on a Holy Mission
the rain-cooled months of July-August, thousands of pilgrims,
barefoot and dressed in red shorts or loin cloth, carrying kanwars
(balancing poles) on their shoulders, march in picturesque columns
from far and wide to the holy city of Hardwar in northern India where
the Ganga leaves its mountain abode and enters the plains.
idea is to earn religious merit by undertaking the arduous journey
which can be hundreds of miles long to collect Ganga water and
bring it back for the ritual bath of God Shiva on an appointed day.
kanwariyas, as the pilgrims are called after the colourfully
decorated kanwars they carry to support the water vessels, are held
in high esteem by the people. As the pilgrimage gets going, hundreds
of resting places offering free food and bed spring up all along the
pilgrims, all on the same mission, develop a strong sense of
camaraderie. The psychological and moral support they silently
receive from fellow trekkers, who are otherwise utter strangers, goes
a long way in mitigating the rigours of travel. There is no need to
exchange names or addresses. The convention is to address each other
as Bhole, one of the names of Lord Shiva, and that
is all the introduction one needs. Differences of caste, creed or
social status are all swept aside.
moral and psychological support one certainly needs, especially in
the case of those kanwariyas who deliberately make a trek a
gruelling feat by tough self-imposed conditions. Some are bound by
their promise to themselves not to lay down their water -laden
kanwars before completing the trip. How can this be done when the
pilgrim must rest at night, answer the call of nature and attend to
his blistered feet? This is where the brotherly spirit comes to the
rescue. Volunteers spring up to hold the kanwars, sometimes in
night-long vigils. It is a fine example of the human heart moved by
spectacle of the kanwariyas is a 15-day wonder which is soon
overtaken by other fairs and festivals.