Kanwar Yatra: Significance and Rituals

Kanwar Yatra

Kanwar Yatra is the annual auspicious pilgrimage of the devotees of Lord Shiva. During this pilgrimage, the “bearer” called ‘Kanvaria’ visit Hindu pilgrimage places like Gangotri and Gaumukh in Uttarakhand and Haridwar, and Sultanganj in Bihar, to fetch water or “Gangajal” from the River Ganga or the Holy Ganges and then offer the jal in Lord Shiva temples. This Yatra takes place during the auspicious Hindu month of ‘Shravan’, also known as Shravan Month, that is usually the period from July to August.

IMP. TIPS: Facts about Kanwar Yatra, Origin of Kanwar Yatra

The Kanwar Yatra from Sultanganj to Devgarh in the Indian state of Bihar and Jharkhand respectively, is done by the ‘Kanvarias’ the year round. They undertake this long and tiring 100 km journey barefoot with enthusiasm and utmost devotion. The Gangajal bought from the Yatra is then poured on Baba Baidyanath Temple at Devgarh by the Kanwariyas. In earlier times, this yatra was performed in the month of Bhado, and since the year 1960, the fair or “mela” began in the month of Shravan and extended up to Dussehra time.

Kanwar Yatra is mainly undertaken during this time but at the onset of other significant Hindu festivities like ‘Maha Shivratri’ and ‘Basant Panchami’ the Kanvarias increase. According to recent statistics, nearly 2 crore Kanwariyas take this journey every year. The fair or mela known as the ‘Shravan Mela’ is one amongst the biggest religious congregations held in North India every year. The Yatra not only includes men, but women take active part in this as well.

Rituals of Kanwar Yatra


Rituals of Kanwar Yatra

  • During the Yatra, the Kanwariyas carry ‘Kanvar’ or the small bamboo pole on which two earthern pots are hung on either end for carrying the Gangajal on both their shoulders. During the journey, the Kanvarias get the earthen pots filled with holy water for pouring on Lord Shiva’s temple by balancing them on their shoulders.

  • This Yatra goes on for a month in which the devotees wear saffron clothes and walk barefoot and collect the holy water from pilgrim destinations. The kanwariyas then return to their towns and do the ‘abhishekam’ of the Shiva lingam at the local Shiva temple, as an act of thanks for all the blessings in their life. The only thing they have to make sure of is that the “kanwars” or the earthen pots do not touch the ground at any point. There are multiple makeshift stands, which are constructed across the journey, which the devotees use to take some rest.

  • They usually travel in groups, and while most of them travel by foot, some even use other modes of transport like bicycles, motor cycles, scooters, motor cycles, cars, jeeps or even mini tucks for the journey. They chant ‘Bol Bam’ and sing religious bhajans for Lord Shiva throughout the journey.

  • It is said that serving the devotees is very auspicious. NGOs and other groups offer free services like food, water, tea or medical help throughout the journey. There are few specific NGOs like Bol Bum Sewa Samiti that work all year round for the kanwariyas.

According to the statistics, in the year 2003, 75.5 million kanwariyas reached Haridwar, and the traffic keeps multiplying each year. Each year heavy security measures are undertaken by the state governments. The traffic on National Highway 58 (Delhi-Haridwar national highway) also gets diverted during the period.


Bol-Bam: Let’s speak the name of Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva

The famous Kanwar Yatra takes place during the auspicious Hindu month of ‘Shravan’, also known as Shravan Maas that is usually the period from July to August. During this pilgrimage, the “bearer” called ‘Kanvaria’ visits Hindu pilgrimage places like Gangotri and Gaumukh in Uttarakhand and Haridwar, and Sultanganj in Bihar, to fetch water or “Gangajal” from the River Ganga or the Holy Ganges and then offer the jal in Lord Shiva temples. Kanwar Yatra is mainly undertaken during this time but at the onset of other significant Hindu festivities like ‘Maha Shivratri’ and ‘Basant Panchami’ the Kanvarias increase. The Yatra not only includes men, but women take active part in this as well.

The term “Bol-Bam” refers to pilgrimages and festivals in the countries of India and Nepal glorifying Lord Shiva who is also known as Bam.

The festivals run during the monsoon month Shravan (July–August). After taking water from the Ganga or Holy Ganges, the kanwariyas also known Shiv Bhakts, the disciples of Shiva, travel barefoot in saffron robes with their Kanwar (small bamboo pole on which two earthern pots are hung on either end for carrying the Gangajal on both their shoulders) for 105 km in groups made of family, friends and or village neighbours, and return to Lord Shiva Temples to pour Gangajal on the Shiva Lingam. While travelling the pilgrims continuously talk with "Bol Bam” and sing Bhajans or hymns to praise the name of Lord Shiva.

The Kanwar Yatra is an acknowledgement to the great Samudra Manthan or the churning of the sea, which isone of the most important events of Hindu mythology. A dangerous poison, Halahala, came out of the sea during the churning and it threatened to destroy the universe. This yatra is a testament to the greatness of Lord Shiva, who swallowed this dangerous poison and saved the universe.

Samudra Manthan

Lord Shiva then came to the rescue and stored this poison in his throat, which became blue, hence getting the name Neelkanth. But the impact of this poison was so strong that Lord Shiva had to wear a crescent moon of his head and all the Devatas or Gods started offering him the holy water from the river Ganges, so that poison is tamed. The tradition of offering gangajal to Lord Shiva during the holy month of Shravan has been going on ever since.

As Lord Shiva saved the universe by drinking the destructive poison, this is why this entire month is dedicated to him and is considered very auspicious. The tradition of offering gangajal to Lord Shiva during the holy month of Shravan has been going on ever since.

But it’s no childs ‘s play, the kanwariyas renounce themselves of all worldly pleasures during this Yatra. They are forbidden to use even a bed for sleeping or for relaxing. They also have to stay away from any articles made of leather.

They are also prohibited from consumption of alcohol and non vegetarian food. They follow a strict vegetarian diet during this entire time of the Yatra.

It is said that serving the devotees is very auspicious. NGOs and other groups offer free services like food, water, tea or medical help throughout the journey. There are few specific NGOs like Bol Bum Sewa Samiti that work all year round for the kanwariyas.