Hola Mohalla or Hola Mahalla or simply Hola is a Sikh festival that takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet. This date usually falls in the month of March according to the Gregorian calendar. The festival takes place one day prior to Holi and is celebrated over three days . This colourful festival is associated with displays of mock fights, weapons, exhibitions, kirtan, music and poetry competitions. The festival is celebrated largely throughout Punjab and in all places across the world where Sikhs reside. This festival is celebrated extensively over three days mainly at the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara where this festival is said to have originated. Holla is a derivative of a Punjabi term meaning onset of attack or frontal assault. Together the words "Hola Mohalla" stands for "mock fight". This festival was to give a masculine touch to the so called feminine festival Holi.
This festival was initiated by Guru Gobind Singh in February 1701. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru and his force were in war with the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb and the Rajputs and the guru had recently found the Khalsa Panth. On 22nd February, 1701, Guru Gobind Singh started a new tradition of dedicating a day for military exercises and mock battles. The guru made this festival as an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles and to fortify the Sikh community. This day falls on the day following the festival of Holi. Guru Sahib told the Sikhs wake up to their responsibility and duty and used the opportunity to train his forces in the art of warfare. The military exercise was carried out on the bed of the River Charan Ganga. The event was first held in Holgarh Fort at Anandpur sahib. This tradition of practicing mock battles has gradually spread to Kiratpur Sahib. This festival now is also replicated in Gurdwara Sahibs throughout the world.
How is Hola Mohalla Celebrated?
This festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and is filled with merriment and joy. This festival celebrates the bravery and valour of Sikhs in the battlefield. During Holla Mohalla early morning prayers are held in the gurudwaras. Guru Granth Sahib is read and kirtans are sung. In the evening martial members of the Sikh community called Nihang Sikhs who are part of the Sikh army that Guru Gobind Singh founded, display their physical strength and martial skills through acts like mock-battles (Gatka), sword-fighting displays, archery and horse riding exercises. Dressed in new saffron or deep blue robes the Nihang Sikhs display their preparedness for war by demonstrating their skills in various types of weaponry. They also splash colours at the gathered audience. Music, dance and poetry programs and competitions are also held during this occasion. Guru Gobind Singh is paid tribute by narrating stories about his life. On the last day a grand procession of the Guru Granth Sahib in a float is taken out which is led by the paanj pyares or the five beloveds. Community kitchens or langars are also arranged in Anandpur. Hola Mohalla is recognized by the government of India as a national festival.