A turbaned man, running high on adrenaline by riding three horses simultaneously, becomes more of a daredevil and the centre of attention in a swarm of swelling crowd. The slightest thought of getting crushed under the weight of the oncoming horses running at an alarming speed of nearly 120 km per hour serves little deterrent to stay at a safer distance. This photograph titled Bliss, shot by Delhi-based artist Jagdev Singh and on display as part of the exhibition “Hola Mohalla” at the art gallery at India International Centre, Delhi, offers one of the many sightings at Hola Mohalla, a three day festival celebrated at Keshgarh Sahib in Anandpur, Punjab. The festival has thrived since its inception in 1701.
As Singh describes similar scenes at Anandpur, where one can witness even children riding four horses, he says, “They take much care and precaution. To save the public, they fall off the horses sometimes. They do get injured but they take it in the right spirit.”
Every year millions of visitors throng the streets of Anandpur — evident through Singh’s photographs of overcrowded buses — to be a witness to the holy festival, that includes the display of strength and martial skills of the Sikh community through mock battles fought using swords and bareback horse riding. Forty two-year-old Singh says, “People have very limited view of Hola Mohalla. It is simply considered a procession of Nihangs. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. It was celebrated much before the British rule and under the Mughal influence. Somehow with rural and urban divide it got into latency, which people don’t know about.”
For a festival celebrated a day before the onset of Holi, the photographer has captured the celebrations surrounding the event. As tents are pitched in the nearby vicinity in the countdown to the festival, overflowing with langar day in and day out, Singh brings out the beauty of the traditional martial form of Gatka, making it one of his many protagonists in a photograph of a young boy spinning the wheel. Of the 24 photographs on display is Prince, where the close-up of a young Sikh boy exudes the charisma of someone from a royal family. “In this cosmetic world, where everything is superficial and polished, we have forgotten natural beauty that one is blessed with. The charisma on his face shines here, even in his normal attire, as he sports a turban with metal objects . This is not for any special occasion but his everyday attire that he wears for his unconditional love for the guru,” he says.
Dignity, a photograph where an old man, sports a unique massive round turban, dotted with huge and intricately carved metal objects, was shot by Singh in 2011 and the mystery behind this unusual headgear continues to intrigue him even today. “I always wondered and discussed with my friends what made many others like him throng the streets at the festival, wearing such heavy turbans. I could not ask this man directly but I came to the conclusion that it was out of their love and compassion,” concludes Singh.
The exhibition is on till May 28. Contact: 24619431