The arrival of the monsoon season marks the beginning of “The Kanwar Yatrawhich takes place during the auspicious month of “Shravan” from July to August. It is a decades-old practice which was only practiced by a few sages and devotees of Lord Shiva in the 1960s. 1990, the local people also started to participate in the holy Kanwar Yatra, and thus it became known all over the world.
Now it’s that time of year when you can see thousands of devotees of Lord Shiva wearing saffron garments, carrying “Kanwar” (a small bamboo pole with earthen pots hung on each side) on their shoulders , and walking barefoot while loudly chanting “Bam-Bam Bhole” during the entire course of the yatra.
The story behind the practice of Kanwar Yatra will leave you spellbound.
According to ancient Hindu mythologies, it is believed that the “Samundra Manthan”or the churning of the sea was done by the joint efforts of Gods (Devtas) and Demons (Danwas) to see who was the strongest among them. During the whole ocean churning ritual, 14 kinds of pious things and countless gems and jewels as well as halahal (poison) came out of the sea. The poison was just too strong for Devtas and Danawas to consume, and that’s when Lord Shiva came to the rescue and drank all Halhal by storing it in his throat, which turned his throat blue and because of this he is known as “Neelkanth” (the blue-throated one). To prevent the poison from flowing down his throat, Lord Shiva placed a crescent moon on his head and to tame the effect of the poison, all the gods or Devtas started offering holy water from the Ganges.
And so, the tradition of offering holy water aka Gangajal from the Ganges River to Lord Shiva in the month of Shravan has been going on ever since.
During the Kanwar Yatra, devotees of Lord Shiva visit shrines like Gaumukh and Gangotri, to Uttarakhand and Haridwar to obtain the sacred Gangajal from the Ganges for offerings. To facilitate devotees on this religious journey, several camps with services like free medical aid, food and water are set up along the way. The Kanwariyas ensure that their Kanwars never touch the ground during the course of the yatra to keep the Gangajal inside the earthen pots pure and holy.
Arrived at their respective places, the holy water is poured on “Shivalingas” in Shiva temples as offerings by devotees to Lord Shiva to bless their lives.