SUNDAY, MARCH 20: Much of India may be bustling with excitement over colorful spring powders today, but some regions will be toning down the gaiety and observing an event quite opposite of Holi, in a Sikh festival known as Hola Mahalla. Literally, “Hola” is the masculine form of “Holi,” and “Mahalla” describes an organized army procession that marches to the beat of drums. A major tenet of the Sikh religion is the call to defend the righteous, and Hola Mahalla stands as one of the most important festivals of the year. (Wikipedia has details.) Hola Mahalla annually coincides with Holi and lasts between 3 and 7 days, during which devotees camp out to witness and participate in fighting competitions, sharpen their martial arts skills, listen to music, and eat vegetarian delicacies. (Get a visual impression of these traditions via these photos from flickr.)
In the 18th century, Sikh Guru Gobind Singh established a day of mock battles that would help his fellow Sikhs in their struggles with groups in the Maghul Empire. Gobind Singh’s father, Tegh Bahadur, had given his life to protect and preserve his neighboring Hindus when they were being persecuted—Gobind Singh followed his father’s example of always being ready to defend those facing injustice. Through Hola Mahalla, Sikhs have been able to display their martial skills for centuries. Especially prominent in Hola festivities are the Nihang Singhs, the descendents of Gobind Singh’s army that are known for their spectacular skills in bareback horse riding, archery, fencing and more. (Read more at AllAboutSikhs.) The Nihang Singhs stand out in a crowd with their deep blue robes and turbans.
ECOSIKH and a plastic-free Hola Mahalla this year
This year, EcoSikh—an organization formed in response to the UN’s request for world religions to play a part in saving the environment—has asked Sikhs to observe a plastic-free Hola Mahalla. (Sikhnet has an article.) Sikhs are being asked to find an eco-friendly alternative to plastic plates and cups during public meals, avoid using plastic bags that are so common around outdoor holiday festivities, and pick up after themselves during the observance. ALSO: Sikhs around the world planted trees on March 14, in commemoration of Sikh Environment Day.