Kanwar Yatra is usually held in the month of July to August in the Gregorian calendar. As per Hindu puranas, the history of Kanwar yatra is associated with Samudra Manthan — the churning of ocean by the Gods (Dev) and the devils (Asura) — which helped to remove the poison out of the ocean. To protect everyone else, Lord Shiva consumed that poison and his throat turned blue. From then on, he was known as ‘Neel Kantha’. To reduce the impact of the poison, the devas poured Ganga water over Lord Shiva to cool off his throat.
Another story tells that it was Ravana, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, brought Ganga water by using kanwar and poured it on Shiva’s temple in Puramahadev. Since this happened in the month of Shravan, even today, Shiva’s devotees carry forward this tradition of pouring Holy Ganges water on the Shiv Linga every year in this month.
The Kanwar Yatra is an auspicious pilgrimage observed by Lord Shiva’s devotees every year, in which they undertake yatra to Hindu pilgrimage centres to collect Ganga water, and then offer the ‘Ganga Jal’ in the local Lord Shiva temples. The holy water is stored in pitchers and carried by the devotees on their shoulders on a small pole made from bamboo, known as “Kanwar”. Hence, these Shiv devotees are popularly referred as “Kanwars” or “Kanwariyas” and the entire pilgrimage is referred as “Kanwar Yatra”. The yatra takes place during the religious month of ‘Shravan”. The Yatra used to be a small affair undertaken by a few saints and older devotees until the late 1980s when it started gaining popularity.