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Shiva Devotees

As a mark of faith and devotion, Kanwariyas are often received with warmth and affection by locals they meet along their journey with elaborate arrangements being made for their food and shelter in makeshift tents.

SNS | New Delhi |

The Indian month of Shravan corresponding roughly from mid-July till mid-August is considered most propitious for the worship of Lord Shiva. Apart from the annual trekking by the devout to the holy cave of Amarnath in Kashmir for having ‘darshan’ of the legendary ice lingam of Lord Shiva, it is also that time of the year when the annual pilgrimage of Shiva devotees, known as ‘Kanwariyas’, takes place with much fanfare, mainly in North India and parts of the Gangetic plains.

Delhi sees a heavy influx of such devouts invading the city during this time en route to their respective homes, throwing road traffic off gear and with its concomitant irritants often causing serious disturbance to normal life of the citizens. The Kanwariyas undertake the arduous ‘Kanwar Yatra’ on foot, wherein they travel to holy places of Haridwar, Gaumukh and Gangotri in Uttarakhand and Sultanganj in Bihar to fetch sacred waters of River Ganga and bring them on their shoulders carried on bamboo sticks, to their local Shiva temples.

As a mark of faith and devotion, Kanwariyas are often received with warmth and affection by locals they meet along their journey with elaborate arrangements being made for their food and shelter in makeshift tents. While faith enables the young and old alike to undertake the tiring journey on foot with blistering soles, modern day Kanwariyas prefer to travel in motorised vehicles with a lot of fanfare and blaring loudspeakers belting out popular Hindi film numbers alongside Shiv Bhajans.

For many, it’s not the devotion but the sheer adventure that matters. However, over the past few years, the holy ritual of the annual pilgrimage has often been marred by incidents of hooliganism and violence, often perpetrated by members of the Kanwar Yatra.

To make matters worse, incidents of police and local administration – particularly in Uttar Pradesh – giving the Kanwariyas a ‘VVIP treatment’ have become a common affair. Of late, there have been several incidents when participants of Kanwar Yatra have taken part in brazen violence and hooliganism, sometimes even in the presence of the police who prefer to look the other way.