Hola Mohalla is a Sikh festival that takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet, which usually falls in March.
Hola Mohalla, by a tradition established by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, follows the Hindu festival of Holi by one day. Unlike Holi, when people playfully sprinkle color, dry or mixed in water, on each other, Guru Gobind Singh made Hola Mohalla an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles.
Together the words “Hola Mohalla” stand for “mock fight.” During this festival, processions are organized in the form of army type columns accompanied by war-drums and standard-bearers, 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 Sahib in February 1701. The foothills of the Shivaliks in Ropar district of Punjab’s north-eastern region, especially around the historic townships of Anandpur Sahib and Kiratpur Sahib, have, since 1701 been playing host to Hola Mohalla.
The Indian government eventually accorded Hola Mohalla the status of a national festival.
This annual festival, held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, India, and now replicated at other Gurdwaras worldwide, reminds Sikhs of valor and defense preparedness, concepts dear to Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who was at that time battling the Mughal empire and the hill kings.
On this three-day grand festival, mock battles, exhibitions, displays of weapons, etc. are held, followed by Gurbani Kirtan, religious lectures, 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.
For people visiting Anandpur Sahib, langars (voluntary community kitchens) are organized by the local people.
The Nihangs are endearingly designated as “Guru’s Knights” or the “Guru’s 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 Bana and their ample Dumallas. The most spectacular event at 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 Sikh Festival of Hola Mohalla,” Sikh Dharma International.