My Monday travel to office was suddenly stopped at the first diversion towards Noida. It was a sight and sound show with Kanwars donning saffron coloured attire and chanting 'bol bam ka nara hai, baba ek sahara hai'. I remembered suddenly -- today is the first day of the holy Kanwar Yatra, and many roads in and around Ghaziabad had been closed off for 10 days to facilitate easy passage for the saffron walkers. Entire week went by in big traffic jams and watching these merry devotional souls walking on roads especially marked for them made me envious, even as we regular drivers struggled with the traffic.
On the last day of the yatra, I thought, this was the last chance to speak to these people – teeming thousands driven by one single spiritual goal. The first bunch I came across was a group of school boys from Mayur Vihar Phase 1, between the age 15 to 18. I pointed my camera at them and they tried to impress me with a reverberating bol bum nara and swaying the the National Flag. You see, this year's theme was "I love my India". "We are six friends from the same neighbourhood, and this is the first time that we have been allowed to go alone without any adult supervision. Three of us had gone last year too, but with an adult yatri group,” Sunil Kumar from Pandav Nagar said smiling, proud of his new-found adult status.
I looked around, eager to pick up conversations. I spotted this rather self-absorbed, lonely walker and I was immediately drawn. I followed him and tried to start up a chat. His name was Gana Mahesh and he was from Silampuri. "What does this yatra mean to you?" I asked. "This is a journey that I like to make alone – I feel close to God now, more than ever. Everything is about the mind – the kanwar, the saffron attire are just external manifestations. I am not superstition but, at the same time, I am a firm believer in the Lord’s powers,” he said.
In between the conversation, a masked devotee tried to draw my attention towards him. "I am a Shiv Gana too! Take a picture of me," he requested. As soon as I took his, he said bye and continued his walk.
Soon after my eyes were diverted to a beautiful peacock-shaped, crimson rath. Inside, devotees jived to the number, Shiv bola bum bum bola. The energy was electrifying. “We dance to the glory of Lord Shiva. We took a lot of time to decorate our vehicle. The entire journey is going to be full of music and devotional masti,” he said. The guy had, in his own way, explained the purpose of this very social journey. 'Devotional masti’ – a cocktail of two very contrary sentiments -- seemed to make perfect sense.
As I started to leave, I spotted a group of bikers. Half naked, with rudraksh mala around their necks and Indian flags in hand, they refused to be photographed. Their bikes too had been given a Kanwar makeover – orange beads adorned the headlights, while heavily-decorated Shiva cut-out was made to stand on the backseat. "This time of the year with the rains, the weather is just awesome. So riding a bike in such a big group gives us an adrenaline rush like no other. We drive fast on the national highway, as roads are reserved for the Kanwariyas. We don’t stop much at camps, except to have food and water. This is more or less a vacation for us,” he said.
There you go again: ‘Devotional masti,’ that's what the yatra is all about.