Hola Mahalla (Punjabi: ਹੋਲਾ ਮਹੱਲਾ, Hindi: होला मोहल्ला; also Hola Mohalla or simply Hola) is a Sikh festival which begins on the first day of the lunar month of Chet in the Nanakshahi calendar. It most often falls in March, and sometimes coincides with the Sikh New Year. The event lasts for a week, and consists of camping out and enjoying various displays of fighting prowess and bravery, followed by kirtan, music, and poetry. For meals, which is an integral part of the Sikh institution (Gurdwara), visitors sit together in pangats (Queues) and eat vegetarian food of the Langars. The event concludes with a long, military-style procession near Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five seats of temporal authority of the Sikhs.
Bhai Kahan Singh, who compiled the Mahan Kosh (the first Sikh encyclopedia) at the turn of the 20th century, explained, "Hola is derived from the word halla (a military charge) and the term mohalla stands for an organized procession or an army column. The words 'Hola Mohalla' would thus stand for 'the charge of an army.'" Dr. M.S. Ahluwalia notes that the related Punjabi term mahalia (which was derived from the Arabic root hal, meaning to alight or descend) refers to "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 to another."
The event was originated by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru. The Guru was in the midst of fighting both Aurangzeb of the Mughal Empire and the Hill Rajputs, and had recently established the Khalsa Panth. On February 22, 1701, Guru Gobind Singh started a new tradition by overseeing a day of mock battles and poetry contests at Holgarh Fort. The tradition has since spread from the town of Anandpur Sahib to nearby Kiratpur Sahib and the foothills of the Shivaliks, and to other Gurdwaras around the world.
Hola Mahalla or simply Hola is a Sikh event, which takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet, which usually falls in March.
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 place to another.
This custom originated in the time of and by Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708) who held the first march at Anandpur on Chet vadi 1, 1757 Bk (22 February 1701). Holi, when people playfully sprinkle colored powders, dry or mixed in water, on each other the Guru made Hola Mahalla an occasion for the Sikhs (and many Hindus at the time who gave sons to Sikh families) to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles. This was probably done forestalling a grimmer struggle against the imperial power and channelizing the energy of folks to a more useful activity. Hola Mahalla became an annual event held in an open ground near Holgarh, a Fort across the rivulet Charan Ganga, northwest 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, of Lahore in 1889, the Government approved only two - Hola 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.
Anandpur (lit. City of Bliss) 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 km north of Rupnagar (Ropar) and 29 km south of Nangal Township. Being one of the supremely important historical centers of the Sikhs it has been reverently called Anandpur Sahib. It was here at Anandpur that on Baisakhi of 1699, Guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa and the Panj Piare (the five beloved ones); hence inaugurating the order of Saint-Soldiers who pledged their dedication to defend the needy, poor and oppressed and their respective social, economic and political rights. The was a tradition of one of World's greatest Martyrs Guru Tegh Bahadur (the 9th Guru) who laid down his life in the defense of the Hindus on behalf of the Pandits of Kashmir.
The order of the Khalsa, at the wish of Guru Gobind Singh's would henceforth be distinguished by five symbols (a uniform of 5Ks), viz. Kes (uncut hair), Kangha (comb), Kacherra (drawers), Kara (an all-steel bracelet) and Kirpan (a sword) so that they could easily be recognized by anyone under attack. Sikhs were further instructed to live to the highest ethical standards, and to be always ready to fight tyranny and injustice.
The Nihang Singhs are the modern day descendents of Guru Gobind Singh's army, and are unique among Sikh orders for being militaristic in nature and for the distinctive rich blue of their traditional robes and large turbans, which are often embellished. Today, these warriors of the past are prominent figures at Hola Mahalla: they carry traditional weapons and modern fire-arms as well, and "are skilled at tent-pegging, sword wielding, jousting and other war-like sports." They are also proficient at horseback-riding stunts and archery.
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