FRIDAY, MARCH 9: It may sound like Holi, but today’s Sikh festival of Hola Mohalla takes a masculine form of the word Holi—and a very masculine meaning. Since the start of Hola Mohalla by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, Sikhs have been gathering on the day after Holi for impressive displays of Sikh martial arts, horse riding, archery, swordsmanship and more. In a festival that usually lasts an entire week, Sikhs camp together, eat vegetarian meals in communion and listen to inspirational music and poetry. As self-defense and fighting for the righteous is deeply engrained in the Sikh religion, Hola Mohalla presents an opportunity for those trained to display (and practice) their skills. (Wikipedia has details.)
It was February of 1701 when Guru Gobind Singh had just established the Khalsa Panth, a group of elite soldiers whose members had individually displayed a unique bravery. The 10th Guru created a day of mock battles to both exercise his soldiers and motivate other Sikhs—a tradition that has now become Hola Mohalla. The Khalsa Panth was easily recognized by items such as uncut hair, swords and steel bracelets for its members; today, the Khalsa Panth descendants—Nihang Singhs—wear deep blue robes and decorative turbans. Nihang Singhs carry both traditional weapons and modern firearms, as they are thoroughly trained in a wide array of fighting techniques.
By the start of the festival, this week, news bloggers in India are estimating “tens of thousands” and “a sea of humanity” gathered at the Sikh holy site of Anandpur Sahib in northern India. There’s even more background about this festival in the SikhiWiki, an online encyclopedia set up by Sikhs themselves.