Hola Mohalla: Celebrating Valor
India is a land of diverse cultures, festivals and traditions. I live in Punjab, the land of the five rivers. Hola Mohalla is a major festival in my region. All roads lead to Sri Anandpur Sahib during Hola Mohalla. The three-day festival is a sight to behold, and one feels proud of the rich culture of our country.
Hola Mohalla is an annual Sikh festival which often falls in the month of March and is celebrated on the day after Holi, the festival of colors. It is a big event for Sikhs around the world and also marks the beginning of the Sikh New Year.
What the Festival Entails
This annual fair is held for three consecutive days at Sri Anandpur Sahib in the state of Punjab in India. People from distant places come to Sri Anandpur Sahib to attend the festival of Hola Mohalla and enjoy the daring feats of the display of fighting prowess and listen to melodious and soul-stirring kirtans, music and poetry. Participants generally camp out for a week at Sri Anandpur Sahib for the event. The event culminates with a grand military-like procession near Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five revered seats of Sikh authority.
Etymology and History
The word Hola has been derived from 'halla', which means attack. Mohalla stands for an organized procession or an army column. Thus, the literal meaning of Hola Mohalla is 'the charge of an army'.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the revered tenth Sikh Guru, founded the tradition of Hola Mohalla after establishing Khalsa Panth at Anandpur Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh Ji started the unique tradition of organizing a massive Sikh gathering where mock battles, poetry competitions and display of gatka, combat arts, horse riding and other fighting skills were organized at the Holagarh Fort.
Hola Mohalla was started as an occasion for military drills and mock battles so that the army could be trained. Hola Mohalla was an occasion for the valorous Sikhs to demonstrate their fighting skills in mock battle situations. The first Hola Mohalla was organized by Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1701.
The popularity of this festival may be judged from the fact that, out of five Sikh public holidays requested by the Khalsa Diwan of Lahore in 1889, the Government of India approved only two: Hola Mohalla and the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Hola Mohalla is presently the biggest Sikh festival held at Sri Anandpur Sahib.
Blessed, blessed is the Knower of the Lord, my True Guru, He has taught me to look upon friend and foe alike.— Guru Gobind Singh
Hola Mohalla is a gentle reminder of the courage and valour of the brave Sikhs who made supreme sacrifices during the Mughal regime to protect the Hindus from the atrocities of Aurangzeb. During the three days of the festival, the Nihangs carry on the ancient martial tradition by organizing mock battles, displays of swordsmanship and horse riding. Daring feats like gatka (an ancient martial art), horse riding, sword fencing and archery are performed. Kirtans and religious discourses are held at the various gurudwaras (place of worship for Sikhs) at Sri Anandpur Sahib.
The highlight of the festival is the majestic procession on the concluding day of the festival. The procession is led by the Panj Pyaras. It starts from Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib and passes through various historical gurudwaras like Qila Anandgarh, Mata Jitoji, Lohgarh Sahib etc. and finally ends at the Takht. The Nihangs are dressed in traditional attire and carry shining spears and swords. Nihangs are the members of the Khalsa army known for their distinctive blue traditional robes and dumala. They look royal and fierce as they gallop through the streets of Sri Anandpur Sahib on horseback. They are often prominent at the Hola Mahalla festival.
I have visited Sri Anandpur Sahib numerous times. This small, peaceful town is quite charged up during Hola Mohalla festivities. If you want to experience the Sikh heritage and culture, then you must visit there during Hola Mohalla. Since thousands of devotees visit the place during Hola Mohalla, it gets a bit crowded. If you live nearby like me, then you can plan a day trip or else you must plan your travel and stay in advance to avoid any inconvenience.
Langars or community kitchens for the visitors are organized by the local villagers for the people. The nearby villages come forward to help and donate food material for the langar. The local women volunteer to cook the food and clean the utensils while the men take the responsibility of serving the food and cleaning up the place. All the gurudwaras also serve langar on a grand scale for the people who have come to attend Holla Mohalla.
Langar is a unique feature of the Sikh religion and the food served is considered as the blessing of the guru. Eating and serving in langar is quite an humbling experience in itself.
A mobile app named 'Hola Mohalla Suvidha' has been developed by District Administration in collaboration with Smart IT Ventures for the facility of devotees visiting Kiratpur Sahib and Anandpur Sahib during Hola Mohalla. The app can be downloaded from Google Play Store.
Commitment to the Guru
Hola Mohalla is an occasion for the Sikhs to reaffirm their commitment to the lofty principles laid down by the Gurus. It serves as an occasion to reaffirm unity and brotherhood. Hola Mohalla has been accorded the status of a National Festival recently by the Indian Government. The popularity of Hola Mohalla has grown in leaps and bounds in the recent years with people from all over the world coming to Sri Anandpur Sahib to witness the grand festivities of Hola Mohalla. The locals welcome the visitors with open arms irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
© 2018 Shaloo Walia