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British military Sikhs make colourful contribution to Festival of Holla Mahalla

Military personnel from the Defence Sikh Network (DSN) have taken part in their version of the Sikh military festival of Holla Mahalla at the Ash firing range in Surrey.

Holla Mahalla brings together Sikhs from all walks of life and is a time for celebration, reflection, and strengthening community bonds. The activities and events during the festival not only entertain and engage the participants but also serve as a reminder of the Sikh values of courage, service, and spiritual devotion.

Traditionally held in March, the event which dates to the 10th century, celebrates the Sikh’s military prowess and where their skills are exhibited in fierce but good-natured competition.

Sikhs are also renowned for their marksmanship, so a shooting competition took centre stage at Ash Ranges near Aldershot with those taking aim and hoping to top the leader board.

Event Organiser, Major Daljinder Singh Virdee MBE, Land Operations Command, Field Army: 

“It has been a jam-packed day of both modern and traditional activities, steeped in Sikh military history for personnel from across the British Army. The competitive shooting competition from various distances and positions was fiercely contested. Followed by a Sikh martial arts display, Sikh folk music (Dhad Sarangi) and traditional games.”

Sikhs have fought alongside the British Armed Forces for over 150 years.

Over 400,000 served in World War One and Two, and there were many regiments of Sikhs who won battle honours and multiple Victoria Cross’.

Over 84,000 died and over 100 thousand were injured during the two conflicts.

This legacy of valour has carried on to the present day where Sikh’s proudly serve in armed forces across the world. The UK MoD has ensured that Sikh characteristics are protected, meaning they can serve in the UK Armed Forces and fully practice their faith.

it is an opportunity to celebrate our rich military past and ensure our martial skills, traditions and values continue for generations to come Major Daljinder Singh Virdee MBE

Sikhs have served in the British Army since the 1800s, and with many Sikh regiments in the British Army, they won many battle honours including Victoria Crosses like Naik Gian Singh in Burma.

During the festival, participants also took part in traditional games, like Tug-of-War and Quoits (a game where you throw rings over a small post). Both events dating back many centuries and ones that their Sikh military forebears would have taken part in.

Initiated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji (10th Guru of the Sikhs) Hola Mahalla, evokes within the community the spirit of courage, preparation, and heritage. The DSN began celebrating Holla Mohalla in the British Army in 2021

Added Major Virdee:

“As Sikhs within the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) it makes complete sense that this is our premier event in the calendar, it is an opportunity to celebrate our rich military past and ensure our martial skills, traditions and values of Sant Siphai-Saint Soldier, continue for generations to come”.

The British Army has come a long way over a short period of time and it’s good to see that it is inclusive of people from different faiths, backgrounds and cultures.” Captain Brijinder Singh Nijjar
7 Regiment Army Air Corps

Holla Mahalla holds great significance in the Sikh faith as it is not only a time for festivities but also a platform for showcasing and inspiring the martial spirit and valour of the Sikh community.

Apache Pilot, Captain Brijinder Singh Nijjar from 7 Regiment Army Air Corps was one of those taking part in the day’s friendly competitions:

“The British Army has come a long way over a short period of time and it’s good to see that it is inclusive of people from different faiths, backgrounds and cultures.”

He added:

“Many of the Sikh principles like, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty and self-respect all line up really well with the British Army values and our way of life is quite suited to military life. We are soldiers first and our beliefs are well catered for and supported through the Chain of Command and Defence Sikh Network.”

The Defence Sikh Network is the official organisation within the UK Ministry of Defence, supporting inclusion from a Sikh perspective. They are primarily an employee support group with the aim to improve the experience of Sikhs within the MOD. Additionally, they aid in MOD policy development and engagement with the UK Sikh community.

We are soldiers first and our beliefs are well catered for and supported through the Chain of Command and Defence Sikh Network. Captain Brijinder Singh Nijjar
7 Regiment Army Air Corps

The day ended with the cultural tradition of Rang, where all those present were invited to throw brightly coloured neon powders at one another in celebration of the day. 

Signaller Sharanveer Singh Hira, Royal Corps of Signals, joined the Army in 2022. He spoke of the significance of the day:

“It’s important to have events like this so that we can bring Sikhs from across the Army, from different regiments and Corps together and celebrate our unique culture and heritage.”

Lieutenant General Charles Collins DSO OBE, Commander Home Command and Standing Joint Command (UK) and also the Army Race Champion said:

“Sikhs have a longstanding and proud tradition of military service and sacrifice in the British Army. This event was an opportunity for serving Sikhs to celebrate their rich martial traditions and culture in the British Army today. As the Army Race Champion, we are proud to have a diverse Army, with the best talent from across society.”

It’s important to have events like this so that we can bring Sikhs from across the Army, from different regiments and Corps together and celebrate our unique culture and heritage Signaller Sharanveer Singh Hira,
Royal Corps of Signals

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