HOLA MAHALLA or simply Hola, a Sikh festival, takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chef which usually falls in March. This follows the Hindu festival of Holi. The name Hola is the masculine form of the feminine sounding Holi. Mahalla, derived from the Arabic root hal (alighting, descending), is a Punjabi word signifying an organized procession in the form of an army column accompanied by wardrums and standard bearers and proceeding to a given spot or moving in state from one gurudwara to another. The custom originated in the time of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) who held first such march at Anandpur on Chef vadi 1, 1757 Bk/22 February 1701.
Unlike Holi during which people playfully sprinkle colour, dry or mixed in water, on each other, the Guru made it an occassion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles.This was probably done forestalling a grimmer struggle against the imperial power following the battle of Nirmohgarh in 1700. Hola Mahalla became an annual tourney held in the open ground near Holgarh Fort across the rivulet Charan Gariga, northwest of the town of Anandpur Sahib. The popularity of this festival may be judged from the fact that out of five Sikh public holidays requested by the Khalsa Diwan, Lahore, in 1889, government approved two Hola Mahalla and the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
The festival has now lost much of its original military significance, but Sikhs in large numbers still assemble at Anandpur Sahib on this day and an impressive and colourful procession is taken out in which the Nihangs in their traditional panoply form the vanguard, parading their skill in the use of arms as also at horsemanship and tent pegging. Mahalla on Maghi fair is also observed at Muktsar, sacred to Chali Mukte, and at Takht Sri Abchalnagar Hazur Sahib, Nanded, in Maharashtra. At the latter place, the procession is led by a white horse believed to be a scion of the favourite blue black stallion of Guru Gobind Singh.