It was on the road to Anadpur Sahib that I realized what a big deal the Hola Mohalla was. We were smack dab in the middle of a narrow road choked with buses, tractors, trucks, cars and folks on horseback. Masses of us were all heading to the city in Punjab where the three day festival was held every year right after the Holi Festival. The Holi Festival is described extensively in earlier blog posts.
Anadpur Sahib is sacred to the Sikhs and this is the most important Sikh gathering. It dates back 300 years when Guru Gogind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, created an occasion for Sikhs to show off their martial arts skills and host mock battles.
We made our way through stop-and-go traffic before the real surprise hit. We arrived at the town and encountered a traffic jam rivaling any mash up you might see in L. A. or New York City. It took us three hours to get from one side of the town to the other….a distance normally one could do in 15 minutes on bumpy unpaved roads.
The town’s population of 5,000 grows to over a million when happy people show up prepared for some serious fun. The excitement was palpable. Hooting and Hollering. Folks waved to us and to each other. Clearly they were having a wonderful time. A little traffic meant nothing.
We stayed at a charming camp and headed off in a truck every day to the festival. For people visiting Anandpur Sahib, langers (voluntary community kitchens) are organized by local people to serve the visitors. I was invited to eat by an older Sikh gentleman. For a description of that experience, here’s a link. A Special Moment in India.
Participants camped in their vehicles or set up tented communities all around the town.
So, what is the Hola Mohalla Festival all about? It had all the elements of a county fair with amusement rides, souvenir booths, entertainment and food.
I understand most people attending the Hola Mohalla visited the famous temple on a high hill in the middle of the town. Since we visited several other temples on the trip including the Golden Temple in Amritsar, I didn’t spend my time at this one. It was clear I was in a minority. All these people were either coming or going to the temple. The crowds never let up.
We saw very few foreign tourists—a few random folks on photography tours like ours and some young adventuresome looking people with backpacks.
The military demonstrations were clearly the high points of Hola Mohalla and the reason for its existence. The Nihangs demonstrate their military prowess. Last week’s blog was about this revered Sikh sect, often called the Warrior Monks. They proudly showed off their fencing and martial arts and paraded through town on horses and elephants.
As I watched them and observed the children, young ones in training to grow up to be a Nihangs, I wondered “Do they not know the crazy man in N. Korea who appears to destroy our world or what would they think of the issues of climate change? And what about the kooks who shoot down children in shopping centers or schools? ” I felt very far away and remote from my normal existence and concerns.
The Nihangs are armed and ready to defend their religion. The words Hola Mohalla mean “mock fight.” And that’s what we saw. The Sikh’s exuberant expression of the belief in their faith in a fun festive environment.
This experience truly transported me to another place and time.
For more information about the Jim Cline Three Festivals trip, click here.