What is the Kanwar Yatra? Why Shravan/Sawan is a Holy Month for Hindus?

Kanwar Yatra
The Kanwar Yatra takes place during the Hindu month of ‘Shravan' every year.
Kanwar Yatra
The Kanwar Yatra takes place during the Hindu month of ‘Shravan’ every year.

It is that time of the year when one will get to see one of the most common scenarios on Delhi roads:  saffron-clad Shiva devotees or Kanwars walking barefoot on roads with pitchers of Ganga holy water carried on their shoulders. Yes, July is the month of Shravana (Saawan), the annual month of pilgrimage of the Kanwars or Kanwariyas.

What is the Kanwar Yatra?

Kanwar Yatra is an auspicious pilgrimage observed by Lord Shiva’s devotees every year, in which they undertake yatra to Hindu pilgrimage centers to collect Ganga water, and then offer the ‘Gang Jal’ in the local Lord Shiva temples. The holy water is stored in pitchers and carried by the devotees on their shoulders on a small pole made from bamboo, known as “Kanwar”. Hence, these Shiv devotees are popularly referred as “Kanwars” or “Kanwariyas” and the entire pilgrimage is referred as “Kanwar Yatra”. Some of the religious places they visit are Gangotri in Haridwar, Gaumukh in Uttarakhand, Sultanganj in Bihar etc

The Kanwar Yatra takes place during the Hindu month of ‘Shravan’ that is usually in the month of July to August. However the Kanwar Yatra from Sultanganj to Devghar in Bihar and Jharkhand, respectively, is undertaken all year round. The devotees undertake this journey, almost 100 Km,  with utmost devotion, that too, barefooted. This year, Shravan month begins on July 17, 2019 and ends on August 15, 2019. The Shravan Shivaratri falls on July 30, 2019.

 History behind Kanwar Yatra

History of Kanwar Yatra is associated with the churning of ocean of Amrit or Samudra Manthan in the month of Shravan as per the Hindu Puranas. Religious scriptures say that the churning of the ocean led to the emergence of poison or vish before the Amrit came out. This poison was consumed by Lord Shiva and the Amrit or Nectar of Immortality was distributed to the Gods. It was because of consuming the poison, Lord Shiva’s throat turned blue for which he was given the name “Neelkanth” and He felt a burning sensation in his throat. To reduce the impact of the poison, Gods and Devas poured Ganga Water to Lord Shiva.

Another story tells that it was Ravana, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, brought Ganga water by using kanwar and poured it on Shiva’s temple in Puramahadev. Since this happened in the month of Shravan, even today, Shiva’s devotees carry forward this tradition of pouring Holy Ganges water on the Shiv Linga every year in this month.

Types of Kanwars

  • Jhoola: The Kanwar cannot be put on the ground but can be hanged.
  • Khadi: The Kanwars cannot keep the Kanwar on the ground nor they can hang it. When they take rest, some other Kanwar has to stand and hold the pole.
  • Baithi: The Kanwars can keep the Kanwar on the gound.
  • Dak: This is the toughest of all. Here, the Kanwariya has to run with the pole or Kanwar all the way and a team of relay runners follow him in trucks or bikes.

Why Shravan Month is Considered Very Auspicious?

  • Shravan month derives its name from the word “nakshatra”. It is believed that at any time during the month of Shravan or on Poornima or a full moon day, the Star or Nakshatra rules the skies.
  • With the Shravan month begins a number of auspicious festivals and events like as Hariyali Teez, Nag Panchami, Raksha Bandhan.
  • The Shravan or Sawan month is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • It is the auspicious time to conduct all-important religious ceremonies.
  • Scientifically, keeping fast during Sawan month is considered healthy for the digestive system. The reason being during Shravan, there is rain and at the same time the sunlight is scarce, and hence it slows down the digestive system. So, it is better to eat light, easily digestible food. It is, thus, better to keep a fast or follow a strict vegetarian diet during Shravan month.

Some rituals to follow in Shravan month

  • During this month, there is a belief that offering Bel patra to Lord Shiva is equivalent to any pilgrimage visit.
  • Offering milk or panchamrit (a mixture of milk, curd, butter or ghee, honey and jaggery) to lord Shiva leads one to gain a lot of blessings.
  • Wear Rudraksha during this month and use it for japas.
  • Bhibhuti when offered to Lord Shiva or smeared on the forehead of the devotee is considered very auspicious.
  • Chant the Shiva Chalisa the entire month
  • Perform regular Aarti of lord Shiva.
  • Chanting the Mahamritunjay mantra is also very auspicious.
  • It is considered auspicious for married Hindu women to wear red attire and green bangles and pray for the long and healthy life for their husbands during the Shravan Month.
  • All Mondays which fall during Shravan month are considered very auspicious for fasting and known as Shravan Somwar.