Thursday, March 8, 2012

Its Hola Mohalla!

The Sikh festival of Hola Mohalla, or Hola or Hola Mahalla , is celebrated on the first day of the lunar month of Chet in the Sikh Calendar. Usually this day falls in the month of March and this year (2012) it falls on March 9. It is celebrated the day after the very colorful Hindu festival of Holi. The festival is a tradition which was originally established by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru at Anandpur Sahib. 

Photo from

During the 17th century, on February 22, 1701, Guru Gobind Singh started a new tradition when he decided to oversee a day of mock battles and poetry contests at Holgarh Fort. Guru Gobind Singh was then faced with the problem of the ever growing tyranny of the then Moghul emperors. In order to get local farmers to learn to defend themselves against the Moghuls, he organized three days of military exercises called Hola Mohalla, the day after Holi. 

Young Sikh showing off his Gatka skills

For three days farmers were made to show off their prowess in fighting. Thus, most people learned the essential skills they would need to fend off any attackers. The tradition then spread from the town of Anandpur Sahib. It had spread to Kiratpur Sahib and the foothills of the Shivalik Hills, and to the other Gurdwaras around the world. To this day the observance of those three days continues and has become a festival that showcases the Sikh martial arts. 

Photo from

Among the highlights of Hola Mohalla celebrations is the performance of the Nihang Sikhs. The Nihang Sikhs are the modern descendants of the army of Guru Gobind Singh. They are unique among the Sikhs for their skills in martial arts and other military disciplines. They are known for their very distinctive bright blue robes and very large rounded turbans often decorated with silver rings and other embellishments. During the festivities, they carry traditional and modern weapons. They have great skill with sword play, jousting, archery and horseback riding. 

Nihangs (Photo from

Horse Ballet by a Nihang (Photo from

Another wonderful feature of Hola Mohalla is having communities come together and devote their time and labor to the many roadside langars. The langar, or community kitchen, is a distinct feature of the Sikh faith. Sikhs regardless of their social standing and age will devote their time to performing community service called kar seva. They will work together to prepare meals that will be served to travelers on their way to Anandpur Sahib, or to anyone simply passing by and willing to have a hearty, freshly-cooked meal. 

Women preparing langar (Photo from

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