The month-long Kanwar Yatra entails taking a dip in the Ganges at Haridwar and carrying back the holy water on foot back home. It’s an arduous task and tests the patience of devotees who make the journey on foot. Usually, men undertake this spiritual journey. But for Renuka, a 65-year-old widow, making the pilgrimage trip from her Old Faridabad home is a sort of liberation. For, her late husband had never allowed her to embark on this journey. “We never allow our women to venture out,” Renuka recalled him saying this.
“I traveled with my neighbor but we lost each other in Meerut. The yatra is not unsafe for women and no one misbehaves, though of course it’s unsafe while crossing the roads in the big cities and imposters steal kanwars when one is resting,” Renuka said.
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Delhi has 116 registered camps to host the roughly three lakh Kanwariyas beginning August 5. The 3000-square-feet camp set up in New Ashok Nagar, for instance, is teeming with men, women and children in saffron. Most lay resting on three-feet high planks running along the length of the tent.
“It is an honour to serve Kanwariyas. They are on god’s journey and it is our duty to serve them,” said Jagdeesh Prasad, an e-rickshaw driver from New Ashok Nagar. While the camps are set up by the Delhi government’s Tirth Yatra Vikas Committee, free food, medical aid and miscellaneous arrangements are made by religious bodies or samitis.
“We are here 24X7 and work in shifts of eight hours each. We are mandated to maintain law and order besides keeping an eye out for mischief makers or a security threat, especially in the days of terror scare,” said a constable guarding the Ashok Nagar camp.
In the recent past, Kanwariyas in the National Capital Region have created a perception of being hooligans. Elder Kanwariyas allege that mischief-makers usually turn out to be youngsters. “These youngsters do not know their history. Unlike earlier times when few men, perhaps one in a thousand, embarked on the pilgrimage on foot, for the last 20 years or so, fake bhakts who are mostly unemployed and idle youth have made the occasion a joy trip riding their bikes or driving cars with DJs playing earth shattering music along the yatra,” said 50-year-old Rakesh Chandra.
“We are true Shiv bhakts. We have embarked on this pilgrimage out of our love for Bholenath,” said 27-year-old Mohit Sharma.
As the night wears on, the frenzy only intensifies with the caravan choking the right side of the road cordoned off for the yatra in Ghaziabad, a city which shut down its schools and offices for three days. “I live in Saibabad and I occasionally assist my father who sells milk for a living. So my yatra ends here though I am waiting to welcome my friends in that truck there. Can you hear Honey Singh’s song Bam Bam Bhole Manali Vision. That is the one. And do you know how much the sound boxes came for? One lakh rupees. We hired the truck for two days and set out because we did not have the time to do the yatra on foot. Life has become hi-tech and everything is fast. If one can complete one’s journey faster then why not?” said 25-year-old Jitender Kohli.