'Chhabeels' are counters put up along roads where water and milk are mixed with essence and sweetener, which is offered to thirsty people, motorists included. Hundreds of 'chhabeels' dot highways where people can quench their thirst in the scorching summer heat. Year on year this tradition provides a soothing relief all over Punjab, and has since spread to many other parts of northern India, Delhi included.
The water is offered to all, irrespective of one's religion. These 'chhabeels' are mostly put up around gurudwaras where young and old people can be seen enthusiastically requesting people to stop and partake the sweetened water-milk combo.
Tarsem Singh, a granthi (religious preacher) in Ropar town, said, "Chhabeel is a religious tradition that has been followed for hundreds of years. In peak summers, the event coincides with the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev (the fifth Sikh guru). The concept is to offer the sweetened drink to people who are moving in the scorching heat."
Chandan Singh, a private sector employee in his 30s, said, "It gives a very nice feeling to offer sweetened water to people in this burning heat. Motorists and others get a lot of relief after taking it. This is a very good tradition. Even the younger generation feels happy to help out in this activity."
The martyrdom day of Arjan Dev, who was tortured to death on the orders of Mughal emperor Jahangir in the early 17th century, is observed every June.
Ravi Singh, a resident of Amritsar, said, "When I drove from Amritsar to Chandigarh this week, I saw well over 100 'chhabeels' in the nearly 250 km journey. The volunteers were enthusiastic about offering the sweetened water. I had it at least six times during the journey."
'Chhabeels' are organized on other days too that are related to the Sikh religious calendar. However, the maximum number of 'chhabeels' are organized in the summer months of May and June.