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    Demystified: The History And Purpose Of The Orange-Clad Kanwariyas

    By

    August 2, 2016

    It is that time of the year again! Rains may be abundant or scanty, but you can stay assured that you will find hundreds of orange-clad trekkers carrying decorated bamboo poles everywhere. They are called `kanwariyas’ and they have a unique history of their own.

    What does the name `kanwariya’ signify?

    Kanwariyas derive their name from the kanwar – the pole they carry which has a pot tied to each end of the pole.

    Kanwariya

    Why are they seen only during the monsoon season?

    The Indian month of Shravan – or Saavan – coincides with the monsoon period and is said to be the month dedicated to Lord Shiva. The kanwariyas are devotees of Lord Shiva who take a trek of over 200 km to pay their homage to him.

    What is the significance of the yatra?

    According to the Puranas, the gods, in their search for amrit (nectar), started samudra manthan (ocean churning) during the month of Shravan. During this mythological event, many substances came up, including a poison, halahal.

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    To protect the others from the poison, Lord Shiva drank it himself. The poison turned his throat blue and thus he got the name Neelkanth. Many years later, Shiva’s devotee Raavan offered him water from the river Ganga which lessened the effect of the poison.

    Through the Kanwar Yatra, his devotees collect water from the river Ganga in Haridwar, Gangotri, and Sultanganj and carry it to their local temples to bathe Lord Shiva in it.

    How does the yatra look like?

    Over the duration of 2 weeks, devotees from Delhi, Haryana, UP, MP, Bihar, Jharkhand etc take up the trek. Dressed in orange, most of them walk the whole distance while some do take the help of motorcycles or trucks.

    During this time, many NGOs come forward to help them as well, providing them food, water, and shelter at regular intervals. Chants of “Har Har Mahadev!” and “Bam Bam Bole” can be heard everywhere.

    Kanwariya's walking in line

    The yatra has caused a fair deal of controversies as well. With vehicles full of kanwariyas travelling everywhere and creating a ruckus as they shout and play loud music, it creates a headache for the traffic police to control.

    So brace yourselves. One of the biggest religious festivals of India is underway. And my advice would be that it is better to stay at home than to get stuck in a traffic jam that won’t clear for ages. Or you could join the kanwariyas instead. Your choice.


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    Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.

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