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Holla Mohalla, Holi in Sikhism

Friday, 16 September 2016 22:39

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This blog is how Holi/Holla Mohalla is celebrated in Sikhism, in Anandpur Sahib

Hola Mohalla or Hola Mahalla or simply Hola is a Sikh festival that takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet which usually falls in March. This, by a tradition estabished by Guru Gobind Singh, follows the Hindu festival of Holi by one day.Hola is the masculine form of the feminine sounding Holi.


The word "Mohalla" is derived from the Arabic root hal (alighting, descending) and is a Punjabi word that implies an organized procession in the form of an army column. But unlike Holi, when people playfully sprinkle colored powder, dry or mixed in water, on each other, the Guru made Hola Mohalla an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles.



Together the words "Hola Mohalla" stands for "mock fight". During this festival, processions are organised in the form of army type columns accompanied by war-drums and standard-bearers and proceeding to a given spot or moving in state from one Gurdwara to another. The custom originated in the time of Guru Gobind Singh who held the first such mock fight event at Anandpur in February 1701.

It reminds the people of valour and defence preparedness, concepts dear to the Tenth Guru who was at that time defending the Sikhs from the attacks of the Mughal empire and the hill kings.

On this three-day grand festival, mock battles, exhibitions, display of weapons, etc., are held followed by kirtan, music and poetry competitions.



The participants perform daring feats, such as Gatka (mock encounters with real weapons), tent pegging, bareback horse-riding, standing erect on two speeding horses and various other feats of bravery.



There are also a number of Darbars where the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is present and kirtan and religious lectures take place. On the last day a long procession, led by Panj Pyaras


starts from Takhat Sri Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five Sikh religious seats, and passes through various important Gurdwaras like Qila Anandgarh, Lohgarh Sahib, Mata Jitoji and terminates at the Takhat (Keshgarh Sahib).

For people visiting Anandpur Sahib, langars (voluntary community kitchens) are organized by the local people as a part of sewa (community service). Raw materials like wheat flour, rice, vegetables, milk and sugar are provided by the villagers living nearby. Women volunteer to cook and others take part in cleaning utensils and other manual tasks that need to be carried out. Traditional cuisine is served to the pilgrims who eat while sitting in rows on the ground. (Pangat).

 

Having been the abode of the last two human Gurus of the Sikhs for for more than 20 years, Anandpur Sahib was witness to many momentous events of Sikh history, including the Hola Mahalla festival, which is an annual feature. The festival has now lost much of its original military significance, but Sikhs in large numbers still assemble at Anandpur Sahib on this day and an impressive and colorful procession is taken out in which the Nihangs, in their traditional panoply, form the vanguard while parading their skill in the use of arms, horsemanship, tent-pegging, and other war-like sports.

 

Warlike sports of the Nihangs

The Nihngas or Nihang Singhs are endearingly designated as Gurus Knights or the Gurus beloved. They still carry the military ambience and heroic style that was cultivated during the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh. Nihangs constitute a distinctive order among the Sikhs and are readily recognized by their dark blue loose apparel and their ample, peaked turbans festooned with quoits, insignia of the Khalsa and rosaries, all made of steel. They are always armed, and are usually seen mounted heavily laden with weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, rifles, shotguns, and pistols.


The word Nihang can be traced back to Persian nihang (alligator, sword) or to Sanskrit nishanka (fearless, carefree). In the former sense, it seems to refer to the reckless courage members of this order displayed in battle. In Guru Gobind Singhs writing, Var Sri Bhagauti Ji 47, it is used for swordsmen warriors of the vanguard. Whatever may be the origin the word Nihang, it signifies the characteristic qualities of the clan- their freedom from fear of danger or death, readiness for action and non-attachment to worldly possessions.

 

 

The week long festival of Hola Mahalla concludes at Gurdwara Holgarh Sahib (which stands on the site of Holgarh Fort), one and half Km northwest of town across the Charan Ganga rivulet. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh introduced in the spring of 1701 the celebration of Holla on the day following the Hindu festival of Holi . Unlike the playful sprinkling of colors as is done during Holi, the Guru made Holla an occasion to demonstrate skills in simulated battle, which is presently carried out by the Nihangs.


The Nihangs assemble in thousands at Anandpur Sahib in March every year to celebrate Hola Mahalla. On this occasion they hold tournaments of military skills, including mock battles. The most spectacular event at the Hola Mahalla is the magnificent procession of Nihangs on horses and elephants and on foot carrying a variety of traditional and modern weapons and demonstrating their skill in using them. The Hola Mahalla festival is unique and distinguishable from other festivals in that the Nihang have tried to preserve the traditional form and content as established during its inception, and strictly observed by the Akalis for more than three centuries.


The martial arts exhibited by the Nihangs provide a picture of their skills and traditions to the visitors as well as the tourist. Because of its great historical, socio-religious and military significance, the Hola Mahalla festival can impressively contribute to a greater awareness of Sikh heritage as well as foster sustainable development of community tourism.

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