chapter  Chapter 1
46 Pages

Introducing the Pilgrimage

WithRuma Bose

How does one depict a pilgrimage whose existence is ephemeral, but intensely charged with meaning? Pilgrimage often conjures an image of a steady procession towards a centre, but on the contrary, the actuality is akin to a pulsating, tumultuous, flow of shifting pilgrim populations that nevertheless retains a distinct cadence, character and history. The Kanwar pilgrimage is one such moving feast of millions from various walks of life coming together at certain moments, with one purpose—to carry the sacred waters of the river Ganga from Sultanganj in Bihar to the great god Shiva, who resides at his far away temple in Devghar, Jharkhand (Maps, Appendix 1). This they do in the most arduous way by walking or running barefooted, or by prostrating themselves for over the hundred kilometres under the hot Indian sun. Why do millions every year forsake the comforts of home to undertake such a hard pilgrimage? Who are the pilgrims, and how does the pilgrimage relate to their every day world? What is its story, and how does the pilgrimage reflect social change today? This book has been written with these and many other questions in mind.