Decades-old Hindu pilgrimage, aided by Modi government, takes a populist turn

Religion News Service | 9/23/2019 | Staff
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This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

VARANASI, India (RNS) — As the number of young people affiliated with a religion shows a sharp decline in the United States, religious fervor, supported and aided by India’s right-wing Modi government, is on the rise among some blocs of millennials in India.

City - Varanasi - Kanwar - Yatra - Pilgrimage

I recently visited the northern Indian holy city of Varanasi during Kanwar Yatra, an annual pilgrimage that occurs in July and August. The number of pilgrims has been increasing rapidly for the last few years, and I watched as hundreds of pilgrims from nearly every part of India poured into the city despite blistering heat.

Several major highways were closed to traffic for days as pilgrims, often barefooted, walked for long stretches along scorching roads.

Goal - Kashi - Vishwanath - Temple - Shrine

Their goal was the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, a shrine to Shiva on the bank of the Ganges in Varanasi, where the Hindu god is believed to have appeared as a column of light. For many Hindus, a visit to Kashi Vishwanath alone is enough to attain salvation. As they approached the temple, the saffron-clad pilgrims, some 1.5 million as a low estimate, packed Varanasi’s ancient, narrow lanes.

To keep the crowds somewhat organized, streets leading to the temple were temporarily divided into several lanes with jute ropes tied to bamboo poles. Incoming and outgoing devotees walked in either side carrying kanwars — water pots on two ends of a pole across their shoulders — and chanting the many names of Lord Shiva.

Water - Pots - Kanwarias - Water - River

Named after their water pots, the kanwarias carry the water of the River Ganges as an offering to Lord Shiva.

Not so long ago, only a few Shiva devotees ever undertook this pilgrimage, but in recent years with the support of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the rite at Varanasi has grown into what several...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Religion News Service
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