Express & Star

Colourful martial arts display brought by Sikh Holla Mohalla festival

A colourful display of Sikh martial arts helped to raise community spirits in Smethwick.

Members of Gatka teams run down Smethwick High Street with colourful flares

The Holla Mohalla festival is a major part of the Sikh calendar which allows Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles, promoting physical and mental well-being.

The festival marks the ‘Chardi kala’ or positive state of the Khalsa and started in 1701 after the 10th Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji held the first Holla at Anandpur Sahib, Punjab.

Two Gatka practitioners take a break between matches
Traditional clothes and colours were all parts of the day

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick hosted its first celebration of the festival, welcoming more than 500 members of the community to events along Smethwick High Street in spite of poor weather.

The Gurdwara, which is the largest in western Europe, also ensured provisions were made with the current coronavirus pandemic in mind, with hand sanitisers in place and crowds kept to a minimum around the events.

Many in attendance also paid deferential respect at the Gurdwara, taking part in religious diwans before the festival started and taking refreshment in the Langar Kitchen.

The festival is an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles, promoting physical and mental well-being.

The procession to begin the event started on the beating of the Nagara (war drum) and Ardas (prayer) by the Granthi (minister to the Guru). The Gatka teams then led the Mohalla (religious procession), filling the high street with a range of coloured flares as they paraded to the Gurdwara.

They then engaged in competitive Gatka matches, amazing the crowds present with their skills at the Sikh martial art which involves fighting with wooden sticks used to simulate swords.

A procession was led through the high street prior to the start of the festival
Despite poor weather and the current Coronavirus pandemic, plenty of members of the community attended the festival

Gatka was the main focus of the day, with a tournament taking place, while there also demonstrations of wrestling, mock sword fights, acrobatic military exercises and turban tying.

Ryan Singh, events lead at the Gurdwara, said the celebration was all about giving a small taste of the larger celebrations in India.

A demonstration of Gatka by two young members of the community

He said: “The event was a full celebration of a big part of our calendar. We also wanted to help lift community spirits and give reassurance to everyone that the Gurdwara is here to support people during this uncertain time. Everyone needs to have some happiness and despite the greyness of this time, we hope the event added some colour to the day of those who attended.”