HOLĀ MAHALLĀ or simply Holā, a Sikh festival, takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet which usually falls in March. This follows the Hindu festival of Holī. The name Holā is the masculine form of the feminine-sounding Holī. Mahallā, derived from the Arabic root hal (alighting, descending), is a Punjabi word signifying an organized procession in the form of an army column accompanied by war-drums and standard-bearers and proceeding to a given spot or moving in state from one gurdwārā to another. The custom originated in the time of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708) who held first such march at Anandpur on Chet vadī 1, 1757 Bk/22 February 1701.
Unlike Holī during which people playfully sprinkle colour, dry or mixed in water, on each other, the Gurū made it an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles. This was probably done forestalling a grimmer struggle against the imperial power following the battle of Nirmohgaṛh in 1700. Holā Mahallā became an annual tourney held in the open ground near Holgaṛh Fort across the rivulet Charan Gaṅgā, northwest of the town of Anandpur Sāhib. The popularity of this festival may be judged from the fact that out of five Sikh public holidays requested by the Khālsā Dīwān, Lahore, in 1889, government approved two -- Holā Mahallā and the birth anniversary of Gurū Nānak. The festival has now lost much of its original military significance, but Sikhs in large numbers still assemble at Anandpur Sāhib on this day and an impressive and colourful procession is taken out in which the Nihaṅgs in their traditional panoply form the vanguard, parading their skill in the use of arms as also at horsemanship and tent-pegging.
Mahallā on Māghī fair is also observed at Muktsar, sacred to Chālī Mukte, and at Takht Srī Abchalnagar Hazūr Sāhib, Nāndeḍ, in Mahārashṭra. At the latter place, the procession is led by a white horse believed to be a scion of the favourite blue-black stallion of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh.
S. S. Vañjārā Bedī