Long, arduous pilgrimages on foot are near impossible without being high either on religious fervour or some intoxicant.
And, both these elements are found in abundance in one of the longest pilgrimages of north India – the kanwar yatra in which disciples of Lord Shiva carry Ganga water from Haridwar, Uttarakhand, to shrines in their hometowns in Haryana and adjoining states.
Kanwar yatra is named after the kanwar -- a single pole (usually made of bamboo) with two roughly equal loads fastened or dangling from opposite ends. The kanwar is carried by balancing the middle of the pole on one or both shoulders.
Faith apart, Kanwarias, who have been passing through Gurgaon since the third week of July, are generally high on marijuana.
Inside a kanwar camp at Silokhra village on one side of NH-8, a group of saffron-clad pilgrims chants mantras before Lord Shiva’s portrait, oblivious to the remainder of their long journey on foot. Next to them, another group is busy puffing a chillum stuffed with marijuana, chanting Jai Bhole after every puff.
The group leader, Puran Chand Yadav of Kotputli near Jaipur, believes that devotion to Shiva is incomplete without his prasad.
“Bhole ka prasad hai. Thakan mitane ke alawa yeh humein Bhole baba ke karib le jata hai (It’s Shiva’s religious offering. Besides removing tiredness it takes us closer to our Lord),” Yadav, a farmer, said after taking a deep puff from his five-inch chillum.
Pradeep Kumar of the group agrees to Yadav. For him, a few puffs are vital for concentrating on the road ahead.
“Mind is focused only on one aim that we have to reach the destination and pour ganga jal on Bhole’s pindi (Shiva’s stone symbol),” he said as smoke swirling from Yadav’s puff hit his nostrils.
Getting weed is not a tough task when religious strings are attached to it. Yadav said he preferred to carry his stock as prices soar during the pilgrimage. “A 10-gram packet of `50 costs more than `150 these days,” he said.
The goal of pleasing Lord Shiva is what draws pilgrims, many of them youths, to this tedious journey.
For 29-year-old Sunil Saini, a manager at an electronics firm in Gurgaon, going on 12 dak kanwar yatras is not just about enough. For the last three years, he has been serving Kanwarias at the rest camps.
Dak kanwar yatra is a relay pilgrimage in which devotees take turns to carry a kanwar before passing it to another member of the group. They have a deadline to reach a temple and offer Ganga water on Shivling.
“This service is out of faith. I went on dak kanwar yatras for faith and am now serving here for faith,” Saini said while supporting a khadi (standing) kanwar of a pilgrim who was sleeping inside a camp near Signature Tower.
A khadi kanwar has to be supported on shoulders at all times. It cannot be kept down. “Khadi kanwars are rare but today we have two of these,” Saini said. The second kanwar was balanced by another devotee.
As the night progresses and clock strikes 12, it is time for Saini to go. He politely hands over the kanwar to a muscular youth Jyoti Prakash, who will carry it for some time before another devotee takes turn.
“People serve here by donating eatables and medicines. Some even massage legs and feet of Kanwarias,” Jyoti said.