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Festivals A True Tale Of Hola Mohalla Sword Play


Jun 1, 2004
A True Tale of Hola Mohalla Sword Play

Tuesday March 9, 2010

Originally titled "Foot Loose and Fancy Free," and revised by permission of Guru Khalsa, this is a true tale of Gatka sword play. It describes a type of event which may be seen during Hola Mohalla, a Sikh Festival dating back to the seventeenth century which features Gatka, the dance of the sword, and the martial history of Sikhism.

Though not careful with his feet
Oh! His sword cut true and sweet!

A very committed group of young people, led by their Gatka Master, give a performance for the thousands of Sikh devotees who come to California for the Hola Mohalla and other Nagar Keertan processions each year.

Even after four hours on the move, rain or shine, they are still jumping, whirling their chakar, and dueling with swords, enthusiastically demonstrating their developing art. From the smallest 6 year old to the tallest Master who towers well over 6 feet, they put on quite a show.

Young Singhni (Sikh girls) proudly dance the steps they've learned, turning, spinning, marching, the skirts of their chola whirling, their smiling faces glow, eyes sparkling like the glint of a twirling sword's sharpened edge.

One year they held an extra special event, witnessed by this one:

One Singhni adorned with a black dastar (turban) wound round her head, lay down on the ground. Someone placed a shield beneath her for a pillow. Behind her a young boy sat with his head bent to expose his neck. In front of her a man sat with his face to the sun, unmoving. Another, well forgive me, but I'm not a Gatka Master, sat somewhere to her side, and I don't remember EXACTLY where they put that banana!

The girl balanced a banana on her belly, aligned lengthwise with her body. A banana lay draped across the neck of the boy behind her. The man's face sported no banana on his nose. I still don't remember where they put other banana? Maybe it will come to me.

Someone led a Singh (Sikh man) to the center of the crowd craning their necks to see, and fitted a double blind fold over his eyes. He raised his hands to receive a sword from a member of the Gatka troupe. Drummers began beating rhythmically upon their Dholka (a kind of drum). Just then a semi truck at the head of the waiting procession sounded its diesel horn, "Honnnnnnnk... move along". The Gatka troupe leaders raised their hands to silence it motioning, "Please, patience, for just a few minutes." The horn sounded again, "Beeeeeeeeeeep... get going" eager to disperse the event taking place directly in front of its decorated cab. The leaders signaled the driver to be still, insisting the demonstration should be allowed.

They led the blindfolded Gatka Master through a sequence of steps, from banana on the belly, to banana on the neck, to no banana on the nose. I could see his fingers trembling as he traced the nose from one side to the other. The horn blasted just as he reached out to feel the position of the last banana. Perhaps that's why I can't remember just where that banana happened to be.

The Master began twirling his sword and waving it around. The crowd fell back alarmed that it had swung a little tooo close for comfort. The girl lying on the shield looked a little concerned, the observers laughed nervously. The Master started his dance. Ummm, his steps seemed a little loose, not tight like those in the demonstration I had witnessed at a smagham (gathering) the previous year. He bumped into the shield with his feet, kicking up dust. The girl raised her head, and then laid it back down on the shield. Continuing the dance, sword waving wildly, one of his feet hit the side of her dastar. She raised her head alarmed! The troupe leader rushed in and pushed her head flat implying, "Under no circumstances move your head again, or you might lose it!"

The Master danced, stepping back, sword flashing within an inch of the boys face. Then suddenly, "Thwack!" The banana split and fell in two pieces from the little Singh's neck, who scrambled to his feet and ran. The Master lifted the sword to his lips and like a lover kissed the blade. Then the sword flasher, dashed off again, in another footloose and fancy free maneuver. I really hate to admit it, but my mind cannot remember the exact position of that banana in question, but never mind, the sword knew and struck true. "SLICE," the halved banana fell in two, and the one relieved of the banana fell back into the crowd. The master planted another kiss on his sword.

He slowed his step inching carefully over to dancie cautiously around the nose with no banana. He halted and stood completely still. I could see him trembling. He swung his sword, twirling and flashing it so that it came precisely within an inch and a half (I am a precision Tile setting Master, I do know my fractions of the inch!) of the nose, spinning, whirling! The nose never wavered, its owner sat as though carved in stone. That one had nerve! Then the sword began to caress the nose lingering like a lover, tracing the face from nose to ear and back, first on one side and then the other. The hand holding the sword vibrated all the while, shaking from nervousness, or perhaps the energy coursing through its owner. The teasing sword outlined the curve of the nose, trailing its point over the bridge, between the eyes, and back again to the ear. The Master lifted the blade pressing it to his lips in a prayerful plea, "Kiss... I love you my faithful sword. You never let me down... Smack, smooch... my love." He swung the blade over his head.

Dancing wildly in a dervish like frenzy, sword gyrating madly, his feet felt their way to the girl lying on the shield. A sudden thrust sliced through the air down and up again as quickly! The banana bounced off of her belly, split perfectly in half. She raised her head again! (I learned years later that though she had bruised from the impact, not so much as a fiber of her apparel came to harm.) He kissed his sword giving thanks, "My beauty, my Guru, my sweet, true sword."

Off came the blindfold, the diesel started up. My bhainjee (spiritual sister) and I ran through the crowd after the sword master wanting to offer our "Fateh", and respectfully reach for the feet which had danced so carelessly, and salute the sword so true, hoping to look deep into the eyes of one the unseen sees through, and get just a glimpse of the view!

YouTube- A different form of Gatka

Reference: A True Tale of Hola Mohalla Sword Play


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Shabad Vichaar by SPN'ers

ਧਨਾਸਰੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥

ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਅਪਨਾ ਸੀਤਲ ਤਨੁ ਮਨੁ ਛਾਤੀ ॥ ਰੂਪ ਰੰਗ ਸੂਖ ਧਨੁ ਜੀਅ ਕਾ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਮੋਰੈ ਜਾਤੀ ॥੧॥
ਰਸਨਾ ਰਾਮ ਰਸਾਇਨਿ ਮਾਤੀ ॥ ਰੰਗ ਰੰਗੀ ਰਾਮ ਅਪਨੇ ਕੈ ਚਰਨ ਕਮਲ ਨਿਧਿ ਥਾਤੀ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

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