The walk of the Kanwariya is no strange phenomenon to me as I have been in UP for long and have seen them walk that walk a number of times before Mahashivratri. The Kanwariyas are once again back on the roads to walk a certain distance on foot to pay their obeisance to the Neelkanth aka Shiva. For any person in UP it is a well known fact that these Kanwariyas move to a temple in Barabanki called the Lodheshwar Mahadev temple. Barabanki in itself has a strong connect to Hindu mythology.
25th February is Mahashivratri and the devotees of Lord Shiva are back to streets walking in reverence to Shiva. These Kanwariyas first move to religious destinations associated with the Ganga where they collect holy water and then proceed to temples to make their offerings. Kanwariyas collect Ganga water from Haridwar, Gaumukh and Gangotri. In the initial days the yatra was a small affair with few saints being part of it, post the 90s it gained popularity.
While the Kanwariyas are a common phenomenon in the state of Uttar Pradesh, it sees participation from states like Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and others.
The Kanwar word comes from a single pole made of bamboo with two pots of water fastened on each end through strings. While the world loathes Ravana it is he who is the one followed by virtue of the ritual. It is believed the Kanwar Yatra is related to the churning of ocean of the milk in Hindu Puranas.
During the churning process the poison that came out was inhaled by Shiva. This had a bad impact on him and a negative energy took the better of him. In Treta Yuga Lord Shiva’s devout follower Ravana did meditation. He brought holy water of Ganga by using kanwar and poured it on the lord Shiva temple in Puramahadev. It released Lord Shiva from the negative energy of poison.
Hence started the Kanwar yatra. Traditionally the Kanwariyas are to travel barefooted wearing saffron robes with the kanwar covering a distance of 105 km.
With every step the Kanwar Yatra is filled with the talk of Bum Bhole or Bol Bum. Hindu organizations and voluntary organizations such as the Kanwar sanghs, the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad setup camps along the national highways. These serve food shelter and medical aid.
Kanwariyas believe they are the baratis or members of the wedding procession of Lord Shiva as they celebrate Mahashivratri as the day of the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. It is therefore, a custom of the kanwariyas to jest about Goddess Parvati. For Bihar and UP the culminating point of the yatra is the Lodheshwar Mahadev temple in Barabanki.
The temple is said to be in existence since the age of Mahabharata. A temple quite possibly constructed by Yudhishthir. Every year lakhs congregate at the temple. At times the crowds are so huge that the idol in the temple is not visible. The temple is situated at village Mahadeva in tehsil Ram Nagar of Barabanki district on the banks of Ghagra.
Now comes in the uniqueness of the temple. The deity worshipped here is one of the rarest of the 52 Shivalingas. The temple has a mention in Mahabharata several times. It is believed that Pandava had performed a mahayagya. The Pandav kup exists till date. The water of the well has spiritual qualities. The Lodheshwar Mahadev Mandir’s Shivling is proof that this region had an important place even five thousand years ago during the Mahabharat period.
Barabanki traditionally was a part of the kingdom of the Suryavanshi kings, a dynasty which boasts of Rama and Dashrath. Barabanki has been under the Chandravanshis as well. In the nearby village of Kintoor on the banks of Ghaghra a temple known as Kunteshwar Mahadev temple established by Kunti, is a special tree called Parijaat which is said to grow from Kunti’s ashes. A major part of Barabanki made up Pachhimrath country the territory between rivers Ghaghra and Gomti, one of the five divisions of the kingdom of Rama.
There are several references of the origin of the Kanwariyas in mythology as well. Lord Rama it is believed carried the holy Ganges water from Sultanganj in a kanwar and offered the water to Shiva at Babadham.
During the churning of oceans 14 different rubies came out. Thirteen were distributed to the demons, one was consumed by Shiva and his throat became blue and came the name Neelkanth. To reduce the effect Shiva wore the crescent moon and was offered holy water by the gods and demons like Ravan.
Kanwars take a spiritual break, relax, chant to divert the mind, go away from the stressful situation on the way. It is said this helps get self inspiration and ideas. Collecting ganga Jal from har ki pori which is common for Kanwars signifies collecting self generated positive creative thoughts.
Even as they continue to walk it is a phenomenon that is worth saluting as many endure extreme conditions to reach Shiva’s abode.