Kanwar Yatra: A brief history & some unknown facts

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Bhubaneswar:  With the commencement of Shravan (Monsoon) month, lakhs of devotees of Lord Shiva-Kanwariyas fetch holy water from rivers and carry it across hundreds of miles to dispense as offerings in their local Shiva shrines, which is known as ‘Kanwar Yatra’.

Here is the brief history of this Holy Yatra and some unknown facts:

What does History say?

Two mythological stories explain the origins of the Kanwar yatra. The first is related to the origin of Amrit (nectar of immortality). As narrated in the Bhagavata Purana, the divine beings emerged from Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean of milk). But a highly lethal poison, too, emerged from the ocean – the remedy of which was sought by Lord Shiva. If the legend is to be believed, Lord Shiva consumed the poison to protect the living world, but his wife Parvati held him by the neck to prevent the effect of the poison from destroying the worlds inside him. The practice of giving water to Shiva began henceforth, in an attempt to reduce the negative effects of the poison.

The other origin story is of Lord Parshuram, the renowned devotee of Shiva, who was believed to be the first to undertake the Kanwar yatra. He laid the foundation of the Shiva temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Pura and fetched Gangajal every Monday in the month of Shravan for Shiva’s worship.

According to Hindu mythology, Ravana (who was a great Lord Shiva devotee) had poured Holy water on his lingam at Baidyanath Temple to reduce the negative effects of the poison.

The word “Kanwar” actually refers to the small bamboo pole on which two earthen pots are hung on either end for carrying the Gangajal on their shoulder.

During the journey, the Kanwariyas get the earthen pots filled with holy water for pouring on Shivalinga by balancing them on their shoulders. This pole is carried by the devotees on their shoulders till they reach the temple of Lord Shiva.

Rituals and Facts of Kanwar yatra

1. What is Kanwar yatra about:

Kanwar yatra is not just about making Lord Shiva happy; it is also a way to improvise one’s personality. It makes one understand and feel the inner power that one possesses.

2. Food and drink restrictions:

Kanwariyas are prohibited from the consumption of alcohol and non-vegetarian food. They follow a strict vegetarian diet during this entire time of the Yatra.

3. Staying away from worldly things:

A Kanwariya cannot touch another Kanwariya, without taking a bath. They are prohibited to use combs, oil, soap or anything related to styling.

4. Bol bam:

Kanwariyas chant ‘bol bam’ or ‘Jai Shiv Shankar’ during the yatra. It is prohibited to walk past an existing Kanwariya without another. It can be said that all the devotees who pour Ganagajal on the Shivalinga, appease the Lord. Lord Shiva, in return, cares for his devotees and blesses them with happiness.

5. Who can take part:

While most pilgrims are men, a few women also participate in Yatra. Most travel the distance on foot, a few also travel on bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, mini trucks or jeeps.

6. Miracle:

The Ganga at Sultanganj in Bihar is special as it is the only point where the river takes a turn towards the northward direction. This is seen as a miracle of the grace of Lord Shiva, from whose matted locks, the Ganga descends on earth.

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