Gurugram should plan ahead to accommodate cultural rituals
Planning for the annual pilgrimage may help residents not only during Shravan, but also as a lasting solution to problems faced by pedestrians.Updated: Aug 05, 2019 09:05 IST
Every year, the arterial roads and highways of Gurugram become a witness to the monsoon rain, besides the usual drainage woes and clogging of rainwater. The major roads in the city also become a stage for kanwar yatra, the annual pilgrimage that overtakes several northern parts of our country in the month of Shravan (Saawan) in July-August and often brings traffic to a standstill.
Named after kanvar or a single bamboo pole with two roughly equal loads of earthen pots of Ganga water hanging from the opposite ends and carried by a devotee or a kanwariya, this procession has become a nationwide phenomenon on the roads of Indian cities since 1990s. Originally limited to the Gangetic plains in the areas of Bihar, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, it has slowly expanded to other parts of Northern India, including Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab since the 90s, thus becoming one of the largest annual pilgrimage rituals in the country after the Kumbha Mela. More than 20 million pilgrims participate in the yatra. The pots are not supposed to touch the ground during the entire yatra. As such, several makeshift arrangements are made or the pots are circulated among the pilgrims so that they never sit on the ground during the yatra and reach in a pure form to be offered to Lord Shiva in each kanwariya’s local temple.
It’s said that this yatra is derived from the Treta Yug of Hindu calendar when Lord Shiva consumed all the poison produced during the Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean) in order to allow the sustenance of life on earth. All gods and even Ravana tried to appease Lord Shiva with holy water from the Ganges to reduce the impact of poison. The kanwariya yatra today is a physical manifestation of this appeasement to Lord Shiva.
Gurugram is one of the few cities in India where this yatra gets staged as part of the route to their destination when traffic stops on the highways to allow the passage of barefoot, saffron-clad kanwariyas carrying the Ganga water to pay reverence to Lord Shiva. The kanwariyas cross through Delhi and Gurugram to return to their towns after completing the yatra and pay their respects to Lord Shiva at their local Shiva temple.
So, how should Gurugram, as a city, respond to this annual phenomenon that overtakes residents’ normal routine life for a few days? Strangely, as it is the case in all such rituals, we just accept it as part of our heterogeneous culture accommodating the kanwar yatra for a few days and adjusting to the traffic congestions, albeit grudgingly.
Likewise, the kanwariyas too accommodate traffic issues in their own way by often carrying hockey sticks and other means for clearance. The risk, of course, as already seen, is in the transition of a genuine, peace-loving ancient ritual with pedestrians into a more disrupting phenomenon of loud music, motorbikes and trucks in conflict with its own objectives. Possibly this transition has appeared due to not addressing such conflicting phenomenon within our planning guidelines.
It is time our urban planners, transport planners, policymakers and public stakeholders planned cities keeping in mind such cultural rituals and the inherent need to accommodate them. These are always resolved in a very ad hoc, transitory manner with short-term solutions of traffic management. It is only recently that the design of Kumbha Mela is taken up for a Harvard study, in which the indigenous management strategy is being appreciated.
Kanwar yatra is another major ritual that needs to be designed for consciously to accommodate pedestrian routes/vehicular lanes for such activities occasionally, alongside the regular highway traffic. Of course, there is no doubt that planning for this annual ritual may inadvertently help Gurugram residents not only during the month of Shravan but also as a lasting ambient environment for pedestrian routes in the city.
(The author is state convenor, INTACH Haryana Chapter and member of Heritage Committees under ministries of culture and HRD. She is director, DRONAH)