hola mahalla

Horses of Hola

This short documentary offers a little snapshot of the Hola Mahalla festival. If you have the privilege of attending be careful of where you stand - you don't want to be in the path of galloping horses!!! 

This video and write up are part of an ongoing series exploring Hola Mahalla and the Sikh diaspora. Footage from the Hola Mahalla documentary has been used for this short documentary. 

There are more documentaries and short films coming soon so keep an eye out on the website and various social media channels. 

To help support this project and the original Sikhi related content we produce, please use the DONATE button below. We greatly appreciate your support!

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Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually, in India with an estimated attendance of over a million people travelling to see the week long festival. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

The festival was established in the 17th century in Anandpur Sahib, the 'City of Bliss'. It is celebrated during the Indian month of Chet, which falls in spring during either March or April. 

Initiated by Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Sikh Guru), Hola Mohalla, which means ‘mock fight’, was used to ensure Sikhs were spiritually and physically ready for battle. The festival was an integral part of Sikh and Punjabi culture in India, encouraging Sikhs to come together to maintain their martial skills and participate in spiritualism. Traditionally the festival held such importance that all Sikhs were required to attend and those who did not were assumed to have merged with God.These days people attend the festival to witness two distinct activities the Sikh martial art of Gatka and the horse stunts that vary from a basic level to advanced. For example standing on a horse whilst it is stationary. It is said that this technique was used in the past during battles. Senior officials such as generals of the enemy would be on elephants and Sikhs would attempt to climb up the giant animal by standing on their own horse. 

The more skilled Nihangs have developed this technique further and utilised it whilst riding two horses. The riders are stood on each horse with their bare feet and either hold the reins in their hands or in between their teeth. Its all quite dangerous especially when spectators try to get a closer look and stand in the path of galloping horses!!!

Stepping back in Time

When I was at Anandpur filming the Hola Mahalla documentary, a horse came galloping past with a young woman on its back. I'd spent all day filming different people but not seen any women horse riders so I quickly tried to film as much of her as I could.

A week or two later I bumped into the young woman, Harsangat Kaur at Harimandir Sahib, Amritsar along with Angad Singh and few new friends. Harsangat now goes by the name Raj Kaur and I eventually got to interview her about the festival. She provides a brilliant first hand account of Hola Mahalla, I loved the energy that she was able to get across recounting her story.

This video and write up are part of an ongoing series exploring Hola Mahalla and the Sikh diaspora. There are more documentaries and short films coming soon so keep an eye out on the website and various social media channels. 

Below is a write up of the interview with Raj Kaur.


I only knew some of the history of it, but I've never been there so I didn't know the experience, but I remember driving there and seeing all these people. People on the backs of lorries, trucks and tractors coming to Anandpur Sahib, that was so cool. I just thought it was a family affair. You know, in the west “yeah we're going in our RV and going camping" but it was kind of like that.

 

When I got to Anandpur Sahib, I was like “Wow' the energy of it was just... Yeah when I saw your film it just reminded me of all the energy. 

I was with a group of people who had been there many times. So we're going through the procession and I saw horses and I was like “oh man”. Cos' I've been riding since I was five years old and you know... all I wanted to do was jump on somebodies horse the whole entire time I'm just staring at the horse like “when am I going to ride? Can someone get me a horse?”. “Yeah, yeah penji we'll let you ride later”, you know its like whatever. But I was really serious and I'm very stubborn sometimes. So I had to repeat myself a lot of the times but being in that energy though with the Singhs it felt like it was back in time, you know like in a story book of the history of the Sikhs. 

 

We got into the field, it was all these horses running past and it was you know - really dangerous not knowing where you're going, theres no orgnisation at all.

I knew a couple of Singhs, still there. They were like "oh here's a horse" but it was a huge horse. This horse... nobody was riding it... it was kind of showcased, like "oh look at this huge amazing horse".

It was probably one of the biggest horses I've ever gotten on. So he jumps onto his back legs. Twice!!!  

I'm like "alright, now I know what I'm working with".  So I remember the horse, he goes down the second time, decides to turn around and RUN!!! Just full on race horse running. Not galloping, not canter, just run!!!

I was like "okay full throttle". There's all these people all over the field and I was like "oh my god".

I knew a certain method of stopping a horse on that kind of issue by my own trial and error, working with horses like that and so I stopped the horse. 

 

I was kind of shaken up a little bit. It was a powerful horse. I felt really honored. It was a beautiful experience and next year I rode again, but this time I raced. No one got me a horse, I still had to go to try and get another horse and five minutes before I got a horse and ran down the field, you know, with all the other Singhs this time and by Gurus Grace I was alright.  


