An unusual twist to Holi is the festival of Hola Mohalla celebrated at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. An annual Sikh festival held a day after Holi, it has the drama, the sweat and the incredible colours that Indian festivals are known for and is an impressive, traditional display of bravery and valour by the Nihang warriors.
Rows upon rows of trucks skilfully divided into an upper and lower deck — for sleeping and sitting with clothes used as curtains for partitions – the road leading upto Anandpur Sahib is a prime example of how humanity comes together during the time of festivals. Everywhere you look people are indulging in age-old rituals that defy time – eating, sleeping and of course, celebrating!
One of the main attractions at the festival; the Nihang warriors, are a prestigious armed sect of the Sikhs who wear a striking blend of blue and orange, with thick twisted moustaches and overwhelmingly large and embellished turbans.
With impressive displays of weaponry, archery and wrestling, there’s also music, poetry and prayers, singing and chanting. Langar is an extremely important part of the festivities.
The Nihang Warriors also demonstrate thrilling horse riding shows where the riders gallop bareback, performing tricks such as riding astride two horses, racing etc.
During this three-day grand festival, the main attractions are the mock battles, exhibitions, display of weapons, kirtan (religious music) and poetry competitions.
Langars are also a big part of the festival, which is organised by the local people as a part of sewa or community service. Simple traditional cuisine is served to the pilgrims who eat while sitting in rows on the ground.
Women volunteer to cook and others take part in cleaning utensils or other manual tasks that need to be carried out as a way of paying obeisance.
There are also a number of Gurudwaras where kirtans and religious lectures take place. On the last day one of the five important Sikh religious seats, Takht Sri Darbar Sahib Kesgarh Sahib, organises a procession that passes many other Gurudwaras before returning back and ending at the same place.
Hola Mohalla is an amazing, incredible and a vivid festival. The impact of seeing the towering Nihang warriors is overwhelming, plus it’s delightful to watch small children on horses who stride around confidently and with élan.
Anandpur Sahib is about 1 ½ hrs drive/ 90 Kms from Chandigarh, which is accessible by train or car from Delhi.