Monday, 13 August 2018 | Ashish Joshi | Dehradun– The word “Kanwad” is derived from the Sanskrit word “kawadrathi”. Kanwad means a single pole on which pots are hanged. As per the ritual, the kanwadias collect holy water of River Ganga from places like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Sultanganj in pots and carry the covered pots on kanwad placed on their shoulders. During the entire journey from Haridwar, till they reach their homes, the Kanwadias are not allowed to put the pots on the ground. In fact, they take turns to hold the poles from each other while taking rest. This holy water is then poured on Shiva Linga in the Shiva temples located in their villages/towns. The devotees also visit Baba Baidyanath temple at Babadham, Jharkhand. The Kanwad Yatra takes place during the month of Shravan or Sawan. It is believed that during Shravan, Lord Shiva drank the poison after “churning of the ocean” and distributed the nectar or amrit of immortality to the devas or gods. It is said that after consuming the poison, Lord Shiva felt a burning sensation and his throat turned blue. All Devas then brought Ganga water and poured it over him to cool him down. This tradition has been followed ever since. The devotees or the kanwadias bring Gangajal and pour it on Lord Shiva’s Linga as mark of respect, thanksgiving and for blessings. In South India like Kanwadd Yatra, Kavadi is celebrated. During Kavadi, Lord Muruga is worshipped. It is performed during Thaipusam festival, on the full moon usually in the months of January or February. Like the Kanwad, the Kavadi is, usually, a wooden stick with two baskets hanged at each end. The Yatra used to be a small affair undertaken by a few saints and older devotees until the late 1980s when it started gaining popularity. While most pilgrims are men, a few women also participate in the Yatra. Most travel the distance on foot, a few also travel on bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, jeeps and mini trucks. Over the years in North India, the Kanwadias have displayed unruly behaviour. There have been many instances this year in Delhi,Gurugram,Muzaffanagar and Bulandshahar where the kanwadias turned violent, attacked locals as well as police and damaged properties. It is a matter of analysis to understand why persons immersed in devotion would indulge in unruly behaviour, play loud music, disrupt traffic and abuse fellow citizens on a holy yatra or pilgrimage. Hinduism believes in non-violence and peace. So why do some kanwadias behave in an unruly way, which is not in consonance with Hinduism? Is it because there has been rise of aggression in the society in general? Is it because there is no fear of law? Is it because of the misplaced need of Hindu assertion, as slogans like “hindu khatrey mein Hain” abound? Or is it because of the impact of rising communalism? The rise of religiousity has metamorphosed a deeply personal observance of faith into a noisy and offensive display of public nuisance. There was a time, when kanwads evoked awe among the people. They were respected for undertaking a long and arduous journey on foot, braving heat, humidity and rain. Consequently, camps were set up on the way where pilgrims could rest, have a meal at night before setting off at dawn next day. The physical endurance is what was believed to bestow piety upon them. While they walked in groups, they did so silently with a prayer on their lips. But in the last few decades, kanwads have broken all traditions converting their yatras into cacophonous events, travelling in trucks with loud music. Their behaviour on the roads is anything but devotional. They carry hockey sticks and baseball bats to intimidate and seriously injure other road users. In fact, the month of Shravan (July-August) is viewed with trepidation by most other travellers on north India’s roads. Should observance of religiosity be such a demonstrative public affair, especially if it inconveniences others? Religion is a private affair and should definitely not impinge on others’ beliefs. It has become imperative that situations like the problems faced by citizens from unruly kanwadias are addressed. It is important that the citizens living on the route of the yatra are provided protection. The issue has become so serious that Supreme Court has taken cognisance. After videos showcasing vehicles being vandalised by Kanwadias across Northern States this year went viral on social media, the Supreme Court on August 10 directed the police to take strict action against those responsible for violence and breaching laws. A three-judge bench of the Apex court, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, and comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, reiterated an earlier verdict, which stated that videography of every procession should be made. The top court, while citing the 2009 judgement, also said that the organisers were responsible for any violence reported during the procession. In order to control the altercations between kanwadias and locals during the yatra, the police need to develop new strategies to tackle the issue. The police must do more than holding routine inter-State co-ordination meetings. A system could be put in place whereby anyone wanting to participate in the yatra applies for passes from the local police. And passes are only issued after the person gives an undertaking of good behaviour. DJs and loud music in the trucks carrying kanwadias need to be banned in view of guidelines on noise pollution. Police would need to make arrangements to segregate the movement of Kanwadias and the public on the roads to minimise problems to both the general public and devotees. Urgent steps would need to be taken, well in advance, before the next Kanwad Yatra in 2019. (A civil servant, the writer is presently posted as Controller, Communications, Uttarakhand. He belongs to Jaiharikhal village in Pauri Garhwal. Views expressed are personal)  

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