By Ruby Chaudhary:
This year, I was witness to one of the most interesting Hindu religious phenomenon that is the thirteen day long kanwar yatra, in Muzaffarnagar. The yatra culminating in Shivratri kept everyone in police, administration, health department, municipality, and other related departments, on their toes. For the first time, I saw the difficulties being faced by the administration in managing this kind of event because of my husband. It was estimated that more than three crore people took the kanwar yatra to Haridwar through this route.
In my early years in Bihar, I remember my neighbors used to go for kanwar yatra, from Sultanganj to Devgarh. Devgarh, Jharkhand witnessed a horrific stampede in 2015. My family too conducted this holy journey once, though being a hosteller, back then, I could not. Though I was told that it was very tough as my mother explained how she had wounded her feet walking for miles, and yet she was satisfied with her arduous journey.
In North India, the kanwar yatra in Shravan month is highly sacrosanct. The Delhi to Haridwar route is one of the most important routes for this journey of faith. The kanwariyas comprise of young, old, children, and women as well as physically challenged. The kind of faith people have on the holy month of shravan and the ritual of pouring Ganga water on Lord Shiva is unbelievable. Some believe Ravana was the first to go on the kanwar yatra while other link it with Lord Rama, and while others associate it with Shravan, the boy who took his blind parents to kanwar yatra. This ritual plays a major part in removing the distinction between the rich and the poor as people are called bhole and bholi, male and female respectively, wear saffron robes, and have the same food from shivirs.
At many places, religious harmony is observed when Muslims serve Hindu kanwarias by conducting shivirs, and offering other forms of services like a foot massage, medicines, food, etc. At many places, the very kanwars are made by the Muslim community.
However, this great festival is not without its share of problems. The sheer number puts great pressure on the administration. Hygiene is one such problem as the administration can’t provide enough toilets due to lack of funds. Both sides of the national highway was filled with the foul smell of human excreta, especially nearby shivirs. Secondly, daak kanwars who ride their bikes at high speed become a cause of accidents. Sometimes they sleep on the road and dividers which further increase the possibility of accidents. The third problem is that of noise pollution. Each kanwar of a large size puts speakers with DJ which becomes a nuisance for those who live near the route. Though government has issued rules for restricting the use of DJ, kanwariyas hardly ever accept such rules. Other problems include drowning, as people submerge themselves in the Ganges inspite of restrictions, drinking bhang which is an intoxicant, smoking cannabis, from which bhang is made, and stampedes.
Inspite of the many problems and risks people celebrate this festival because the shravan month celebrates the monsoon through fasting and feasting which rejuvenates one’s mind and soul.