An electric atmosphere seizes you as you set out on the route from Chandigarh to Anandpur Sahib. Tractors, trolleys, bikes - all are heading to witness the three-day festival.
The two-day festival that starts with Holika Dahan sees much excitement, preparations, and of course, fashion which is just fun and festive.
Amidst the whole fun and frolic of Hola Mohalla, the fair sees these incredible Makeshift houses build on tractor/trolleys and even trucks house people from neighbouring villages who make these vehicles their home for the three-day festival.
Langars at Anandpur Sahib
Being at Anandpur Sahib is a real feast, both visually and literally. During Hola Mohalla, it is food that looks for you than the other way round. The langars at Gurudwara and community run kitchens can be found everywhere you go and the people offering this service try to lure you to come and eat at their langar. Lunch, Breakfast, Dinner; these kitchens never sleep, and run as late as 1:00am after midnight. Further, they have special Jalebis & Pakoras with Chai (tea) for snacking if you just want a quick bite. We must have ourselves had Jalebis from almost all of the Gurus’ Langar, and each was absolutely delicious.
At the langars, it is both men and women from various villages who volunteer for cooking, cleaning and serving. Many local and nearby villages had also setup their langars across the main roads calling in for the visitors to come and have a bite. In fact, villages donate flour, vegetables, milk, sugar and other ingredients whole-heartedly as a gesture to share with others.
They believe that these langars are blessed by Guru Nanak Ji and therefore the store is always full and well provided for.
Luckily while we were at the Guru ka langar by Sant baba Harisingh Kaharpuri, those volunteering happily allowed us to visit their cooking area where we could see their grand arrangements for the langar. They also loved posing for us and were full of pride when speaking about their kitchens, and why shouldn’t they be, right? And yes the kitchen here is open 365 days.
Having food at the Anandpur Sahib langar is no less than a spiritual experience! It is said that these langars started from here itself and whoever comes here, is served with food equally, with the same old traditions, which were established by the Guru.
The cult of youth at Holla Mohalla
The festival sees demonstration of skill with weapons and horses, displays of weaponry, and at the week’s end it concludes with a parade attended by youngsters, in their full finery who prepare extensively to look their best at the festival.
The Sikh community are famous worldwide for their vivaciousness and larger than life approach and the same is reflected in the youngsters at the festival too. From reflector sunglasses to latest TV trends, we saw them all at this buzzing venue.
Since they were all dressed up, the young boys at the event were very keen on getting clicked, and we had special requests for pictures almost all the time we spent shooting, “Madam jee ek meri bhi photo khicch laao”.
The bazaars at Holla Mohalla
In the midst of ever the bustling and full of life Holla Mohalla Bazaar we heard, “Sau Rupae, Sau Rupae” (Rupees 100) and immediately turned towards the speaker. There was a stall that was selling everything at a throw-away price of 100! As we looked around, we saw plenty of such shops. It was a mela of sorts. Bright and colourful the bazaar had a totally different flavor of its own.
These street bazaars are seen all across the town during Holla Mohalla in addition to the town markets. They reflect the true flavour of the festival and one can find everything here be it a warrior’s weapon or a child’s toy.
The Nihang dolls and tractor toys are the most popular ones and make the cutest takeaways with a feel of Punjab! We also saw many Nihangs getting their weapons serviced at the bazaars, a yearly maintenance of their tools we guessed.
The lights come on as the sun sets, and these markets appear decked up like a bride…twinkling and festive, they are wonderful to stroll through.
The making of Shardai
Shardai, the traditional drink of Nihang’s that’s also known as Sukhnidhaan is believed to have medicinal cooling properties for the body and mind. The very sip of the brew calms down the mind instantly and it is so addictive you can’t have just one!
During the three days of Holla Mohalla, the grounding of shardai paste or “ragda” takes place at the Shaheedi Bagh. One can see the preparation going on in gigantic vessels (that look so magnificently royal). These are filled with the holy drink to be served to all the Nihang Singhs and everyone who visits the festival. These majestic vessels date back to the times when all the Singh warriors used to stay in Shaheedi Bagh.
The recipe of this divine drink is equally fascinating– juices are extracted from an intensely ground paste of almonds, poppy seeds, melon seeds, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, rose petals with a pinch of the divine herb: Cannabis! This is then referred to as Sukhnidhaan or ‘giver of peace’. According to legend, Bhang was used as a pain killer which helped the Nihang’s ease their pain from injury incurred in the battlefield.
These ground ingredients are then mixed with water, milk and honey. Water used in the drink is fetched from the well at Shaheedi Bagh and is believed to have been blessed by Babaji!