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Monday, March 21, 2011

Hola Mohalla: Wishing Sikhs a happier New Year

(Preparing Langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar)
In the wake of post-9/11 anti-Sikh discrimination throughout the world, it is especially important to better understand our Sikh brothers and sisters.

The Nanakshahi calendar was adopted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee in 1998.  This topical-solar calendar is named after the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.  Year one, 1469 CE, is the year of Guru Nanak’s birth; therefore, the Gregorian 2011 CE is Nanakshahi 542.  New Year’s Day annually falls on Guru Nanak’s birthday, which is the Gregorian March 14.

Hola Mohalla is a week-long festival around the time of the Sikh New Year.  The tenth and final human Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, originated this event.  Because he was also a warrior who was highly skilled in horsemanship and combat, the name “Hola Mohalla” derives from military terminology.  According to M. S. Ahluwalia, it involves “an organized procession in the form of an army column…”  According to, it has also been a day of “fun and games.”

At the time, Guru Gobind Singh was fighting against the injustices of political oppression, religious intolerance and the caste system.  His Khalsa initiation ritual included these words:  From now on, you have become casteless…  In your new order, the lowest will rank with the highest and each will be to the other a bhai (brother)…  Women shall be the equal of men in every way…  My Khalsa shall always defend the poor…  He considered himself of equal footing with the rest of the Khalsa (Pure Ones), and even asked some members whom he had initiated to initiate him in turn.

Therefore, a key part of Hola Mohalla tradition includes the langar (free kitchen).  The langar, originally instituted by Guru Nanak, symbolizes equality for all.  People of all castes, colors, creeds, genders, and ages eating together was revolutionary in 16th-century India (and, in many places around the world, still is today).  This communal sharing is a living expression of the Oneness that is extolled in the Guru Granth Sahib. 

Langars continue to be a routine part of Sikh life.  At Gurdwaras, food is typically served twice a day, every
day.  All are welcome.  There are also open-air langars.  According to Wikipedia, some dining halls in Delhi
“prepare between 50,000 and 70,000 meals per day.”  The work is done by Sewadars (volunteers), and the
food is all donated. 

This Sikh prayer shows the priority that is placed on these compassionate efforts:  May the hot plates of the langars remain ever in service.


Copyright March 21, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

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