It was in the year 2002, I was 15 years old. It’s about a journey where I walked for 60 km. Back then mobile phones were not mainstream, phone cameras were literally non-existent and my village was far off from the internet and all such noises.
So I don’t have a picture of the memory that is what changed since then.
Kanwar is the complete setup that holds the Gangajal. I will talk more about how to prepare a Kanwar in the coming section. Putting the Kanwar on the shoulder and walking till Shivaling is called Kanwar yarta. The people who do Kanwar yatra they are called Kanwariya. The place I was about to start is from a town called Manikpur in Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. Manikpur is also my hometown. Manikpur is located near the Ganga river. The Shivaling to which Kanwariya travel from Manikpur is called Ghuisarnath, it’s approximately 60 to 65 km from Ganga river. All the way Kanwariya chant the line “Bol Bam”. You can refer this link to know more about Kanwar yatra and it’s importance.
Generally, people go in the group with their acquaintances but I decided to make this journey alone. Actually, I didn’t ask anybody to accompany me because I thought different people have different priority at a time. The person I plan to accompany me may prefer some other time which might delay my schedule.
I told my mother that ‘I am leaving for Kanwar yatra’. She was worried as I was going alone, but she didn’t stop me. To start a Kanwar yatra, there are few things as pre-requisite. Below is the picture of a typical Kanwariya. These Kanwariya also called as Shiva devotees.
(Picture credit: Google)
Looking at the picture you can guess what are the things needed to start the journey. I needed two one-liter containers to fill the Gangajal, a bamboo stick to hold the containers as a balance and gerua color short and top.
I borrowed the getup from a friend and arranged the stick and containers. All set.
I reached river Ganga. Before I start the journey, I needed to do some Pooja and rituals. There are people who help you to do the rituals, they are called Pandas. They are also called Ganga Putra because they make their livings by practicing the rituals at the Ganga river. The person I reached out for rituals, he suggested me don’t start the journey alone. There is another person who is coming in some time, you can start with him. I realized this is a good idea. I waited for some time. I was going to walk for odd 60 km with him. I forgot his name. You might be surprised, how can I forget someone’s name with whom I walked for odd 60 km. Because the mobile/phone was rare those days. I never met him again. It’s been 15 years since then, so it’s justified not to remember the name.
I will refer him with name A. We started the journey together. It was around 6 PM. We talked and walked together. Slowly we started knowing each other. What I learned about him was that it was his 4th or 5th journey as Kanwariya, so by that, I knew he is a hardcore Shiva devotee. Personally, I can’t say the same about myself. My family is very much spiritual and does those rituals that a normal traditional family does. Though I do believe in God I am not traditional like them.
When I retrospect, why did I start the journey? Was I a Shiva devotee? or I liked the idea of walking the whole night barefoot? Still, I do not know. So coming back to the journey. We walked straight 5 km without break. I started feeling tired and my legs started aching. I was expecting to take rest at every 5 km and then resume the journey. Mr. A’s plan was to take the 1st break at around 17kms as he was experienced and he knew the roads very well. So I didn’t say anything and just followed him. A town comes that is called Sangramgarh at 17th km. We took our first break.
In this journey, there is another interesting part comes in. During the route, the common people will come out of their houses and they will serve you. They treat each Shiva devotee as a symbol of Shiva. They call you “Baba ji”, “Maharaj”, “Shiva” etc. They will be standing on the roadside with folded hand and will request humbly to accept the service. I was very delighted to see all them. The kind of respect they give was new to me. They offered all the food items and fruits and juices. But Mr. A was strictly against it. He didn’t stop at all. I was curious to know why such rude behavior with the people who are serving the Kanwariyas.
He told me that we do Kanwar yatra and we earn some “Punya” out of it. The people who are serving in the way they want to share those Punya. I didn’t argue with him but this was my internal thought: “What’s wrong with that ?. The people who could not travel that long distance can serve those people who are traveling and it’s totally justified to have their share of good karma and Punya. If we as human don’t understand this much logic then it’s waste to do such spiritual acts. Because somewhere we are undoing the Punya with our selfish mindset”. Thought I didn’t agree with him I just followed him and I also denied all the offerings. We only ate those things that we bought from our money. I wanted to follow him and wanted to finish the journey because with each km I realized this is not going to be easy. Our breaks started becoming more frequent as we were nearing the Shiva temple. At some places, I saw a group of people sleeping on the roadside on the ground. It was so tempting to stop and just sleep for few hours. I didn’t need any cot, bed or pillow just wanted to sleep on the ground. But Mr. A was made of some different soil and he just kept going. Then there came a moment when he also decided to take a nap.
I don’t know at what distance it was when we fell on the ground. I slept like I fought some battle and I’m badly injured. I wanted to move my body parts but those were just thoughts, I couldn’t move my body parts. You get this feeling when you are hell tired and sleep after that.
Within no time Mr. A was awake and asked me to start the journey again. When I tried getting up, I realized taking rest didn’t help. My leg was jammed and I was not able to walk now. It was more painful than earlier. It took me some time to get going.
After sometime It was dawn, now I can see a few people coming back. I’m still walking towards the temple. Each step was painful. It was still a few km left but it felt like I was almost there. Every 100 meters I asked the people who were coming back, “how much still left?”. Everyone said you are almost there. There were no proper roads. Loose stones all over the roads and at each step those stones were pinching me like needles. Finally, I finished the journey. Visited the temple.
I was a bit emotional. Now I can relate. After each long run, I become emotional. In fact, not only me but every runner also becomes emotional after running a long distance, especially after the full marathon. They want someone to care at the finish line, or a quick hug does the best.
I departed from Mr. A. I never met him again but I have huge respect for him as a person and for his belief as well. He was silent for most of the course. I think he deeply enjoyed his own company. I believe that’s the foundation of long distance running. You have to talk and listen to yourself.
I did the same journey again after 2 years with some of my friends. This time we ate everything that was offered on the way. After doing two rounds of journey I don’t know if I earned any Punya but it did purify my mind and body. I was not the same.