Kanwar Yatra is a pilgrimage done in the month of sravan by the devotees of lord shiva. These devotees carry vessels for filling holy waters of river Ganges from Haridwar, Gaumukh, and Gangotri and do Hindu ritual called abhishekam to holy shrines of Lord Shiva in Varanasi, Nasik, and other prominent places like Deoghar including local Shiva temples. The devotees belonging to a specific community called Kanwar to do this pilgrimage on foot in a large number of processions. Some other prominent temples they worship during this pilgrimage are Baidyanath, Augornath temple at Meerut, and temples at Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Bihar, and Jharkhand.
History and significance
In an earlier 19th century, this pilgrimage came into limelight. The Kanwar Yatra means a group of people carrying holy waters like Ganges or waters from equivalent rivers in vessels suspended on both sides using a pole by walking thousands of miles and offer them to Lord Shiva or Bhole Nath. Most of the British travelers wrote about the Kanwar Pilgrimage in their books as the holy pilgrimage for the shrines in North Indian plains. This pilgrimage is considered as the largest religious gathering after Kumbh Mela.
After the 1980s, this pilgrimage gained popularity and achieved a record of the largest gathering for a pilgrimage in India after the Kumbh Mela. According to the statistics in 2010 and 2011, nearly 12 million pilgrims will participate in this pilgrimage every year. This journey is organized to resemble the holy occasion of churning the ocean by demons and the celestial bodies and the day Lord Shiva gulped poison. In 2010 and 2011 heavy security was imposed by the Government as a precaution during this procession on Delhi- Haridwar Highway.
Kanwar Yatra From Delhi To Haridwar And Back
Kanwar Yatra is a commitment by the pilgrims during the monsoon months, especially in July and August. The devotees wear saffron robes and generally travel on foot or some do the journey by bicycle. This pilgrimage is carried out mostly by men and some women also carry out this pilgrimage. During this sacred journey, thousands of pilgrims carry holy water from Gaumukh, Gangotri, and Haridwar and offer abhishekam to the Shiva temples in their native places as a mark of thanksgiving. It is believed that Ravana first offered holy waters from the Ganges to Lord Shiva to reduce the toxic effect of poison.
The organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad offer assistance like medical aid, food, and temporary shelters to the pilgrims throughout the season. It is mandatory to travel a distance of 105km from their native place to river Ganges and return to their native place to offer abhishekam to Lord Shiva. Earlier this pilgrimage was confined to older devotees, rich people, and saints but the number of pilgrims is growing year by year. It is mandatory that when the pilgrims reach their native place, they need to offer the holy waters to Lord Shiva on new moon day of the month of Shravan or on Mahashivratri.
It is a truly spiritual experience to be part of such a devotional journey. I have captured the essence of this travel and the happenings of pandals or shelters arranged for these pilgrims.
They showcase the vibrance of the Kanwar yatra and the change of experience the humans go through when they are just focused on the goal of serving lord Shiva.
In earlier 1980s the Kanwar Yatra was confined to a group of pilgrims but in the recent past the number of pilgrims grown to millions. The government declared a holiday to schools in Delhi on August 5th to 9th 2018 to provide security for Kanwar Yatra pilgrims.