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Hari’s Loot: The Kirtan dedicated to Lord Krishna which passes through the streets singing his praises to mark the Sankranti

I remember this event being the key highlight of the Poush Parbon while growing up in a remote town in Tripura.

As the clock struck 8 in the morning, the familiar sound of a soulful melody hit my ears and brought along with it nothing but nostalgia. It had been 11 years since I last witnessed Hari’s loot (Bengali: হরির লুট) – a morning ritual that is observed on the last day of ‘Poush’ month of the Bengali calendar.

Hari’s loot coincides with the annual harvest festival of the Bengali community, the Poush Parbon (also known as Sankranti). On that day each year, the Hindus take an early shower, offer batasha, fruits, gur (jaggery), and nokul dana to Lord Krishna (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) and wait in anticipation of the Jan Kirtan.

Neighbours, equipped with kartal, sankh, and mridanga, flock to each other’s houses and sing songs in praise of the Almighty. Kids wear new clothes and carry bags to collect the prasad.

After a couple of devotional songs are sung, one of the men from the crowd takes the bowl of prasad (offered to Lord Krishna) and distributes it among the devotees. However, instead of handing it over individually, the prasad (comprising of fruits, nokul dana, and batasha) is tossed in the air.

A fierce competition ensues between young adults to collect the most prized possession i.e. a whole coconut. Children also compete among themselves for the largest share of the prasad.

When the devotees move on to another house, a few family members from the previous household join the group. As a result, the size of the crowd increases with time. Usually, one jan kirtan covers 10-15 houses in a neighbourhood. After Hari’s loot is over, everyone retires to their homes.

I remember this event being the key highlight of the Poush Parbon while growing up in a remote town in Tripura. Children usually have their offs and offices remain shut on that day, thereby providing everyone with the opportunity to participate in the ritual.

Unfortunately, Hari’s loot is now limited to rural areas of Tripura and West Bengal. For someone raised in the metropolis of Kolkata, the ritual may sound alien altogether.

Events leading up to Hari’s loot

Hari’s loot is not an isolated ritual. It is preceded by the burning down of a temporary, thatched hut (also called Mera Merir ghor or Burir ghor), which is built a day before Poush Parbon.

On the eve of Sankranti, Bengali families employ local craftsmen to build a temporary hut with bamboo and straw. Sometimes, people prefer to do it themselves. Once the hut is built, light and sound systems are set up and bedsheets are put inside the hut.

The temporary shelter can accommodate up to 5-6 people at one time. Children and young adults play cards, ludo, sing songs, and have a feast there at night. Interestingly, some prefer to spend the night at the thatched hut while others choose to retire to their homes around midnight.

Representative Image via ENEWS Time

In the meantime, senior family members prepare dinner and traditional Bengali sweets (also called pitha) made of rice flour, coconut, milk, and jaggery.

As explained earlier, on the day of the Poush Sankranti, everyone takes an early morning bath and sets the thatched hut ablaze. They surround the burning hut and bask in the heat, amidst loud chants of ‘Mera Meri ghor jole re hoi.’

Mera Meri ghor on fire, image via News18

And then everyone waits in sheer anticipation for Hari’s loot. I am in Tripura in time to cover the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections in the State, and this presented an opportunity after a good old decade to watch the event in action today.

It brought back fond childhood memories, spent with siblings and cousins. Today, all of them are settled in different parts of the country, far removed from the traditions and rituals that held a special part in our formative years.

As I was recording the footage of Hari’s loot, I caught a glimpse of my younger self among the children in the crowd. The same exuberance for the ritual, the same excitement to get as much of the prasad as one could, the same joy across the faces. It may only be in rural areas now, but good to see that Hari’s loot is still alive and well in some parts.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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