The Kanwar Yatra or Kavad Yatra is annual pilgrimage of devotees of Shiva, known as Kānvarias. These Shiva devotee goes to Hindu pilgrimage places like Haridwar, Gaumukh and Gangotri in Uttarakhand to fetch holy water (Ganga Jal) of Ganges River , which is later offered to Shivlinga at their local Shiva temples. Kanwar Yatra takes place during the sacred month of Shravan (Sawan) (July -August), according to the Hindu Vikrami Samvat Calendar.
Kanwar Yatra is named after the kānvar ,That is a single pole (usually made of bamboo) which have two almost equal weight and sized pots hung on its both opposite ends.The kānvar is carried by balancing the middle of the pole on one or both shoulders. Kanvar-carrying pilgrims, called Kānvarias, carry covered water-pots in kanvars slung across their shoulders. This practice of carrying Kavad as a part of religious pilgrimage, especially by devotees of Lord Shiva, is widely followed throughout India.
The month of Shravan is dedicated to Lord Shiva and most devotees observe a fast on Mondays during the month, as it also falls during the chaturmas period, traditionally set aside for religious pilgrimages, bathing in holy rivers and penance. During the annual Monsoon season thousands of saffron-clad pilgrims carrying water from the Ganges in Haridwar, Gangotri or Gaumukh, the glacier from where the Ganges originates and other holy places on the Ganges, like Sultanganj, the only place where the river turns north during its course, and return to their hometowns, where they later they perform abhisheka (anointing) the Shivalingas at the local Shiva temples, as a gesture of thanksgiving.
Kanwarias in Haridwar,While most pilgrims are men, a few women also participate in Yatra. Most travel the distance on foot, a few also travel on bicycles, motor cycles, scooters, mini trucks or jeeps. Numerous Hindu organizations and other voluntary organizations like local Kanwar Sanghs, the Rashtryia Swayam Sewak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. setup camps along the National Highways during the Yatra, where food, shelter, medical-aid and stand to hang the Kanvads, holding the Ganges water is provided.
Smaller pilgrimages are also undertaken to places like Allahabad and Varanasi. Shravani Mela is a major festival at Deoghar in Jharkhand, where thousands of saffron-clad pilgrims bringing holy water, from the Ganges at Sultanganj, covering a distance of 105 kilometres on foot. Here till about 1960, the yatra was confined to a few saints, old devotees, and rich Marwaris of neighbouring cities, and the phenomenon has seen considerable rise in the recent years.
Once the pilgrims reach their hometown, the Ganges water is used to bathe the Shivalingam on the Amavasya (New Moon) day in Shravan month or on the Mas Shivratri day.