**Bhubaneswar**: Braving the rains, traversing broken roads, dodging the traffic and navigating through the pain of walking bare-foot, Shiva devotees dressed in saffron clothing flock the grey roads of the State during July-August as a part of the annual pilgrimage of Kanwar Yatra. They walk miles to fetch holy water and dispense it as offerings in the local Shiva shrines. However, this sacred journey that people embark on in order to seek blessings of the Lord has taken the lives of many this year.
Today alone, 8 Kanwariyas/Kaudias have already been reported to be dead in the state owing to their negligence of road safety and sustainable health guidelines during the tumultuous journey. While some ‘Bol Bam’ devotees are mowed down by vehicles while walking on the middle of the road, others become victim to the heavy currents of the river from which they are drawing the holy water. These situations give way to the seven probable reasons behind the rising trend of Kanwariya deaths this season.
1: **Fatigue:** The saffron-clad Shiva devotees walk miles for several days with scanty food and water and above all naked feet. This causes fatigue in their bodies due to which they lose control of their sight and mind. The famished Bol Bam devotees often fall down unconscious en-route. In their weak health, they are also not able to judge the flow of traffic thus adding to the vehicular congestion. Increasing their woes, four-wheelers and heavy vehicles smash into the devotees, who are too tired to move quickly.
2: **Walking on National Highways:** It is common to see speeds of 100–120 km/hr on expressways and highways in contrast to the safe 40 km/hr. The Kanwariyas usually become prey to these rash speeds while walking on the National Highways. Moreover, while walking on the busy city streets and roads, the pedestrian devotees become victim to the constant traffic flow that either injures them or takes their life.
3: **Travelling in nights:** The night time is scary for pedestrians as most places are not well lit and the moonlight is not sufficient for the dark, narrow lanes. Besides the poor lighting situation, four-wheelers and other heavy vehicles usually start speeding in the nights as the streets are relatively empty. This causes poor vision as the beam light from the cars cause glaring effect directly into the eyes of the walkers as well as the drivers. As a result of all this, the Kanwariyas are mowed down by vehicles and die on the spot.
4: **Walking in groups:** The Bol Bam devotees feel a great sense of camaraderie for each other. After fetching holy water, they make new friendships and prefer traveling side by side throughout the rest of the journey. These new bonds create traffic jams as the devotees congregate into huge groups and walk in a huddle instead of walking in a single well-maintained line. These clusters of devotees often cover half of the road patch that is meant for vehicles.
5:** Fanfare:** The ‘Kaudias’ prefer traveling in an elaborate ceremony. Very often, their journey includes dance, noisy music and loud chanting of bhajans (religious songs) that distracts them from their surroundings especially the nearby traffic. This can prove to be fatal, as one should always be careful while walking on the roads in today’s age of rushing and voluminous traffic.
6: **Intoxication:** The image of Lord Shiva ‘The Destroyer’ is popularly known to be the God who smoked ‘ganja’. Following the footsteps of their beloved God, several devotees travel drugged either after smoking high amounts of marijuana or indulging in other intoxicants like alcohol as they claim it to be Lord Shiva’s ‘prasad’ (religious offering). This affects their judgment and they fail to navigate their way efficiently.
7: **Drawing holy water from High-current Rivers:** The months of July and August are infamously known as the rainy months across the country. In such times, the flow of water in the river bodies exceeds the safe limit and the current in the water increases. So, while the Kanwariyas are fetching holy water from the rivers, if they do not take care of how much submergence is safe, they might fall prey to the strong under currents of the water and drown in the rivers.
While, one might think that the safety of Kanwariyas/Kaudias is the responsibility of the civic and government authorities alone, a little bit of effort from the Bol Bam devotees’ side will go a long way in securing the annual holy pilgrimage and making it a memorable one. The devoted people who embark on this sacred journey can return to their homes safely ready to lead a changed life after seeking the blessings of Lord Shiva, only when they become socially responsible and civically aware.
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