Kanwar – A Journey Within..
Kanwar is an annual pilgrimage taken by several million devotees of Lord Shiva. Celebrated during the monsoon month of Shravan (July-August), this festival is an enthusiastic journey of faith fueled by selfless devotion. Pilgrims cover a distance of more than 100 miles by foot, bicycles, scooters, motor cycles, mini trucks or jeeps to fetch the holy Ganges water to worship Lord Shiva. A lot of vibrant ‘jhankis’ or processions with huge sculptors of Lord Shiva adorn the journey. Before returning home, the ‘Kanwarias’ gather in a Shiva temple and pour the holy water on Shivalingam on the Shivaratri of the Shravan month.
The word ‘Kanwar’ means a single pole generally made of bamboo with two roughly equal loads of the holy water hanging from both ends. Every year millions of pilgrims, fondly named as ‘Kanwarias’, take a dip in the sacred Ganges water and collect the holy water in two roughly equal vessels. They hang these vessels on each side of the bamboo pole and balance that pole on their shoulders during their journey. As one of the rules of Kanwar, the holy water vessels are not to be kept on the earth. So, when the pilgrims stop to take rest, they hang their Kanwars way above the earth. Haridwar, Gaumukh, Gangotri, Varanasi and Sultanganj are the major pilgrim spots for collecting the holy water for Kanwar. Many NGO’s offer free services to the Kanwar pilgrims, including, shelter, tea, water, meals, medical facilities etc. Special traffic control arrangements are made during Kanwar to ease out the journey.
Clad in saffron color clothes, Kanwarias carry beautifully decorated Kanwars, sing religious hymns and chant ‘Bol-Bam’ during their journey. Some of them even wear metallic bells (ghungroo) on their feet, tiger printed wrap around their waists and apply holy ash on their bodies. Pilgrims call each other ‘Bholey’ which is a name given to Lord Shiva. It is so beautiful a concept where you call each other with God’s name. A belief that justifies the phrase ‘Har Har Mahadev’ which means ‘Everyone is God’ or ‘God resides in everyone’. It is flabbergasting to see how these devotees complete this arduous journey in an unfriendly weather with a smile on their faces. The spirit of devotion is tinged with nationalism. Kanwarias also carry the flag of India with a phrase that says ‘Mera Kanwar Mere Rashtra Ke Naam’ which means ‘I devote the fruit of my religious Journey to my nation’. This further glorifies this pilgrimage. To witness such selflessness and such a faith to move mountains is truly a heart-touching experience.
According to Hindu calendar, Shravan is considered as the holy month and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. During this month, devotees observe a fast on Mondays, undertake religious pilgrimages, take dips in holy rivers, and pay tribute to Lord Shiva by bathing the shivlingam with water, milk and honey. The month is a show of gratitude to their Lord who nobly swallowed poison released by the churning of the ocean to save the world. Ganga water was offered to him to minimize the effect of poison. Since then, the Kanwad is undertaken by the devotees to offer the holy water to their favorite Lord.
Inspite of the journey being a test of faith and determination, it blesses the devotees with immense spiritual strength and rare inner peace. Although crowded, these holy places look spectacular during Kanwar – painted in shades of saffron and dipped in holy chants. God is one. Only the manifestations are different. If only we feel that one energy that travels through everything surrounding us, we will begin to enjoy all festivities of the world.