The Legend of Dulla Bhatti


I just wrote a post for the Non Stop Bhangra blog, to celebrate the Punjabi winter solstice festival, Lohri. In addition to marking the waning of winter, Lohri is also associated with marriage and new families. It is celebrated with singing, dancing, the sharing of sweets, and a huge bonfire.

Like any festival, there many stories of how the holiday originated. Some say that it’s in honor of the Sun God (since the days are now getting longer), or the Fire God. Some say that it’s in memory of the sisters Holika and Lohri: Holika is the sister of the demon King Hiranyakashipu. She was killed in a bonfire while trying to burn her nephew Prahlada (a devotee of Vishnu) to death. That bonfire, and the triumph of good over evil that it symbolizes, is celebrated in the spring festival of Holi. I’m not sure how Lohri ended up in that bonfire too, but according to the story, she did, and she survived. And so: the festival of Lohri. Some people say that the holiday is named after Loi (or Lohi), the wife of the mystic, poet, and holy man known as Kabir.

The story I like best, though, is the story of Dulla Bhatti.

Dulla Bhatti (Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti) was a legendary sixteenth century outlaw from the Sandal Bar area of Punjab, between the Ravi and Chenab rivers, in what is now Pakistan. He led a rebellion against the Mughal emperor Akbar, and is a popular folk hero in Punjab because of his Robin Hood-like acts of kindness to the people. Dulla and his bandits regularly looted the tributes and taxes sent to the Emperor and redistributed them among the poor. Some people say that the Lohri custom of giving money or sweets to the children who go singing from door to door is in honor of Dulla Bhatti’s acts of generosity.

In addition to robbing the rich and giving to the poor, Dulla Bhatti also had a reputation for protecting young women from the, shall we say, depredations of the Mughal occupiers. That part of his legend is also celebrated around the Lohri bonfire.

You can read more about it in my post, here.
You can read more about it on my other blog, Ephemera, here.

Honestly, it’s the story that’s least likely to be the origin of Lohri, but it’s a cool story all the same. Enjoy.

The photo above is by Gagan Singh, on Flickr.

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