The annual Kanwar Yatra is a living testament to the tradition of inclusivism in Hinduism. The northern Indian pilgrimage has its roots in the effort to neutralise the impact of venom that Shiva had consumed during the Sagarmanthan process, which turned his throat blue, or Neelkanth. But not too many have observed that the bulk of people undertaking this yatra belong to the OBC and Dalit communities.
It is an inconvenient fact for many progressive voices but the participation of Dalits and Other Backward Classes trumps the Indian liberal narrative of institutional oppression within Hinduism. This is why they fail to see that many Dalits can be followers of B.R. Ambedkar but also be devout Hindus in their personal lives.
Shiva has always had a special place in the subaltern mind. He is somehow considered a subaltern himself. This is probably why former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad’s disgruntled son Tej Pratap Yadav, known for his eccentric get-ups, recently posed as Shiva. His act would appeal to a large section of his party’s voters from Yadav and OBC communities. Majority of the Shaivites belong to socially backward communities, unlike the followers of Vaishnavism who usually come from a privileged section.
Diana L. Eck, the author of a seminal work on Indian culture, India: A Sacred Geography, observes, “The Story of Shiva in the land of India begins on the frontier so as to speak. He is the outsider, the mountain dweller in the far north country. Who is Shiva? In ancient India, Shiva was certainly not the “Four Vedas,” as the Tamil poet Appar put it. In fact, he is seen as outside the Vedas, Vedabhaya. He has no share in the Vedic sacrifice.”