Check out more interviews on the website exploring the Sikh diaspora with visual artist Rupy Tut, free spirited painter Jag Lall and Australian Sikh rapper L-FRESH The LION.

 

 

Dhol Workshops at the National Media Musuem celebrating Hola Mahalla

During Hola Mahalla a Nagar Kirtan (procession) starts from the main bazaar in Anandpur Sahib and travels all the way to a ground where various sports events take place. Nagar Kirtans feature a chorus of drummers announcing the procession. Traditionally they would be Nagara drums, large double drums thunderously announcing to the world the presence of royalty going into battle. This can be seen in the Hola Nahalla exhibition at the National Media Museum in Bradford from 26 February through to 17 April. 

Nagara drum on a horse during hola mahalla hola mohalla

 

These days Dhol players also form part of Nagar Kirtans. To celebrate the the Hola Mahalla festival, the exhibition and the 'Make Some Noise' science week, Dhol workshops and performances were organised at the National Media Museum carried out by Soul Asia Academy | Drum Fusion. It was received well and drew in great numbers.

Below are some pictures from the event.

Photos Darshan Singh

Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually in Anandpur, India. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism.

This documentary focuses on the festival Hola Mahalla that has been running since the 17th century, showcasing skills such as swordsmanship and daring horse stunts that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

Featuring key interviews with Nihang Jatherdar (High Priest) Baba Nihal Singh and Kesgarh Sahib Jathedar, Late Giani Tirlochan Singh. This beautifully shot film takes the viewer on a journey through the festival and Anandpur Sahib, the "City of Bliss", providing a snapshot into a world rarely experienced outside of India and exploring this Forgotten Festival.

National Media Museum Bradford Exhibition

image.jpg

The Hola Mahalla exhibition is being shown at the National Media Museum in Bradford from 26 February through to 17 April, on the ground floor opposite the IMAX Cinema.

Using a combination of prints and audio visual content, the exhibition takes the audience on a journey through this unique festival.

At the bottom of this page is a trailer for the documentary film 'Hola Mahalla: The Forgotten Festival' extracts of which will feature in the exhibition.

The film can be ordered on DVD here or to watch on VOD here.

DATES

EXHIBITION: 26 FEBRUARY - 17 APRIL 2016

Open Daily 10am to 6pm

Weekends 10am to 5pm

LATES EVENING: THURSDAY 17 MARCH 2016

6.30pm to 9.30pm

A FREE ticketed event that featured a variety of music performances throughout the night including Dhol players kicking the evening off, live bands, talks and countless other events.

 

Lates is a night of FREE entertainment for over 18's; where you can relax, have fun and experience exclusive shows, activities and talks and access to the museum and its many exhibitions during the evening.

MAKE SOME NOISE-FAMILY WEEKEND 19/20 MARCH 2016

10am to 4pm.

Clap your hands, stomp your feet and prepare your ears, the National Media Museum is about to MAKE SOME NOISE!

Join us to find out how sounds are made, how we hear them and all the amazing ways we can play with sound.

Discover how technology can make sound incredibly fun, and create weird and wonderful noises that you have never heard before.

Free Dhol Workshops

Free Dhol Workshops were held over the weekend.

Workshop Times: 11.30am, 1.30pm 2.30pm

Dhol Performances intermittently from 10am to 4pm.

For more information about the Make Some Noise-Family Weekend click here.

 

Address

 

National Media Museum,
Bradford,
West Yorkshire,
BD1 1NQ

 

Contact

Tel: 0844 856 3797
Email: talk@nationalmediamuseum.org.uk
Opening hours: 08:30 - 17:00 (Monday - Friday), 10:00 - 17:00 (Saturday) 

Hola Mahalla is a little known Sikh festival that takes place annually in Anandpur, India. Dubbed the Sikh Olympics, it involves sword fights, daring horse stunts and a dab of spiritualism.

This documentary focuses on the festival Hola Mahalla that has been running since the 17th century, showcasing skills such as swordsmanship and daring horse stunts that are with an ever decreasing number of nomadic Sikhs.

Featuring key interviews with Nihang Jatherdar (High Priest) Baba Nihal Singh and Kesgarh Sahib Jathedar, Late Giani Tirlochan Singh. This beautifully shot film takes the viewer on a journey through the festival and Anandpur Sahib, the "City of Bliss", providing a snapshot into a world rarely experienced outside of India and exploring this Forgotten Festival.