Delhi comes alive with 'kanwariyas'
New Delhi: Orange-robed men on the streets, roadside camps for them to rest, high decibel cries of "Har Har Mahadev"... Delhi is witnessing an intoxicating fervour in one of the biggest annual religious events of northern India.
Carrying richly decorated poles on their shoulders, the kanwariyas fetch Ganga water from Haridwar. And they walk home, some barefoot, covering hundreds of kilometres to various villages and towns in northern India to worship Lord Shiva during the month of Shravan (monsoon).
They number hundreds of thousands and belong mainly to Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Many trek through Delhi to reach their destinations, clogging highways and key roads, often creating traffic jams.
So thick is the rush of kanwariyas that traffic has been taken off some major roads leading to Delhi.
Kanwariyas fetch water from the Ganga in Haridwar, Gangotri or Gaumukh (the glacier from where the Ganga originates) in Uttarakhand, and return to their hometown where they pour the water as oblation on the Shiva deity at the local temple.
The event takes place during the month of Shravan, in July-August, according to the Hindu calendar.
This year the festival was organised between July 25-Aug 8.
"My family has strong faith in Lord Shiva. I also go to the yatra every year and pay tribute to the lord," said Sanjay Kumar, 23, who is performing his fourth kanwar yatra this year.
In over 500 camps in Delhi and nearby regions, food and water are served to the fatigued and hungry kanwariyas by locals. Thousands take shelter in these camps, continuing their journey later.
Most camps are run by residents and religious groups.
Suresh Singhal, general secretary of Kanwar Sewa Sansthan in Dhaula Kuan, said: "Our camps provide pilgrims food, medical aid and public conveniences."
"The devotees are mainly from Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi and other parts of north India," he added.
In some areas, camps have been organised by the Muslim community.
"All arrangements have been made to make the yatra successful," said Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.
Police have a tough time dealing with the mass of pilgrims.
"We are coordinating with the camp organisers, civic bodies and traffic department," said Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat.