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Kanwar Yatra: As annual pilgrimage concludes today amid violence and vandalism, a primer on Kanwariyas

Every year during the month of Shravan, devotees of Shiva take part in an annual pilgrimage, travelling all the way to the banks of river Ganga to collect water in canisters, and then return to their villages to pour them on Shiva temples. The Kanwar Yatra, as the annual pilgrimage is known as, has been at the centre of controversy with the ‘Kanwariyas’ vandalising cars in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Here’s what you need to know about these devotees of Shiva:

Who are the Kanwariyas?

The Kanwariyas are devotees of Hindu god Shiva and are also referred to as Bholas. They carry Kanwars — decorated wooden structures containing vessels full of Ganga water on their shoulder — and are hence called Kanwariyas. The yatra is thus called the Kanwar Yatra.

Some Kanwars are large, and are often pulled along the route in tractors or jeeps or on carts pulled by men. These vehicles often have loudspeakers playing bhajans.

File image of Kanwariyas. PTI

File image of Kanwariyas. PTI

According to a report in The Hindu, the Kanwariyas, dressed in saffron, trek along the route chanting ‘bam bam bholey’ or `har har Mahadev’. They usually travel in groups, and most of them come from Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Folk dance and bhajans in local dialects is an important part of the Kanwar Yatra. While men constitute a major chunk of Kanwariyas, women often join in the annual pilgrimage.

These devotees undertake the Kanwar Yatra from their hometown or village to pilgrimage sites on the banks of Ganga, and return to the village on or before Shivaratri.

What is Kanwar Yatra?

The Kanwar Yatra is the annual pilgrimage which Kanwariyas undertake from the first day of the month of Shravan. They walk with pitchers of Ganga water all the way from Haridwar to their hometowns and villages where the pitchers are emptied at Shiva temples. Sometimes, devotees arrive in large numbers to popular Shiva temples like Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi to empty their pitchers.

The Kanwar Yatra is done barefoot (a few also travel on bicycles, motorcycles, and four wheelers), and usually lasts two weeks. It sees participation from both young and old from across the country.

File image of Women Kanwariyas. PTI

File image of women Kanwariyas. PTI

Haridwar is one of the main pilgrimage sites where Kanwariyas arrive to collect Ganga water, whereas some also travel to Gaumukh and Gangotri in Uttarakhand. According to Free Press Journal, the Kanwar Yatra was a small affair till the 1980s, but it later started gaining popularity. Today, it’s considered one of the largest religious events in the country.

The pilgrimage will end today.

The latest controversy around Kanwariyas

On Thursday, A new video of a group of Kanwariyas attacking a police vehicle in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday morning has emerged, hours after some Kanwariyas vandalised a car in Delhi on Tuesday.

A video of the incident shows around 50-60 Kanwariyas attacking the police vehicle, smashing the windows and a police officer trying to control the crowd in the Bugrasi Narsena police station area of Bulandshahr. Following the incident, an FIR was registered against 8 named and 50 unidentified Kanwariyas.

On Tuesday, a group of Kanwariyas vandalised a car in Delhi’s Moti Nagar after it brushed past them. A video which surfaced online shows a dozen men smashing the windows of the car with sticks and then tipping the car over. Policemen and spectators are seen watching in silence.

Even as the reports of the vandalism hadn’t died out, a video surfaced showing an Uttar Pradesh top cop showering rose petals from a helicopter on the Kanwariyas, which drew sharp criticism from every corner.

The Uttar Pradesh government has also been criticised for going out of its way to make Kanwariyas feel welcome. According to The Indian Express, not only did the top police officers shower flowers on the Kanwariyas, the government also made arrangements for DJ music for the yatris.

The DJs took a dig at the previous government which banned loud music during the pilgrimage. “Akhilesh ne hukum sunaya tha, DJ per ban lagaya tha, 2017 ke chunav me Bhole ne usey haraya tha. Chakke chuda diye Yogi ne. (Akhilesh had announced their order, DJs were banned; and in 2017 Lord Shiva ensured his defeat; Yogi has cut him to size),” they said while championing the Yogi Adityanath government for allowing DJs to play music: “DJ bajwa diye Yogi ne, Bhole nachwa diye Yogi ne (Yogi switched on DJ, Yogi made the devotees dance).”

The Delhi traffic police recently sent out an advisory for the Kanwariyas who would be travelling across the country, according to News18. They also made preparations to manage the movement of Kanwariyas and regular commuters to ensure minimum inconvenience to the public.

Updated Date: Aug 09, 2018 18:54 PM

Updated: August 10, 2018 — 5:45 am

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