Holla Mahalla: A Colourful Festival of the Sikhs

Dr. Amrit Kaur

Holla Mahalla, which is sometimes termed as ‘Holla’ is a Sikh festival, which usually falls on 1 vadi (the day after the full moon day) of the Lunar month of chet, the first desi month in the lunar calendar. However, this year it is falling in the month of Phaggan the last desi month in the lunar calendar so is being celebrated on March 2. This festival usually falls in March on the day after Holi, which is a Hindu festival

Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
Local Sikhs posing for a photo as the festivities for the day begin.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
Sikhs from Punjab’s villages and towns make their way to Anandpur Sahib in all modes of transportation including tractor trolleys.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
Nihang Singhs gallantly striding across the fields of Anandpur Sahib after an eventful and colorful day.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
Thousands came from all across Punjab, India and the World to the fields of Anandpur Sahib. They found seats where ever they could to get a view of the extraordinary horsemanship displayed by the Nihang Singhs.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
A Nihang Singh gracefully riding his horse through the bustling streets of Anandpur Sahib.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
A young Sikh man showing off his impressive skills on horseback.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
A young Sikh woman enjoying and participating in the festivities.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
Sikhs showing their skills on horseback as rows of spectators watch, unfazed by the galloping horses only a few feet away.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
An Elephant making its way through the street of Anandpur Sahib and eventually to the fields where the day’s festivities are set to begin.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
Nihang Singh strikes a pose
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
A beautiful Sikh shield worn by a Nihang Singh.
Photo by Amrinder Singh
Holla Mohalla, Three Days of Honoring Tradition – A Photo Essay
A beautiful Sikh family enjoying the festivities.
Photo by Amrinder Singh

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The genesis of Mahalla can be traced back to the time of the Tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji (1666-1708) who organized a kind of march at Sri Anandpur Sahib, which now falls in Ropar District of Punjab. This march was organized by the Tenth Guru Shahib on Chet vadi 1, 1757 birkrami i.e. 22 February 1701, two years after the creation of the Khalsa at Sri Anandpur Sahib. On April 14, 1699 Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji gave birth to Khalsa by administering khande de pahul(nectar) and created a community similar to him in appearance. The five devoted Sikhs, Bhai Daya Ram ji, Bhai Dharam Das ji, Bhai Muhkam Chand ji, Bhai Himmat ji and Bhai Sahib Chand ji after being tested for their steadfastness in upholding righteousness, were dressed up in apparel similar to the one Guru Sahib himself was wearing. This was neela bana i.e. blue apparel, a loose shirt hanging like a skirt below the knees and a blue turban. In creating Khalsa by administering amrit(nectar) Guru Sahib directed each member to always have five marks of distinction—hair like ascetics as a sign of dedication, steel bracelet to denote universality of God, a comb to keep the hair clean, underwear to denote chastity and sword for defending the oppressed. The Tenth Guru declared that ‘Khalsa has been coined in my shape and I reside in the Khalsa. Khalsa is the army of God and has emerged because of God’s will.’ In his bani Guru Sahib has stated that he loves the rahit (means the five symbols) and not the Sikh himself. But as time passed only Nihangs continued to wear blue robes and a blue turban similar to that worn by Guru Sahib.

The Tenth Guru initiated the celebration of Holla Mahalla to enable the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills such as brandishing swords, gatka, tir andazi (bow and arrow), neza bazi, and tent pegging while riding a horse in full speed to hit an object. The festival was started soon after the battle of Nirmohgah, situated on top of a low hill, 4 km south of Kiratpur Sahib which falls in district Roper of Punjab which took place in October 1700 between the surrounding hill chiefs and the Sikh soldiers. Guru Sahib’s idea was perhaps to prepare the Sikhs for more fierce battles, which were awaiting ahead.

After its introduction in 1701, Holla Mahalla became an annual feature at Anandpur Sahib, which is held in the open space near Logarh Fort, which is northwest of the town of Anandpur Sahib.

With the passage of time and emergence of sophisticated weapons the significance of the military skills displayed during the time of Guru Sahib has lessened. However, the Nihangs in their traditional panoply have continued to march in the form of a procession and display these skills. Every year, Nihangs from places far and near assemble at Anandpur sahib to participate in the celebrations of Holla Mahalia by displaying their martial skills.

This year more than 10 lakh Sikh pilgrims are expected to come to Sri Anandpur Sahib to pay their obeisance at Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib. During these three days thousands of Sikhs will partake of amrit (nectar) and get baptized. The baptismal water, which the person receives to get initiated, is prepared from water and round sugar cubes called patasas.

As far back as 2004 in preparing this baptismal water 10 quintals of patasas were used. And every year this amount of patasas has been increasing.

Dr. Amrit Kaur
Retd.Professor
Punjabi university
Patiala, Punjab, India

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