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From Haridwar, for salvation

Organisers said a huge camp services around 20,000 devotees everyday.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2006 02:42 IST

It is that time of the year again. Till Shiva Ratri on July 23, several arterial roads of Himachal, UP, Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana, will wear a predominantly saffron look. Thousands of kanwariyas returning with the holy water from the Ganga, will virtually own the sidewalks.

Who is a kanwariya

Any person whose wish is granted goes to Haridwar and collects the holy water from the Ganga and returns home on foot. Kanwariya is the person carrying the kanwar -- holy pots that hold the water.

The custom

The custom of carrying the kanwars, or the pot of holy water, is no small-time affair. Devotees from almost all North Indian states converge in Haridwar a few days prior to Shiva Ratri.

The ritual is to collect water from river Ganga and bring it all the way back to their hometown. There, the idol at the local Shiva temple is bathed in the water brought by the kanwariyas as a gesture of gratitude towards the Lord. Kanwariyas have to make the journey back from Haridwar on foot. And the kanwar can never be kept on the ground.

The stock of the holy water is miserly used at the temples. This is because it has to be retained for a year till a fresh batch of kanwar arrives again.

Traditionally, the holy water was to be brought to the ancient Pura Mahadev temple in Baghpat and the Augharnath temple in Meerut. But over the years, a large section of the devotees have moulded the tradition and started bringing the Gangajal for their local temples as well.

While on the mission to and from Hardwar, devotees are not supposed to use soap or toothpaste; using anything made of leather is also forbidden.

A kanwariya can eat only vegetarian food and has to bathe after every meal.

The camps

In the Delhi government's 67 camps for kanwariyas, DJB is providing water while the MCD's Slums and JJ department has chipped in with mobile toilets.

"It is our way of contributing to their cause," says Shiv Mittal, a businessman from East Delhi. He has been holding his Shiv Kanwar Seva Samity camp along the Ridge Road, with the government since 1996.

The camps are meant to provide a perfect ambience of the festival to the devotees. Dedicated volunteers roam around with trays of food-items. Devotional songs with tunes of popular Hindi numbers, like those of Himesh Reshmiya, add to the environ.

Organisers said a huge camp services around 20,000 devotees everyday.

Dharmapal Goyal from Punjabi Bagh, who has been holding the huge Shiv Kanwariya Camp near Dhaula Kuan for the last 13 year, says his camp even employs around 300 volunteers on daily-wage basis.