Kanwar Mela begins amid chants of Bam Bam bole!

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Hardwar, Jul 19 (UNI) Thousands of saffron clad Kanwarias have congregated at the celestial town of Hardwar to collect holy Gangajal in decorated Kanwars setting off the euphoria associated with one of the country's largest religious festival.

Amid chants of 'bam bam bhole', 75,000 yellow-clad Shiva worshippers have transversed hundreds of kilometres barefoot to reach the Har-ki-Pauri here with their decorated bamboo structures to collect the holy Gangajal to offer Lord Shiva.

The Kanwar Teerth Yatra or the Kanwar Mela draws lakhs of Shiva devotees every year during the Hindu month of 'sawaan' from the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Bihar. Last year, an estimated 40 lakh pilgrims visited Hardwar while about 60 lakh are expected to visit this year.

The long walk for worship has evoked both curiousity and condemnation. Interestingly, the Kanwarias are not supposed to let their vessels touch the ground till they reach the temples of their respective regions. However, reports of drug abuse by some kanwarias, infighting and infiltration of anti-social elements have robbed the sanctity of the festival, notwithstanding the spate of traffic jams caused by the Kanwarias on foot.

Elaborate security arrangements have been made by the Uttarakhand police to ward off such instances this year. About 500 policemen have been stationed along the routes and the Kanwarias will not be allowed to enter Dehra Dun city or Mussorie market as a special security measure. Also, Dak Kanwarias (pilgrims on vehicles) driving rashly and playing loud music have been banned.

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