The festival of Hola Mahalla
Hola Mahalla or simply Hola is a Sikh festival, which takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet, which usually falls in March. This follows the Hindu festival of Holi; Hola is the masculine form of the feminine sounding Holi. Mahalia, derived from the Arabic root hal (alighting, descending), is a Punjabi word that implies an organized procession in the form of an army column accompanied by war drums and standard-bearers, and proceeding to a given location or moving in state from one Gurdwara to another.
This custom originated in the time of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) who held the first march at Anandpur on Chet vadi 1, 1757 Bk (22nd February, 1701). Unlike Holi, when people playfully sprinkle color, 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. This was probably done forestalling a grimmer struggle against the imperial power following the battle of Ninnohgarh in 1700. Holla Mahalla became an annual event held in an open ground near Holgarh Fort across the rivulet Charan Ganga, northwest to the town of Anandpur sahib.
The popularity of this festival may be judged from the fact that out of five Sikh public holidays requested by the Khalsa Diwan, Lahore in 1889, the Government approved only two – Holla Mahalla and the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Hola Mahalla is presently the biggest festival at Anandpur. It will be appropriate here to discuss briefly the town and the participants of this festival.
Literally the City of Bliss, Anandpur is situated on one of the lower spurs of the Shiwalik Hills in Ropar District of Punjab and is well connected with the rest of the country both by road and rail. It lies 31 Kms north of Rupnagar (Ropar) and 29 Kms south of Nangal Township. Being one of the supremely important pilgrimage centers of the Sikhs it has been reverently called Anandpur Sahib. It will not be out of place here to mention that it was at Anandpur that on Baisakhi of 1699, Guru Gobind Singh carried out the supreme task of creating the Khalsa. It was here that the Guru announced the baptism of the Panj Piare and inaugurated the Khalsa, or the brotherhood of the holy soldiers who would henceforth be distinguished by five symbols all beginning with the letter “K” viz. kes (uncut hair), kangha (comb), kachcha (pair of shorts), kara (steel bracelet) and kirpan (sword). Sikhs were further instructed to live to the highest ethical standards, and to be always ready to fight tyranny and injustice.
Holla Mahalla festival
Having been the abode of the last two Sikh Gurus for two score years, the town 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.
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