My journey along the Narmada introduced me to the shades of an unknown or rather a not so popular pilgrimage – Kavad Yatra. The road trip from Indore to Maheshwar via Omkareshwar on the relatively well maintained highway dotted with green presented itself with unexpected streaks of saffron that brightened up an otherwise cloudy day. Before your imagination runs wild, I am referring to people attired in saffron garb carrying a single pole on the shoulders with pots of water hanging on the two ends. While I peered at the young and old Kavad Yatris as they are popularly called walking with a measured sway to balance the pole, I was distracted and amused by the slow and rickety vans following them blaring peppy Bollywood tunes with altered lyrics ; replace Saajan or Piya with Shiva and you know what I mean.
Seeing my new found interest and repeated requests to go slow, the driver narrated the story of Kavad Yatra. In the holy month of Shravan (July-August), Shiva devotees in the region take a dip in Narmada, wear saffron clothes, fill in their pots with holy river water and make way towards a famous Shiva Temple or a local temple in their village. What was earlier done by sadhus and a handful of devoted men is now emerging as a popular yatra where thousands of people are flocking to the holy cities of Ganges and Narmada.
After reaching Maheshwar, I spent the entire day in the Ghats except for a quick lunch break watching more of the Kavad Yatris. After a quick ritualistic dip, they emerged in saffron clothes to the chants of “Bol Bam”. The small child who came along with his father was the most enthusiastic of the lot, scrubbing his pot clean before he filled it with water.
Having been there done that, the sexagenarian couples were hoping for Shiva’s blessings to be together again in the next life.
The apparently aimless teenagers seemed to have found direction for a few days and the joy in the eyes of a middle aged lady while she filled droplets of hope in the orange can warmed my heart.
The Kavad’s were kept on the stands along the ghats, the covers of a few fluttering in the wind. I walked beside them, watching the tiny pots filled with hope, love and devotion from the Narmada. The heady smell of incense and wet mud after a short splash of rain and the sounds of the nearby temple bell was a treat for my soul.
As groups of pilgrims arrived and departed, I munched on a deliciously soft corn cob wondering if this is just a pilgrimage to appease Shiva in the temple or is it an opportunity to attend to the Shiva who resides within us. One part of me said walking mindfully for a long distance with a pole hanging on one shoulder is about focus, being in the present and attaining balance in life and the other was taken in by the the infectious enthusiasm of the Yatris and yearned to take a dip.
As I pulled myself into the water, embracing Narmada with thoughts of inner Shiva, sudden showers from above reminded me that my monsoon yatra to Maheshwar was indeed blessed.
An abridged version of the article also appeared in Yahoo Traveller on 25th Aug, 2014
- Om Namah Shivaya Moments in Maheshwar
- Life along the Narmada in Omkareshwar
- Omkareshwar Parikrama
- Significance of a Holy Dip