In today’s digital age, there’s an app for every reason and every season. There’s even one for kanwariyas, devotees of Shiva who undertake the Kanwar Yatra, an annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Haridwar in the Hindu month of Shravan.
Clad in saffron, lakhs of devotees from across the country embark on the journey to Haridwar, a pole slung across their shoulders, water containers hanging from both its ends. Called kanwariyas, most of the pilgrims undertake the journey on foot while some do it on motorbikes. The pilgrimage, which usually takes place in July-August ahead of Sawan Shivaratri, culminates with the kanwariyas taking a dip in the Ganges and taking some of its holy water back home with them.
The Android app, Har Shiv Shankar – Sawan Mein Kanvad, and a related website, provide essential information to the pilgrims enroute
Now there’s an app to help ease the journey, often covering hundreds of kilometres, undertaken by more than 10 lakh devotees every year. The app, Har Shiv Shankar – Sawan Mein Kanvad, available on Google Play Store and a related website, provide essential information to the pilgrims enroute: nearest healthcare facility, public toilets, accommodation, langar (eating arrangements especially for devotees), police station, traffic diversions and recommended routes, along with a host of other useful tidbits.
The app is the handiwork of two alumni of Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee — Anshuman Shukla and his wife Shivani Chauhan. They run a Roorkee-based company called Total Engineering Solutions and Risk Assesment (TESRA), which surveyed the main routes taken by the kanwariyas. Shukla told FactorDaily that in the survey, which took six months, they made a note of all the hospitals, police stations, restaurants, lodges and lost-and-found centres enroute Haridwar.
“Bringing all the kanwariyas together virtually will also help the district administration to keep track of the number of pilgrims who have throng the city during the holy season, and enable them to manage the crowd,” said Shukla.
“Bringing all the kanwariyas together virtually will also help the district administration to keep track of the number of pilgrims who have throng the city during the holy season, and enable them to manage the crowd” — Anshuman Shukla, founder of TESRA which has made the app
He said the app can access the user’s smartphone’s GPS sensor to keep track of his or her location. This can be useful in ensuring the kanwariyas get help during times of emergency. The app has tied up with the police and the disaster management departments to this end.
Take the example of Vishant Tomar, 17, who hails from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. Tomar got injured on his way to Haridwar during the Kanwar Yatra this year. He learnt about the app from a fellow pilgrim, installed it and found the location of the nearest medical camp. “I was in so much pain that I was unable to take even a single step. I got medical help through the Shiv Shankar app and after that, I completed my Kanwar (Yatra) in just four days,” he told FactorDaily.
Divining data on the pilgrimage
For the kanwariyas, armed with faith, driven by devotion, and now guided by an app, the 2017 pilgrimage marked the first time they had real-time information on recommended routes and pit stops where they could recharge their batteries.
The yatra is a hectic affair as traffic on many highways leading to Dehradun and Haridwar is stopped or diverted during the pilgrimage. Currently, the government has little control over the pilgrimage except for traffic arrangements. The app is expected to provide the government with useful data, which will help it understand and prepare for next year’s yatra.
It helps that the app has the support of the state government. Roorkee MLA Pradeep Batra helped TESRA land a sponsorship to develop the app, and chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat launched it in the second week of July. At the inauguration ceremony, Rawat said that the state government might consider using a similar app to manage crowd for the Maha Kumbh, scheduled to be held in Haridwar in four years.
Currently, the government has little control over the pilgrimage except for traffic arrangements. The app is expected to provide the government with useful data, which will help it understand and prepare for next year’s yatra
Shukla added that Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved gave them Rs 10 lakh funding for the project.
Nobody from the Uttarakhand administration or police could be reached for comments, hard-pressed as they were in view of the Kanwar Yatra.
While it’s the first time such an app has been used at this scale in Uttarakhand, the concept of using technology to manage crowd is not new. In London, ahead of the 2012 Olympics, the City of London Police had launched an app developed jointly with the London School of Economics and Political Science. That app offered features like street-level crime information, navigable maps showcasing police stations, transport links and other points of interest, live twitter feed of the police, tips on how to respond to an emergency etc.
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The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India.
Yogesh Bharadwaj is Mathura-based freelance writer and Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow-based independent journalist. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.