London-based photographer Conor Beary has long pointed his camera at the cultural tribes, sartorial styles and subcultures that make up Britain. He’s captured a traditional Irish Gypsy community riding horses and getting glam for a wedding and Morris dancers celebrating Mayday. He’s spent time with the Dancing Devils of Liberia, photographed security dogs and motocross racers, and witnessed drag racers tear through the mud.
Now, just in time for the Sikh community’s Vaisakhi celebrations that kick ‑off tomorrow, Beary has released Hola Mohalla, a series of photographs documenting the attendees of the festival held at the Gurdwara Panth Parkash temple in Leicester. The three-day event sees religious members sword-fighting, practising martial arts, listening to traditional prayers and eating langar, a community kitchen meal integral to the religion.
“I’ve been shooting different spiritual festivals for a few years now,” Beary says. “I’ve been trying to shoot this particular event for a while, but things kept getting in the way.”
Ever curious, Beary’s time at Hola Mohalla was a proper eye-opening experience. “Loads of swords, bows and arrows, throwing knives and axes… very cool,” the photographer says. “I’m not Sikh, so learning about other cultural practices and histories is always fascinating – as much as you can in a day, anyway!”
Much of the festival centres around Gatka, a traditional form of martial arts originating in the Punjab region of India sometime in the 15th century. These days, it faces some criticism for its open use of weapons such as swords, which are a sacred, symbolic item in Sikhism, metaphorically signifying the destruction of evil.
“I guess it’s the same old story of cultures clashing,” says Beary on the matter. “Education is key. Vaisakhi is just around the corner so I can’t recommend visiting your local Gurdwara more. Check it out.”