I am about to appeal for information and for some explanations.
Earlier this morning, driving back from my run, I was caught up in crazy traffic scenes, courtesy kanwariyas.
For the benefit of non-Indian readers, let me give you a quick low-down on kanwariyas – with a request to my local readers that if I am incorrect, please, please correct me.
As far as I understand it, kanwariyas are followers of Shiva, and for a few weeks a year, usually July-August, they make a pilgrimage from Gaumukh or Haridwar, up in the Himalayas, back to their homes, carrying vessels of holy water from the sacred river Ganga.
So far so good.
Not that it really matters, but for the record I am a Roman Catholic, so totally get the notion of holy water. We always had a holy water font in our house, and as children leaving for school, we’d dip our fingers in it and make the sign of the cross.
All that to say that I fully understand the notion of holy water.
Ditto the notion of carrying holy water from a sacred place to your home.
I have Lourdes water here in Delhi that a lovely Indian friend brought for me from France.
I carried water back from Lake Mansarovar for Indian friends…you get the picture?
So, these pilgrims walk hundreds of kilometres, usually barefoot, carrying their holy water on a device called a “kanwar” which is a bit like a yoke, and usually has a pot of holy water at each end.
Apparently the kanwar is never supposed to touch the ground, so at regular stopping places there are stands, where they can be propped up while the pilgrims rest.
I remember, just a few years ago, that there were stands near the huge Shiv Murti on the road to Gurgaon, and water and food was available.
But of late, and this year especially, the whole thing seems to have got blown out of proportion and, by extension, out of hand. There is now loud Bollywood style music blaring from these stopping places. Not religious music. Bollywood. I was running in the forest in Naraina with the dogs at 6.15 and the music was blaring from a nearby village. Ear-splitting. Presumably it had gone on all night.
This morning, driving, I came across an extraordinary scene.
On the Ring Road, outside the Hyatt Hotel, in crazy morning rush hour traffic, a gaggle of men, shirts off, were standing in the middle of the road, flailing their arms around, imagining (I suppose) that they were directing traffic, as a truck slowly drove behind them, ear-shattering music pumping from it. On board, lots of young men all wearing blue T shirts proclaiming “Basant Gaon Delhi” (Vasant village). Then came a posse of young men on motorbikes, some in blue T shirts, some shirtless, weaving in and out of the traffic, flapping their arms, presumably to tell everyone to move out of their way.
What’s the deal here?
These rowdy men were clearly not pilgrims, because they were racing around on motorbikes. Aren’t pilgrims supposed to be on foot? So who are they? Why the loud music?
I’m all for a bit of religious pageantry.
I’m totally onboard with the notion of pilgrimages – have one on my bucket list, as it so happens.
But when does someone’s notion of devotion become a traffic hazard, and a noisy, selfish display?
And, last but not least – where are the cops when all this tamasha is taking place? Ne’er a cop in sight when you want one. Like when a truck and the attendant motorbikes jump a red light…
PS: the heavy breathing during those clips is courtesy of my Golden Retriever, Yoko. In case you were wondering.