect carefully upon the light it sheds,(Lohri literally means enlightening).
Lohri reveals how powerful rituals and customs bring people together in communal prayer and blessing. This is the very essence of Tantric ritual.
Lohri can also reveals how the solar light-oriented face of civilisation might not give honour to the balance of nature’s two ever-present, mutually informing and empowering forces of dark & light.
Lohri reveals that the deepest wisdom – which is the Wisdom of Nature – can easily be glanced at sideways as primitive by the eyes of modernity.
And what Lohri perhaps most importantly can reveal to us, is to align our currents to what nature is telling us.
LEAVING THE HOUSE
Tantra could be thought of as having its roots in pre-uncivilised, natural and pagan wisdom.
It is like the folk wisdom of the Witches of the West, who were burned by the patriarchal inquisition that replaced their natural wisdom with codes and structures that go against nature and the laws of compassion.
Orthodox structures the world over have often been synonymous with the abuse of power and oppression.
Rejection and even hatred of orthodoxy has prevailed amongst those it has oppressed the world over. But sometimes the orthodox, revealed and popular way stands unquestioned even by those it has oppressed.
There is a saying amongst rural folk in some parts of India that express this sentiment starkly: They say that if you see a priest first thing after leaving your house, you should go back home and wash yourself of the filth of their presence.
BLESSING NEW BEGINNINGS
Children and newborns are blessed on this day, which is believed to carry a great blessing for rising strength.
At the other side of India, in the South, on the same day, Bhogi Pandigai is celebrated.
It is also a festival of blessing children and lighting fires.
Lohri in the North is also understood to mean ‘to rock a baby’. Newborns are blessed upon this day. The first Lohri of newborns is a time of great celebration and giving of blessings. The Hijra (Kusray in the North) arrive to bless children on this celebratory day.
Amongst the public festivities, the Hijra arrive to bring blessings to Babies and Newlyweds on the Lohri.
The Hijra are an ancient & mysterious cult of hermaphrodites who bring folk songs and blessings.
They are believed have the power of Vaak Siddhi: This is the power of blessing or cursing through speech.
Hence they are both honoured and feared. Their blessings are sought and said to be greatly auspicious for new beginnings.
They come to bless babies and newlyweds at their first Lohri.
The festivities involve group prayers, song, dance and other festivities of Lohri, sweets are made, given and collected, fires are lit and games are played.
HONOURING THE LIGHT AND THE DARK
In the picture above, we see offerings being made to the Lohri fire. The old custom of putting an effigy of the Goddess Lohri to start the fire still persists. She is the one who brings the fire and light of the rising season.
Nuts and seeds are thrown into the fire with prayers, as a way of honouring the transition into the new phase. In some regions, old garments and items that hold old energy are put to the flames of rebirth.
What many people commonly do to celebrate the winter solstice is basically done on Lori. Fires are lit at sunset and circumambulated. But why is Lohri not celebrated upon the Winter Solstice?
The Solstice is a solemn time of the year’s longest night, a time when the night forces are in full force and honoured as such by the Tantrics, who at that time follow nature and fully immerse themselves in darkness.
The Dark is deeply tuned into around Solstice by Tantrics.
When a long staying guest leaves our house. It takes time to acknowledge their absence and come back to a settled state without them there. This is how Tantrics consider the Lohri ritual.
Tantricly speaking, lighting a fire on the winter solstice is equal to rejoicing for the guest leaving even before they have left our home.
Tantrics allow for the guest of the darkness to leave with dignity and give thanks for its lessons and take time to mourn its departure.
Perhaps a modern denial of the night forces is responsible for lighting fires even before the guest of half the year has departed.
In the Tantric view, it is ungraceful and ungrateful to see off the dark in such a way. For she has given so much.
What she has given exactly is for one to discover themselves!
The Tantric learns to honour the feminine forces of the dark and lingers and pays respect for a while, as she trails off into the shadows.
Some of the folk games played by children on Lohri reflect this. In one such play of children, the child is painted black and tied with a rope held by his friends, he asks for Lohri (sweets) in a sing sing type of way at the doors of his neighbors.
If the neighbors do not respond by giving sufficient sweets, then the rope that restrains the child is loosened by his friends and he enters the house to break things therein!
The symbol of the game is explicit, the dark is asking for a gift and a blessing before it can depart… ready to go its way, knowing it has been appreciated and honoured.
The dark gives her gift when she has been honoured. Just like the gift of a child that emerges from the dark womb after a 9 month stretch inside the Mother.
The next day after Lohri is known as a Makar Sankranti or Maghi Sangrand. This is the beginning of the new calendar month, known as as Maghi in the North, and the month of Tai in the Tamil calendar.
Makar or Maghi means crocodile. It represents a new astrological force coming into effect and raising the season to one of light and warmth, under the reflection of the first waxing moon of the light half of the year.
Makar Sankranti is a day that recognises that the sun goes North in the action known as Uttarayan , Uttara means North and Ayan means motion.
Uttarayan is the daytime of the spirit world… the light is building by the growth of the first Moon round after the winter-solstice.
Kites are flown, in many regions. This represents the rising new season. In Gujarat, this is a central custom in this festival, which is there called Uttarayan.
Kites abound in the skies at this time.
Though the custom still exists, it has declined in recent decades as the hand of modernity sweeps across ancient customs.
In the South, Sankranti Makar corresponds to the festival of Surya or Tai Pongal, many of the ritualistic customs are similar to those of the North, even down to the dishes that are cooked…. sugarcane juice and rice for example.
Pongal is widely celebrated by the Tamil people in the Southernmost state of India. Pongal stretches across Lohri and Makar Sankranti.
Makar Sankranti traditionally begins with a morning dip at sunrise in a river, even when the temperatures are freezing. This is a symbolic and magical gesture of cooling the body and spirit for the heat of Surya (sun) that is rising with the coming phase.
The day of Makar Sankranti is said to mark the beginning of the Uttarayan period, this is when the sun enters the zodiac sign of Makara.
Makara corresponds to the zodiac sign of Capricorn, and is symbolised by a Crocodile.
Makar Sankranti indeed derives its name from Makara, the crocodile constellation.
The dip in a river in the early morning on this day that brings with it a new rising astrological cycle is a way of honouring the Crocodile energy.
The Goddess Ganga (as in the river Ganges) rides upon the crocodile Makara, as does Varuna, the deity of the seas.
The cooling blessings of the water element are sought as the Moon raises the tide for the first time post-solstice at the beginning of the season of building heat and light.
The fire is traditionally brought to full blaze at sunset on Lohri, and burns till the sunrise of Makara Sankranti when the water dip is taken.
The energies of fire and water come together at this sacred festival time.
The Goddess Lohri is the point where fire and water meet.
She be the Goddess of Gandanta, which translates as the potential opening of the Karmic knot.
The Gandanta knot is composed of two points of tension, the opening of which is the liberation of the Sacred Heart.