Hola Mahalla

What is Hola Mahalla?

Picture via IndiaMarks.com

Hola Mahalla or Hola Mohalla or simply Hola is a Sikh festival which usually falls in March. A tradition established by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, 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. Unlike Holi celebrations, when people playfully sprinkle coloured powder, dry or mixed in water, on each other, the Guru made Hola Mahalla 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 Ji who held the first such mock fight event at sacred Sikh city Anandpur Sahib in February 1701.

To this day, thousands of Sikhs from all over the world still go to Anandpur Sahib to take part in Hola Mahalla events, which nowadays includes displays of gatka (Sikh martial-art using weapons), horse-riding, falconry and more.

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Significance for Nihangs

Nihang Raman Singh
The very distinctive Nihang Sikhs foregather in their hundreds at Anandpur, on the occasion of the festival of Hola Mahalla. Here they display their martial skills. This tradition has been in place since the time of Guru Gobind Singh.

Nihangs (also called Akalis) are a very famous and prestigious armed Sikh order. Early Sikh military history is dominated by the Akali Sikh military order that is particularly noted for the many famous military victories they won, often while they were heavily out-numbered. The Nihungs have historically been held in great affection and respect by Sikh due the pivotal role they have played in Sikh history and Sikh military history in particular. Despite being such fierce warriors, Nihangs are also known for continually remaining in a state of chardikala (eternal optimism).

Today the Nihang’s activities are currently mostly ceremonial as it is peace time, but in times of war for the Sikh religion the Akalis have historically spear-headed the attack on the enemy.As such, Hola Mahalla is considered a hugely important event for Nihangs, as an opportunity to continue to highlight the martial side of the Sikh faith. Baba Nihal Singh head of Nihang collective Tarna Dal and one of the most respected Nihangs alive states, “There is a tradition with Nihang Singhs, that if a Nihang Singh does not attend Hola Mahalla, he is presumed to have merged with God”. 

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