The Kanwar Yatra: What began as a religious journey has morphed into an exercise in commercialisation

Seventy-year-old Ram Das from Kanpur dehat is few among the hundreds who make the 150-kilometre barefoot Kanwar Yatra to Mahadeva in Barabanki. "In olden times, hermits carried a Kanwar because Ganga water cannot be kept directly on the ground since the abhishek has to be performed with that very water," he says, "These days, people participate in the yatra either to gain social recognition or for mere entertainment."

Ram Das is not alone in holding such a view. Even the Mahant of Lodeshwar Mahadeva temple, Aditiya Nath Tewari believes that the increasing numbers aren't because of devotees alone, but also youths who are infatuated with Lord Shiva. "Not every Kanwariya is involved in making a ruckus. In fact, the ones carrying the Kanwar cannot be a party to such a crime because they are not allowed to keep it on the ground," he says.

Long-time patron of the Kanwar Yatra, Ram Das. Firstpost/Mirah Zamin

Long-time patron of the Kanwar Yatra, Ram Das. Firstpost/Mirah Zamin

The commercialisation of the yatra began when people started to form committees of their own and collected money to make arrangements for the journey.

Shiv Kailash Saini, a shopkeeper at the Mahadeva temple says that the demography of visitors has changed and nowadays, more youths and middle-aged men visit the temple, unlike earlier. "During Mahashivratri, women don't generally visit because of the massive crowds, but during the month of Shravan, you can see people from all walks of life (rich and poor)," he adds.

The people who now take part in the Kanwar Yatra, barring those who have a family tradition, can be separated into groups of young school- and college-goers, and men who are farmers, labourers or unemployed. They pay a lump-sum amount to the committee that organises everything for them, ranging from alcohol to drugs for the journey.

Shiv Kumar, who identified himself as devotee of Lord Shiva, explains that he paid Rs 400 for round trip.

Shanti Das (left) and Mahant Hari Das (right). Firstpost/Mirah Zamin

Shanti Das (left) and Mahant Hari Das (right). Firstpost/Mirah Zamin

While for young boys it is about peer pressure and the search for a sense of freedom, for the group of men it is about enjoyment and bhakti in one go; it is these men who are usually seen consuming drugs and brawling on the streets.

Mahant Hari Das is a native of Maitha in Kanpur dehat, who travels to Haridwar and back from Kanpur via Lucknow. He says, "Only those who habitually partake of intoxication are involved in such activities and these men have their own groups, every group has its own essence. Not every Kanwariya consumes alcohol, but marijuana and cannabis is our prasad from Lord Shiva."

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Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 10:34 AM

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