Kanwar Yatra is among the most-anticipated religious events on the Hindu calendar. It is an annual pilgrimage performed by the devotees of Lord Shiva. The massive holy expedition takes place during the auspicious Hindu month of ‘Shravan’ which usually falls in the month of July to August as per the Gregorian Calendar.
During this auspicious event, millions of devotees - also known as the 'Kanwariyas' - come together from across the country near the famed shrines of the deity to seek blessings from Lord Shiva. They all carry a bamboo stick with pots tied to both ends and the stick is called ‘Kanwar’.
This year, Kanwar Yatra will begin on 14 July and will be continued till 12 August. After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this time, about 30 million pilgrims are expected to attend the Kanwar Yatra.
As per Hindu mythology, during the churning of the ocean of milk, the vicious poison known as Halahala was created, which could have destroyed the earth. To save the planet, Lord Shiva gulped it down and held it inside his throat. As a result, his throat turned blue because of the extreme heat, giving him the title of ‘Neelkanth.’
To rescue Shiva from the poison, Ravana - the King of Lanka - brought the holy water of Ganga by Kanwar and poured it on Shiva at the Pura Mahadev Temple. Since 1960, the ritual is being followed by staunch devotees of Lord Shiva who visit Neelkanth.
The pilgrims follow the NH-58 route to Rishikesh. They walk about 100 km to reach the Neelkanth Temple in Rishikesh. During the journey, they fill their Kanwars with the holy water of Ganga at Ramkund and then move towards the Neelkanth Temple where they pour it on the Shiv Linga.
While most of the Kanwariyas walk barefooted, nowadays people use bicycles, bikes, scooters, jeeps and even buses to reach the holy temple. Some devotees also visit Pura Mahadeva and Augharnath temple in Meerut and Kashi Vishwanath, Baidyanath and Deoghar.
During the journey, devotees wear saffron clothes and walk barefoot to collect the holy water. Then they carry it in two earthen pots tied at the end of a bamboo pole, which they carry to the temple. Eventually, they perform ‘Abhishekam’ of the Shiva lingam by pouring the sacred water on it.