Sandeep Sahu

As I watched the kaawariyas file past on National Highway No. 5 (now NH 16), dragging their feet along and occasionally letting out a muffled cry of ‘Bol Bom’, year after year, I often wondered what kept them going on what must have been a long and arduous expedition: religion, fun or the marijuana?

As someone living in Baramaunda Housing Board Colony or the N/1 area in IRC Village in Bhubaneswar, both of which were located by the side of NH 5, the kaawariyas I got to see at the time were invariably those headed for the famous Ladu Baba temple in Sarankul in Nayagarh district. Given that the starting point for most kaawariyas is the Gadagadia Ghat in Cuttack, it was a distance of well over 100 km. There were others, I was told, who preferred the Loknath Temple in Puri. With two pitchers full of water slung from a bamboo shaft on either side of the shoulder, it was easy to see that it must be a backbreaking trek.

Several of my friends used to go on their annual sojourn to their favourite Shiva Temple to pour water on the Shivalinga. But though I have always been a bhakt of Lord Shiva, the thought of undertaking such a long and tough journey with a sizeable load on my shoulders intimidated me. “What if I conk out midway?” I thought. A friend assured me that I did not need to worry since there would be vehicles plying on the road, constantly on the lookout for those unable to walk to pick them up, all through the night. That would be a disgrace, I surmised. In the end though, my journalistic curiosity got the better of my fear and I joined a group of friends to embark on my maiden ‘Bol Bom’ journey. One of the reasons I took the gamble was the fact that it was to be a journey from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar and not much longer. The year, if memory serves me right, was 2007.

It was evening by the time we filled holy water from the Mahanadi at the Gadagadia Ghat in our earthen pitchers and set off. By the time we reached the Kathajodi bridge, it had started raining. For someone unaware of the rules of the game, this was my first lesson of the trip: rain makes the task just a lot easier. The second lesson followed soon thereafter. It was that you can’t keep your pitcher on the ground and have to find something to hang it on. Lesson No. 3; you need to take a bath every time you need to relieve yourself or have a cup of tea, some snacks or a smoke.

I also learnt that every group has a cheerleader, usually someone who has gone on more ‘Bol Bom’ trips than the other members, whose primary job was to keep the spirit of the group high when they begin to slacken. The more experienced cheerleaders would instantly spot when someone in the group is falling behind and then vent out the loud cry of ‘Bol Bom, Har Har Bom’. And sure enough, it would do the magic. There would be a spring in the feet that ached just the moment before on hearing this battle cry.

On the way, we saw several tents put up by Good Samaritans where kaawariyas were sprawled on carpets, giving some much needed rest to their tired limbs. Eatables, tea and even maalis were on offer free of cost. We did take a break at one of those shelters, but partook of only a cup of tea before setting off again.

The journey till Phulnakhara passed off without any major hitch. But by the time we reached the Kukhai bridge, it was time to learnt the next lesson: the last couple of kilometers are always the toughest part of the journey. The bare feet and the shoulder were aching and doubts had set in as to whether I could really make it to the destination: the Ardhanariswar temple near the 120 Infantry Battalion. [I had abandoned all thoughts of accompanying two members of the group to the Lingaraj Temple by then.]

Something surprising happened as I was ploughing a lonely furrow on the road by the side of Nicco Park on my way to my chosen destination. An elderly person coming on a bicycle from the other side suddenly got off his cycle and was about to touch my feet when I politely requested him to desist. It was only later that I learnt that conservative Hindus believe the kaawariyas are incarnations of Lord Shiva!

Proving my own apprehension wrong, I did make it to the Ardhanrariswar Temple and poured the holy water I had brought from Gadagadia on the Shivalinga. It was like winning a war. I could scarcely believe that I had made it.

Spiritualism, I must confess, was the last thing on my mind when I decided to undertake my maiden ‘Bol Bom’ journey. But midway through the journey, I did feel that the mind was purged of all worldly thoughts and had gone on to a higher plane. I was beginning to understand the concept of ‘kuchhra sadhana’ (taking pain for spiritual realization) in Hindu philosophy.

There were some worldly benefits too, though only temporary. The problem of constipation that has bothered me for years appeared to have vanished. Alas! It lasted only for all of two days!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)