The festival of Shravan or Kanwar festival is the most auspicious one for Lord Shiva devotees. In the month of Shravan, devotees from various parts of India visit Deoghar and observe strict rituals. They carry holy water of Ganges (Gangajal) from Sultanganj to Deoghar for Lord Shiva. This month normally falls in July – August.
How Lord Shiva came to Deoghar
There is an interesting story that Ravana once worshipped Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva became happy with his devotion and he awarded him saying that I will stay with you in form of Shivlinga, but he also posed a condition that Ravana has to carry Shivlinga without putting anywhere.
This posed a problem for Devtas who thought that this would make him invincible. They used a ruse which forced Ravana to put the Shivlinga in Deoghar and it became Lord Shiva’s permanent abode. Since because of Ravana only Shiv has came to Deoghar, Ravana is treated with respect here.
Why Gangajal is offered to Baba Baidyanath
The custom of carrying holy water from Sultanganj on Kanwar and offering to it Shiva started in the Treta Yuga. This yuga was the silver age of Hindu mythology. Lord Rama had carried the holy ganges water from Sultanganj in a kanwar and offered to Lord Shiva at Babadham.
Another legend says that when the churning of oceans – Samudra Manthan – took place, this was in the month of Shravan. During manthan, fourteen different types of rubies came out. Thirteen of these were distributed amongst the deamons, except Halahal (poison). Lord Shiva drank the Halahal and stored it in his throat. Hence the name Neelkantha (meaning blue throat) is attributed to Shiva.
To reduce the strong effect of poison, Lord Shiva wore the crescent moon on his head. All the Gods, thereafter started offering the Ganges water to Lord Shiva to make lessen the effect of poison.
This happened in the month of Shravan. The Shiva devotees offer the Ganges water in this month and Shravan festival is observed. This festival and Baidyanath Deoghar is one of the holiest ones for Hindu devotees.
Importance of Gangajal from Sultanganj
In Sultanganj, the Ganges flows to the North. This is why, the devotees collect water in their kanwars and carry the holy Ganges water, with the kanwars on their shoulders. They walk 109 km up to Baba Baidyanath temple at Babadham reciting Bol Bam on the way.
Importance of Belpatra
Lord Shiva has three eyes – Mother Parvati, Lord Kartik and Ganesh. Lord Shiva is also called Mahadeva, the god of gods and his three eyes- Trinetra are his identification. Three eyes, three virtues, three truths, three swords of the Trident (Trishul) and three leaves (Belpatra) are very dear to Shiva. Lord Shiva becomes pleased if one offers Ganga water with Belpatra.
Bol – Bam and its importance
The word Bam is a short name for Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The letters BA came from Brahma and Vishnu and M came from Mahesh.
It is a long efficacious mantra (a hymn). When it is chanted during the way, it generates energy and enthusiasm amongst the kanwarias and gives them the psychological strength to carry on walking and succeed in covering the long distance from Sultanganj to Babadham.
According to the Skand Purana, those who complete the holy journey by reciting Bam-Bam obtain the virtues of Ashwamedha Yajna. According to the Puranas, the demon king Ravana had brought the Ganges water from Haridwar and offered to Lord Shiva.
During their journey from Sultanganj to Deoghar, kanwariyas are supposed to observe strict vrata:
To maintain celibacy (Bramhacharya)
To remember Lord Shiva by keeping mind, heart and speech pure
To speak the truth
To be inspired by charity and service
To take bath before taking the kanwar
To recite Bam – Bam
Not to use oil and soap
Not to wear shoes
Not to take any article made of leather
To avoid dogs. (dogs should not be touched)
Pilgrims to the temple later visit the Basukinath temple.