The annual event of Hola Mohalla is celebrated by Sikhs around the world. However, its birthplace was the holy town of Anandpur Sahib. The tradition was first started by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The festival falls on every first of the month of Chet (lunar month) and as per Georgian Calendar, it usually falls in the month of March. It comes a day after the festival of Holi and is considered its masculine form. If we dive into the etymology of the word “Mohalla”, we would realise that it is derived from Arabic word ‘Mahalia’, signifying a procession of an army column alongside war drums and standard bearers. Together, the phrase ‘Holla Mohalla’ stands for a ‘mock fight’. Guru Gobind started the festival as a way to train and prepare Sikhs for battle, and to keep the morale high in their struggle against the Mughal tyranny. In a way, the festival is a military exercise and involves elaborate displays of martial arts such as archery, sword fighting and wrestling.
In those years, the festival worked to build a sense of community and camaraderie among Sikhs. It brought people together and united them for a single cause. It also reinforced their faith. The same reasoning stands true today. With time, the festival became an intrinsic part of Sikh culture and identity. It is a way for people to remember their rich heritage and sacrifices of those who made the present possible. It grew way beyond the hills of Anandpur and today, it is an elaborate three-day event that is celebrated worldwide. The festival usually begins by an early morning procession, known as the Nagar Kirtan, where Guru Granth Sahib is respectfully carried through the streets, with a crowd of followers alongside and hymns of kirtan. Later in the day, large scale langar is organised by local people throughout Punjab and elsewhere.
A Celebration of War Arts Since the introduction of Miri and Piri by Guru Hargobind, war arts became an important part of the religion as a way to protect the faith against incursions of the Mughals. Holla Mohalla is an extension of the same concept. Sikh armies, throughout history, have been known for their mighty skills. Nihangs, an order of warrior Sikhs, showcase their skills with swords, daggers, spears and riffles. They carry out a magnificent procession on horses and elephants. For the past three centuries, Nihangs have preserved the tradition war arts alive and they spectacularly display their skills during the festivities. This is perhaps one of the reasons that Anandpur has emerged as a tourist destination for not just Sikh pilgrims, but also for people willing to learn more about Sikh culture and heritage.