The advent of spring in India is indeed vibrant a riot of colors availed out of the exuberant bounty of nature’s choiciest offerings of perhaps its most glorious taking to the seasons but equally vivid and splendidly spectacular an assertion of this immensely colorful canvas of natural still prominence entails also as a means of the cultural in a country strikingly dramatic in her many a prismatic hues and shades of variegated beauty. With the celebration of the Festival of Colors Holi marking in fact the setting in of the sprightly spirit of the springtime supremacy, India revels in a mood aptly evoking of the true resplendence that the truly royal of all seasons descends upon earth in all its magnificence of the mavericks. As one of the most popular festivals of the subcontinent, dwelling in its multifaceted steeping in the sentiment pertaining to the religious, cultural as well as the social sphere of life here, Holi stands out in its celebration across an array of the most vibrant hues, each holding a special significance of its own as well even when being as joyous and fun filled an experience in revelry. Frenzied playing of the Holi colors occur in definite measure across the lengths and breadths of the country, albeit at times with regional variations making for even more unique a range of the festivities that sum though the altogether bright and beautiful existence of the Indian identity. But even when this festival of immense fun and excitement residing in an array of the multitude of colors that span the expanse of life itself is so ubiquitously celebrated as the ultimate Springtime Festival, there manifests in rather uniquity a different dimension of this yearly spring rendezvous in still the cultural and social notions of it and continuing even in certain religious explorations as well but in an assertion not exclusively unfurling along the definite donning of the quintessential Holi element of the gulaal.
Finding expression as the particularly Sikh festival of Hola Mohalla is this diverse celebration of Holi that pans out as a three day long observance in continuation indeed of the more ubiquitous festival of colours, mostly concentrated in the Indian state of Punjab though asserting as a big festive event for Sikhs worldwide. The tradition dates back to the times of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh who built the basis of this celebration upon Holi, as a festival usually following but at times coinciding as well with the colorful splash of revelry that characterise the sprightly spring of spring all over the country. With the very sacred city of Anandpur Sahib prominently hosting the three day long fair that marks the Hola Mohalla celebrations but that which commands more than enough fervour to make it emerge as a week long festival event, what unfolds is a remarkable flurry of activities that encompasses at once every single strand of the essence that ekes out this springtime symphony as a true observance of the spirit of life across all fore of it. From the most discernibly distinguished feature of the multiple displays in martial mastery to the explorations of the religious and cultural ambits through sessions of kirtans delving into the mystic aura and reciting of poetry and music summoning instead the artistic riches of life even as ‘dynamic’ recourses to camping and the usual but standout fare of food, fun and festivities dominating the celebrations, Hola Mohalla perhaps is the most unique spin on the much loved festival of colors even when rooted in the most traditional values of its eking.
Occurring annually on the second day of the lunar month of Chett and continuing as a tradition since it was introduced in 1680 though the much famed procession to Anantpur Sahib itself followed a couple decades later in 1701, Hola Mohalla itself is a draw upon the story of Prahlad that makes for one of the legends on which the Holi celebrations are based. Honoring the Khasla custom, most notably the Nihangs who in their very identity as an order of armed Sikh warriors standout prominently in the martial basis of Hola Mohalla, is this festival of multidimensional leanings imbued still very much with the hues of the Holi spirit. In fact the term Hola has been understood to be a masculine form of Holi even though more established insights into the nomenclature of the festival eke out a special importance catering indeed to its charting of the martial might. Intended by the Sikh Guru to be a display of the martial arts and military might of the Sikhs and emerge thereby to that extent as being mock battles for his troops to be forever ready for battle, Hola Mohalla would more feasibly assert itself as being ‘the charge of an army. Denoting a coming together of the terms hola and mohalla meaning a military charge and an organized procession respectively, the festival spans as an amalgamated display of the prowess and skills of the Sikhs even as colors splash and rituals converge across other alleys of this observation to present indeed a spring of a singular splendor. The procession at Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib at Anandpur is one of the highlights of the festival as is the playing with gulaal after the rounds of mock battles, as a tradition perpetuated very much by Guru Gobind Singh himself.
Religious discourses follow as well with a continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib preceded by morning prayers, as does the manifestation of the spirit of brotherhood and the essence of humanity so famously identifying of the Sikh community in all their integrated service to mankind. Langars therefore continue to be as much the defining feature of the Hola Mohalla festivities, as it is of practically every single assertion in Sikhism spread out through gurudwaras serving vegetarian fare as prasad to the hundreds and thousands of devotees who turn up at this annual fiesta of the Sikhs. The mode of preparing the food and/ or the prasad tends to be equally invoking of the spirit of compassion and humanity with ingredients like wheat flour, sugar, milk, vegetables, rice etc for preparation of the Kadha Prasad provided by the locals or even the devotees themselves. It isn’t just such staple offerings that sum up the festive palate though, as a range of delicacies sumptuous indeed in their celebratory essence is relished as well by one and all. From the basic but delicious fare of halwas and jalebis to the quintessentially Holi sweets like gujias and malpuas, the festival of Hola Mohalla is as encompassing of every element of what necessarily grants the grandeur of every single Indian occasion. Traditional drinks like thandai and buttermilk as well as sugarcane juice and Roohafza milk are served at food stalls even as the many community kitchens see visitors sit together in queues or pangats to partake of the meal in keeping with the traditions and customs of what essentially finds universal expression across the gurudwaras.
As a very essential part of the culture of Punjab, Hola Mohalla tends indeed to be a fun and colorful celebration of a land forever buoyant in its spirit, whether it be in living or in taking pride in their identity. Thus what unfolds during the duration of this festival is an unmissable display of the grit and valour that so characterise this expanse of people, replete though with completely contrasting pursuits as well, of the religious, of the artistic and indeed of all things soulful. As mock battles play out through the performance of the traditional martial art called the Gatka with age old weapons and equipment as well as other equally encapsulating displays of power including sword-fighting displays, archery, tent pegging, wrestling and exercising on speeding horses among other warlike sports, the Hola Mohalla celebrations present indeed a diverse dimension of springtime itself, one that is as exuberant in its defiant defying of the odds of the world to be a force of its own. And yet meandering through alleys as seemingly far removed from such assertion of physical power and embarking instead on a route more spiritual and/ or psychic is also another equally prominent aspect of what is one of the most important celebrations in Sikhism. Thus flows out of the Hola Mohalla carnival a tune of soulful blessings, as folk songs and folk tales play out to the beats of the traditional drum called the dhadd, even as the art of the poesy makes felt once again its appeal in all universality, permeating through the charged up airs of a festival so evident in its hustle and bustle of powerful indeed renditions. What entails therefore out of all this myriad celebrations in uniqueness is the zest of which spring is forever furthering, in the splatter of the colors and out of the profusion of fun emerging a truly enigmatic, cheerful tradition that does not for once lose out on any iota of its reverence though. A carnival no doubt resplendent in its vibe of a very Punjabisque nature of joyous happenings, imbued by the humility of an existence steeped in its Sikh pride and holding on to the diversity of a nation unified by such common coming together of celebrations as Holi in general and Hola Mohalla in particular is this diverse indeed reiteration of the springtime spirit presenting a picture as pretty as possible painted out across strokes of sightly salubrity.