Explained: The Kanwar Yatra, the legend of Lord Shiva and the Samudra Manthan

After a two-year gap because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kanwar Yatra is set to kickstart today. This year, more than four crore devotees ...

After a two-year gap because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kanwar Yatra is set to kickstart today. This year, more than four crore devotees (kanwariyas) are expected to participate in the pilgrimage from across the country and abroad. They travel to pilgrimage places like Haridwar, Gaumukh, Gangotri in Uttarakhand, Sultanganj in Bihar, Prayagraj, Ayodhya and Varanasi from Uttar Pradesh.

What is the yatra?

The Kanwar Yatra, also known as “Kavad”, is an annual pilgrimage of the devotees of Lord Shiva organised during the Hindu month of Shravan. The yatra derives its name from the word ‘kanvar’ – a bamboo pole to which containers of holy water are tied at opposite ends. Devotees carry them on their shoulders as they walk barefoot for days, covering a distance of hundreds of kilometres

Devotees travel to the pilgrimage sites to fetch the waters of the Ganga or other holy rivers. They then tie the two pitchers to the pole, which they carry on their backs, as they travel across different states. The water is offered to Shiva temples, including the 12 Jyotirlingas across India and other shrines like the Pura Mahadev Mandir and Augharnath in Uttar Pradesh, the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple, and the Baba Baidyanath Temple in Deoghar, Jharkhand. Devotees often carry the holy water to offer at temples in their towns and villages.

The yatra commences on the first day of Shravan and culminates on Chaturdashi Tithi, the 14th day during the waning phase of the lunar cycle. This year, it will begin on 14 July and end on Shravan Shivratri which falls on 26 July.

What are the origins of the Kanwar Yatra?

The legend goes back to ‘Samudra Manthan’, the churning of the ocean. During the Manthan, many divine beings emerged from the ocean including amrit (elixir) and halahala (lethal poison). The gods and the asuras (demons) panicked as the world started burning and turned to Lord Shiva for help. He consumed the poison so that all the worlds – heaven, earth, and hell – would not be destroyed.

As Shiva downed the poison, his wife Parvati grabbed his throat to contain it and prevent it from entering the rest of his body. His throat turned blue and that’s why he is also called Neelkanth – the one with the blue throat. The poison was potent and it still affected Shiva’s body. To reduce the effect, Ganga water was offered to Shiva and the practice continues to this day.

Another version of the story says that it was Ravana, a devout follower of Lord Shiva, who poured the holy water of the Ganga on a linga in Pura Mahadev, thus offering a balm of sorts to the God.

Ganga and Shiva have an association. It is said that the river emerges from the locks of the god.

During the yatra, devotees walk barefoot with pitchers of holy water from the Ganga or other holy rivers, which is then offered to temples of Lord Shiva. PTI

When was the first yatra undertaken?

According to Hindu mythology, Lord Parshuram, a fervent devotee of Lord Shiva, undertook the first Kanwar Yatra. While passing through Pura in present-day Uttar Pradesh, he decided to lay the foundation for a temple dedicated to the deity. He offered Ganga water every Monday during Sharvan for worship.

What are traditions followed by pilgrims?

Many pilgrims believe that once the pot is filled with holy water it should not touch the ground. While carrying the water, devotees walk barefoot; some complete the pilgrimage by lying flat on the ground.

Some devotees shower every time they eat or relieve themselves. Many observe fasts during the pilgrimage and the consumption of food, water, and salt is restricted.

The kanwariyas call each other “Bhole” – Lord Shiva is also known as Bholenath – and chant slogans in praise of the deity. They usually wear saffron robes.

Which are the main pilgrim centres?

A large number of devotees from western UP, Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi travel to Gangotri, Gaumukh, and Haridwar in Uttarakhand. Pilgrims from Ayodhya and nearby districts go to Sultanganj in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district. They collect Gangajal and travel to Baba Baidyanath Dham in Deoghar, Jharkhand to offer the holy water to Lord Shiva, according to a report in The Indian Express. Some go to Baba Basukinath Dham in Jharkhand’s Dumka district.

Devotees collect water from the Saryu river in Ayodhya and then visit the Kshireshwar Mahadev Temple; others go to Varanasi and offer the holy water at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The Lodheshwar Temple in UP’s Barabanki.

This form of worshipping Lord Shiva has significance in the places around the Ganga. An important festival with similarities to the Kanwar yatra, called the Kavadi festival, is celebrated in Tamil Nadu, in which Lord Muruga is worshipped, reports The Indian Express.

Devotees visit Pura Mahadeva and Augharnath Temple in Meerut, Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and Baidyanath Dham in Deoghar, Jharkhand, among other Shiva shrines. PTI

What are the arrangements being made this year?

In a first, the Delhi Police set up a passenger registration system for the upcoming pilgrimage. Devotees will be able to register themselves on the website “kavad.delhipolice.gov.in” through their mobile phones.

A spokesperson for the Delhi Police said that a databank would help in coordination among authorities to facilitate the yatra.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said that the government was expecting four crore pilgrims to visit the hill state. “Pilgrims are partaking in the ongoing Char Dham Yatra in record-breaking numbers. We are expecting as many as 40 million pilgrims to visit the state in the future, as a part of the Kanwar Yatra. We will ensure a hassle-free journey for all,” news agency ANI quoted Dhami as saying.

Around 10,000 security personnel will be deployed in the state and CCTV and drones will be used to monitor the situation.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday held a meeting with officials regarding the law and order situation ahead of Kanwar Yatra. Security has been beefed up. “Anti-social elements will try to spoil the environment but we’ve to be vigilant and talks should be held with religious leaders,” said the CM.

“Kanwar Yatra is an event of enthusiasm of faith. Traditionally dance, song, and music have been a part of it. In this way, the devotees should not be harassed. Make sure that the sound of the DJ, song-music etc. is as per the prescribed standards and only religious songs are played in it,” Adityanath tweeted.

Last year, Utttarkhand cancelled the yatra amid fears of the third COVID-19 wave. Uttar Pradesh too was forced to take a similar decision after a nudge from the Supreme Court.

With inputs from agencies

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