Hola Mahalla (also Hola Mohalla or simply Hola) is a Sikh festival which begins on the first day of the lunar month of Chet in the Nanakshahi calendar. It most often falls in March, and sometimes coincides with the Sikh New Year. The festival lasts for a week, and consists of camping out and enjoying various displays of fighting prowess and bravery, followed by kirtan, music, and poetry. For meals, visitors sit on the ground in neat rows called pangats and eat vegetarian Langars provided by volunteers. The festival concludes with a long, military-style procession near Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five most sacred places in Sikhism.
Bhai Kahan Singh, who compiled the Mahan Kosh (the first Sikh encyclopedia) at the turn of the 20th century, explained, "Hola is derived from the word halla (a military charge) and the term mohalla stands for an organized procession or an army column. The words 'Hola Mohalla' would thus stand for 'the charge of an army.'" Dr. M.S. Ahluwalia notes that the related Punjabi term mahalia (which was derived from the Arabic root hal, meaning to alight or descend) refers to "an organized procession in the form of an army column accompanied by war drums and standard-bearers, and proceeding to a given location or moving in state from one Gurdwara to another."
Hola is a masculine term, meant to be distinguished from the more feminine Holi; the Hindu spring festival of Holi takes place the day before Hola Mahalla. Hola may have been originally created to distract Sikhs from Holi, which is also known as the Festival of Colours and commonly considered the most energetic of Indian festivals.
The event was originated by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru. The Guru was in the midst of fighting both Aurangzeb of the Mughal Empire and the Hill Rajputs, and had recently established the Khalsa Panth fighting force. On February 22, 1701, Guru Gobind Singh started a new tradition by overseeing a day of mock battles and poetry contests at Holgarh Fort. The tradition has since spread from the town of Anandpur Sahib to nearby Kiratpur Sahib and the foothills of the Shivaliks, and to other Gurdwaras around the world.