For over a decade now, Sunil Kumar of Manikapur village near Unnao has been undertaking a journey on foot every year ahead of Mahashivratri to offer Gangajal at the famous Lodheshwar Mahadev temple in Barabanki. He had vowed to offer holy water on the Shivling at the temple for a minimum of 11 years after his son survived an acute illness.Like Sunil, hundreds of kanwariyas walk to the temple to offer Gangajal on the shivling at the Lodheshwar Mahadev temple on Mahashivratri. And thus the sight of men moving in groups with kanwars on city roads isn’t anything new for Lucknowites.

“The kanwariyas come from various parts of UP, including Etah, Jaunpur, Kanpur, Auraiyya etc and fetch Gangajal in pots, which they keep on the kanwar. It is the same water that they offer on the Shivling,” said Sant Kumar Valmiki, president, Shiv Kanwariya Sewa Samiti.

“Many even abstain from keeping the kanwar on the floor and eating anything offered to them. They only survive on water or cook their own meals on the route,” said Sant Kumar, who organises a halt for the kanwariyas in Chowk area and serves fruits and water to the kanwariyas free of cost.

The Lodheshwar Mahadev temple finds mention in the epic Mahabharat. It is believed that the Pandavas offered water on the Shivling at the temple and performed a prayer. Many also believe that the temple was built by Yudhishthir.

“It is believed that Ravan was the first one to take Gangajal in a kanwar and offer it to Lord Shiva after the lord consumed poison that came out of the samudra manthan. The practice pleased the lord and thus devotees of Lord Shiva began offering Gangajal on him carried in kanwars made of bamboo,” said Pt Garunesh Shastri.

Some kanwariyas also consider themselves part of Lord Shiva’s ‘baarat’ and thus they chant ‘Bam Bholey, Har Har Mahadev’, ‘Jai Bholenath’ on their route and sing songs in praise of the lord.

“It isn’t easy to offer Gangajal on the shivling on Mahashivratri as hundreds of devotees throng the temple. But it is the belief that brings us here every year,” said Deen Dayal, a kanwariya from Auraiyya who has been visiting the temple for many years.