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Above: Twins Harpreet and Jaspal. Photos by Narendra Bisht.

Sports

Electric Blue:
Hola Mohalla in Anandpur

PRIYADARSHINI SEN

 

 

 




Anandpur Sahib -- the little town in Roopnagar district of Punjab with the River Sutlej a shimmering blue presence on its south-west border -- is painted yellow-orange for Hola Mohalla, the spring festival of colours.

The Nihangs (Sikh warrior-mendicants) with their distinctive electric-blue robes and quoits of steel tiered in their lofty turbans, are battle-ready. Mock fights with real weapons, swordplay (gatkas) and bareback horse-riding in simulated battles enliven the vibrant Sikh fiesta.

Devotees in pangats (long queues) congregate at gurdwaras for rich and aromatic langars (crammed full with succulent jalebis, wholesome paranthas and milky lassis), while some Nihangs imbibe on the forbidden bhang (crushed and taken as a liquid or baked into cookies) as well as a concocted drink at their camps.

Hay-stacked trucks and tractors serve as homes, while camps-outs are comfort dens.

To underscore the tradition of horsemanship and bring an international flavour to the carnival, polo player Vikram Singh has introduced a spectacular four-day arena polo tournament -- to enthuse rural folk who have an inherent love for horses and dazzle visitors with the visual grandeur.

The unassuming grounds of the Khalsa Senior Secondary School, dressed in its Sunday best in colourful banners and awnings, is the venue for the new event on the festival calendar.

Eminent dignitaries and foreigners sporting chic apparel occupy the spruced-up bleachers, while curious onlookers watch from over the boundary walls. High tea and stilettos are a break from the traditional charpais and langars that serve the rest of town.

The stage is admirably set for a royal sport.

Here, the 25 magnificent stallions shipped all the way from Delhi (each costs over Rs 2.5 million) are the stars of the day till the nail-biting finish. Vikram Singh, himself a polo player of international repute, who’s also one of the first civilians to field his own team, has been in the arena for 35 years.

“The idea is to get more people interested in the sport and also in Anandpur Sahib as an international tourist destination by focusing on its history, tradition and heritage, especially youngsters,” he says.

It was here at Anandpur Sahib that Guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa by choosing the ‘Punj Pyaarey’ (The Five Beloved Ones), hence launching the order of the saint-soldiers.

The Nihangs, now a bit of an anachronism, still live by the old warrior code, and gather in thousands at the historic town during Hola Mohalla to display their repertoire of martial skills and orchestrated derring-do.

At one of their meets, we caught up with Harpreet Singh, a young American who converted to Sikhism eight years ago. Wearing a large chakram around his neck, iron bracelets around his wrists and a turban fitted with a khanda that can also be used as a weapon, he speaks to us in fluent Punjabi.

“I was born to be a Nihang. It was like an inner calling; I can’t even recall my life before this.”

Soon after, he joins the procession that passes through bazaars, goes to village Agampur and reaches the fort of Lohgarh -- where the fair was held in Guru Gobind Singh’s days. In the final hours, they converge on a huge mela ground, where the fair culminates in a superb display of horse-riding, wrestling and sword-wielding, to the lusty applause of a rapturous crowd.


[Courtesy: Outlook. Edited for sikhchic.com]
March 29, 2014



 

Conversation about this article

1: Kaala Singh (Punjab), April 03, 2014, 10:23 PM.

Martial traditions alone are not enough unless backed by political and economic vision. Sikhs should recognize the drawbacks of the past and build such institutions that provide a vision for the community and work for the community, unlike the stooges who have misled us time and again.

2: Kaala Singh (Punjab), April 06, 2014, 4:12 AM.

This is the age of drones and electronic warfare, swords and spears are of little use. While it is important to preserve old traditions, Sikhs should change with the times and move on to training themselves in the latest weaponry.

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Hola Mohalla in Anandpur"









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