Saffron! Did that term provoke a statement? Were you able to separate the colour from the reaction it generates? It must be said, it is a beautiful colour. No? In fact, this distant cousin of orange finds itself adorned in the heart of the national flag. So, must it be asked in an age where Orange, according to popular culture is the new black, what does one feel about the Kanwar?
You’ve surely heard of this term but perhaps might not have given it a thought in great detail. Or have you? Largely identified-if not celebrated- as a pious devotee of Shiv, the Kanwar represents a custom followed during the holy month of monsoons.
Getting to know the traditional orange-bordering on- saffron brigade
Implicit in celebrating the divine Lord Shiv is the period of Indian monsoons. Monsoons, after all, are the holy month and holiness, a term apart from being attributed to the Dalai Lama, runs thicker than the duration of the rainy season in an India slowly besieged by climate change.
It is during the monsoons that the Kanwars, or Shiv ‘bhakts’- as you’ve popularly come to know them- gear up for action; a traditional one.
Driven by the strongly observed tradition of taking bath in the revered Indian Ganges, the Kanwar bathes in what we Indians have left of the Ganga- given hygiene isn’t necessarily our strong point today. Funny as it might sound, which living being does to one’s ‘mother’ what we’ve done to Ganga, often known by the virtue it is hailed for? That said, it must be noted that fundamentally, the Kanwar we throw verbals at for playing loud music whilst we are trying to make peace with the city’s traffic, bathes in the very polluted waters where the rest of educated India; aware, responsible, driving sophisticated wagons, present on LinkdIn, ; often bathes in, to ward off sins, along with dirty linen- pun intended.
But, traditionally, it must be noted, the idea behind taking a ‘holy dip’ is to serve penance, even if that might loosen someone’s poorly tied pyjamas or whatnot.
But what happens next? What does the Kanwar do post immersing in the euphoria of Shiv worship?
Upon bathing, the Kanwar undertakes a physically daunting journey of carrying holy water from the Ganga- today, an upper middle class TV serial name that in essence of its spiritual equivalent has been left bereft of purity.
This journey- embarked on boundless faith on Lord Shiv, a lord popular culture often prefers representing through macho and dopey representations, even as Shiv is eternally way more- takes the Kanwar, birthed in the hitherto unknown part of India’s hinterland to ‘booming’ metropolitan cities, like Delhi.
This is precisely where two contrasting worlds collide, that of the not so refined, staunchly religious Kanwar and the Facebook using, twitter ranting, pub- hopping, diet food eaters of an India who prefers opining online about the state of affairs but votes shabbily, only to crib “we’ve chosen the wrong government to lead us.”
So as the ‘intellectual’, C-suites of India sit in a four walled existence, lamenting the Kanwar (not your usual product of a posh South Delhi school or a contributor to the start up culture of India), for playing loud, uncouth music at disturbing levels even as he refrains from offering a discerning view on Baadshah or Honey Singh, urban India finds the orange/saffron brigade jostling with energy in full might.
While we are no one to judge what is and isn’t ‘fanaticism in the name of religion’, since today, a Sonu Nigam can be downed online instantly for offering a view about the use of loudspeakers as conveniently as a Khan be body- searched despite making a heart-wrenching ‘My Name is Khan’, one thing could be said for certain.
How true is the idea of Diversity+ Inclusion?
One reckons, there needs to be more dialogue and space for greater co-existence for the informed and the uninformed, and the biased and the misinformed in an India united by myriad colours. Colours, that bind a Hindu to a Sikh, not merely through Santa Banta Jokes or on the delicacy called Balti Chicken. Also, colours that attract us from the lofty pedestals of shopping in a big fancy mall to the haunting silence of Rajasthan or the cheery rhythm of the North East.
That said, it must be asked if the Kanwar, who turns up with laughter, loud grunts, every year albeit only around monsoons can be included as much into our existence as our easy acceptance of the unbearable idiocy of parking in a no-parking zone?
Listen to the antar-aatma, will you?
Will you ridicule his existence come monsoons and or would you smoke up some divine powder to seek advice from a god that might not actually be puffing away as you’ve imagined him? The answer, as televisions’ modern take on Shiv, Neeli Chatri Waale suggests, remains in listening in! So will you have time to seek within what you seek without?