Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hola Mohalla @ Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, India

Hola Mohalla is a Sikh sporting event held every year in a public arena near Holagarh Fort close to a small river named Charan Ganga in the holy city of Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, India.

Warrior Nihangs celebrate it a day after the Holi festival to demonstrate ancient sports and martial art skills in simulated battles and competitions.

The image of the Gatka-Chakar (circular device for deflecting weapons) you see here is something that I had seen in a Hindi movie in 2006. I was fascinated but had no clue what it was. This year I saw another image of it and followed the deep trails and trenches of internet hyperlinks to figure our that they were a part of a bigger festival. In a matter of three days tickets were booked, arrangements were made and I landed up in Punjab last week to see Hola Mohalla 2013. It is also popularly called the 'Sikh Olympics'.

Gatka Chakar - Hola Mohalla 2013

This was not the first time I was visiting a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). I have always been amazed by its cleanliness, crowd control and lack of any beggars around. A prayer is called an 'ardaas' in Punjabi. I had gone to pray for a friend. I am not a firm believer of rituals but I do believe in the power of faith in the beyond. There is something beautiful about placing unconditional trust in something. It calms one down.

'Nihangs' are warrior Sikhs who carry forward the legacy of ancient warfare and are martial arts experts of  combat techniques of the bygone era. In today's world it is purely ceremonial and is exhibited only during festivals or special occasional. Activities related to their military and wartime prowess is called Gatka Art. It includes horsemanship, sword/stick fights, use of quoits/daggers/aquatics/archery etc. 

Anywhere in the world, combat sports come with a baggage of aggressiveness. But here, I found them to be serene, focused and determined. Most of them wore blues, whites, blacks and orange.

The street procession is called nagar-kirtan where they display their mastery and head towards the stadium where formal competition takes place.

I did not see many corporate banners or FMCG stalls in the area. I come from an advertising background but it always makes me very happy to see the lack of their presence as well. Untouched by commercialism is an aspect which you find far and few. This is one such place. Raw, rustic, unadulterated and pure in its form and talent. Both men and women.


You can stay there in Gurdwara rooms by the SGPC or hotels. Another alternative is to stay in Nangal of the Bhakra-Nangal Dam fame which is nearby. Silly me, I realised now, after decades, that Bhakra and Nangal are two separate dams, not a single one.You should keep at least three days if you want to see famous places nearby. One full day for Hola. One for visiting Anandpur & Kiratpur Sahib Gurdwara (preferably the day after Hola). One for the Brahma Temple,Naina Devi & Bhakra. The Bhakra Dam is a must see. It is one of the highest gravity dams in the world. The pride of India - Its work started in 1948 and was completed in 1963. Within budget and within time! The Satluj Sadan on bank of Govindsagar reservoir at Nangal is where the Panchsheel treaty of peaceful co-existence was discussed by the then Indian prime minister Pt. Jawahar lal Nehru and his Chinese counterpart H. E. Chou-En- Lai on April 28th 1954.

Satluj Sadan by Govindsagar Lake - Nangal, Punjab

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