Holy spots on the trajectory of Ganga such as Gangotri(from where Ganga originates), Haridwar(Ganga lands on plains) and Prayagraj (confluence of Ganga and Yamuna) attract the largest number of devotees in addition to other places such as Varanasi, Sultanganj(Bihar), Ayodhya among others.
Amidst the fears of the third wave of Covid-19 in the country, the decision taken by the Yogi Adityanath government to allow the annual Kanwar Yatra has come under the scanner of the Apex court. The court taking suo motu cognisance of an Indian Express report asked the state government to file a response in the court. The approval for the Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh assumes significance as its neighbouring Uttarakhand has cancelled the Kanwar Yatra in the state for this year in view of the pandemic.
When is Kanwar Yatra scheduled in Uttar Pradesh?
The state government has allowed the Kanwar Yatra in the state from July 25 and end the ritual by August 6 for this year. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes in the matter, the state government helmed by CM Yogi Adityanath for all practical purposes has finalised the dates and also instructed top police and administrative officials to make arrangements for the same, the Indian Express reported. The fears expressed by health experts about the emergence of the third wave are not unfounded as the devotees(Kanwariyas) who participated in the Kanwar Yatra in the state in 2019 amounted to a whopping 2-3 crore.
Religious Significance of Kanwar Yatra
The annual ritual falls in the month of Shravana in the Hindu calendar which usually falls in the month of July-August. Organised in the worship of Lord Shiva, devotees or Kanwariyas who partake in the Kanwar Yatra walk barefoot and visit the nearest holy river to collect the hallowed water for the Shiva idol. Since the Ganga is considered to be the holiest river in the country, devotees throng at the nearest tributaries of the mighty river or on the bank of the Ganges itself to get a pitcher full of holy water. Since the Ganga flows only through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, the Kanwar Yatra is celebrated more enthusiastically in the Hindi heartland states such as UP, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand among others.
Holy spots on the trajectory of river such as Gangotri(from where Ganga originates), Haridwar(Ganga lands on plains) and Prayagraj (confluence of Ganga and Yamuna) attract the largest number of devotees in addition to other places such as Varanasi, Sultanganj(Bihar), Ayodhya among others. Devotees inhabiting distant parts of the land for whom Ganges or any of its tributaries are out of reach, collect water from their local river or stream to mark the ritual. After collecting the pitcher full of water, the devotees throng famous Shiva temples in their region and consecrate the Shiva linga(idol) with the holy water.
Origin of Kanwar Yatra
According to the legend, Lord Shiva was approached by several divine beings who had been a part of the ‘samudra manthan’. The deities approached Lord Shiva with a very toxic poison ‘halahala’ along with ‘amrita'(the holy drink) and requested the Lord to drink the former to save mortal beings living in the universe. When Lord Shiva started gulping the extremely lethal poison, his consort Lordess Parvati intervened and caught hold of Shiva’s throat in order to limit the damage of the poison in his body. As per the legend, the incident resulted in Lord Shiva being named ‘Neelkanth’ owing to his blue neck which came as a result of the deadly poison. Other dignitaries who witnessed the happenings started pouring on Lord Shiva to further reduce the inflammation caused by the poison. Since then offering holy water to Lord Shiva’s deity is one of the major practices not only during the Kanwar Yatra but even otherwise as part of daily rituals.
Strict regimen for Kanwariyas
While walking barefoot for miles is in itself an arduous task along with carrying the heavy water pitcher on the shoulder, Kanwariyas have to follow a strict regimen during the period they are part of the Kanwar Yatra. First and foremost, devotees must ensure that the pitcher should not touch the ground and should always be carried off the ground. While performing their daily ablutions, Kanwariyas are allowed to handover the holy pitcher with other Kanwar Yatra devotees or their partner. Devotees are also forbidden to take help of any vehicle or transport medium to cover the distance from the holy river to the temple.
However, as is the case with all religions the regimen is loosely abided by a large number of devotees. While a large Kanwariyas hitchhike on a motorcycle or a truck to cover the distance, a large number of them are tempted by inebriated substances and cause hooliganism on the roads by playing loud music and disrupting traffic.
The Kanwar Yatra also poses a major problem to the law and order establishments as the number of Kanwariyas swell and cause huge traffic with few Kanwariyas resorting to hooliganism. The possibility of communal tensions also increases as few anti-social elements try to flare up the communal differences.