The Festival of Colours as Celebrated in Punjab

Hola Mohalla is a Sikh festival celebrated in Punjab over three days around the spring festival of Holi.

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At the onset of spring, during the month of phalgun as per the lunar calendar, which generally occurs between February and March, Holi is celebrated with colours across India in various ways.

In the state of Punjab, the spring celebrations are known as Hola Mohalla and takes place the day after Holi, building up on the festival. This is a large event, particularly for Nihang Sikhs, a Sikh warrior order, around the world.

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The Significance of Hola Mohalla

A festival that celebrates brotherhood, fraternity and valour, Hola Mohalla was started by the Tenth Sikh leader, Guru Gobind Singh, in the 17th century.

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Getting to Anandpur Sahib

For many days before the event, everyone flocks to Anandpur, the City of Bliss, in the Indian state of Punjab. They come bearing raw ingredients for food such as wheat and other grains for the camps and the Shri Keshgarh Sahib Gurudwara’s community kitchen.

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While the actual festival lasts three days, participants camp out for a week to attend the displays at the prime location, Anandpur Sahib.

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The Nihang Sikhs, while appearing fierce, descend upon the city in a whirlwind of smiles and energy. Each group comes with their leader in a barrage or motorbikes, jeeps, cars, carts, trolleys, buses and more.

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Camping Out at Anandpur Sahib

The groups set up camp all across the city, with some choosing to stay at the Gurudwara and some choosing to stay at the many campsites made available for the festival.

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The Food at the Camps

The camps set up their own kitchens with elaborate meals being prepared and shared with all those who wish to join in.

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Langars - Community Service Kitchens

The attendees also volunteer at langars, which are community service kitchens, at the Gurudwaras.

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These kitchens serve simple, nutritious meals for those who wish to attend.

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They also serve a traditional Holi drink called thandai, made with rose water, poppy seeds, sugar, milk and spices, generally served chilled.

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Kicking off the Festivities

Early morning prayers at the Gurudwara signifies the start of the festival.
Devotional music and the recital of the Guru Granth Sahib follow. Stories are told of the valour of Sikh Gurus.

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After the prayers, a number of festivities take place simultaneously. From the Gurudwara, celebrations move to the Charan Ganga Stadium.

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The Display at Charan Ganga Stadium

At the stadium, participants put up a display of skills.The remarkable feats of courage, skill and discipline attract a large crowd who gather to watch the festivities. 

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Displaying Horsemanship

Horsemanship plays a huge role in the festivities. The display of horse riding goes beyond the basic, with some taking on daredevilish acts, riding not one or two but three and sometimes even four horses at the same time.

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Friendly competitions of sword fighting are held, with Nihang fighters from different groups displaying their skills in the art.

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From Horses to Motorbikes

Another area of skills displayed is on the motorbike. As modernity was embraced in the community, some Nihang Sikh traded their horses in for motorbikes.

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Participants display rigorously practiced feats like riding blindfolded, standing up straight on a moving bike, showing off their skills in marksmanship and more.

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Another area of expertise that is displayed is with the chakri. This instrument, a form of war weapon now created mostly as a toy, is made up of balls connected by string. 

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The Traditional Garb

The participants dress in their ethnic attire during the festivities.

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They wear their traditional blue robes and embellished dastars, which are tall turbans that rise high above their heads.

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Some even wear traditional chainmail during the display of skills.

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Playing with Colour

Some of the participants even play with powdered or wet colours during the festivities, even though it isn’t an official part of the celebrations.

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Ending the Festival

On the last day, a long procession is held, starting from and ending at the Takhat Keshgarh Sahib.

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