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Hola Mohalla festival: A frenzy of liberated living and being a Nihang Sikh

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By Ishaa Srivastva

Elsewhere while the country is celebrating Holi, the holy duels of Hola Mohalla are taking place at Anandpur Sahib, Punjab. One of the most spectacular festivals celebrated in India, Hola Hohalla is a three day event celebrated at the shrine of Keshgarh Sahib every year, beginning on the first day of the lunar month of Chet in the Nanakshashi calendar. The word ‘Hola’ refers to Halla (attack) of an organised cavalcade in the place of attack (Mahalla). Although it’s comes across to many as a Sikh version of Holi, (since it coincides with the festival) it isn’t anything like it.

This Khalsayee festival dates back to 1699 when the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, founded the Khalsa Panth, the formal present day Sikh religion. The festival in its present form has originated from the time when Guru Gobind Singh Ji first held such a mock fight event in February 1701 at the grounds of Anandpur Sahib, which is a sacrosanct historical site for the Sikhs.

The principal importance of the event lies in showcasing the fighting prowess and daring of the distinctive Nihang group, who wear embellished blue robes and indulge in the performance of Gatka(form of martial art where they use traditional weapons to demonstrate simulated battles), tent pegging, and intimidating bareback horse riding. This is then followed by Kirtan, poetry and a round the clock free langar service. Thousands of devotees flock to Anandpur Sahib to pray, meditate and rejoice in the pious festivities.

What makes Hola Mahalla crucial is that it exemplifies the amalgamation of selfless devotion, phenomenal love and tremendous valour. It reinstates centuries of belief of the Sikh religion, and the reverence that the devotees hold for their Sikh Guru. Witnessing these events is a very overwhelming experience.

More recently Sikh prisoners also celebrated this festival at Tihar Jail, New Delhi where a special Kirtan Darbar (Sikh congregation) was organised for them.

Even though it remains to be a crucial but lesser known festival, today it has grown to attract thousands of people not only from within the country, but abroad as well. At the time of its initiation, it was done as a part of revolting against imperial powers.

The festival should be witnessed by Indians at least once in their life, to feel the frenzy of a liberated living that is exhibited by the Nihangs riding their horses like a storm.

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