Saturday, February 8, 2014


I had walked for almost 7 hours now, walking from one Dindi(a group of Varkaris from one place) to another clicking pictures and chatting with my fellow Varkaris (pilgrims). The simple joy of being photographed was visible on their faces and that was humbling. 

In wee hours of the morning . . . the journey started from BhavaniPeth (in the heart of old Pune) early morningwith the SantDyaneshwarPalkhi (palanquin). Hordes of people were waiting on the way to get a glimpse of the Palkhi.  The atmosphere was filled with positive energy,devotional music, chants of DyanbaTukaramand dance - this made the journey through sweltering heat easy.

245 kilometers in 21 days.What counts?The journey?Or the destination?People come from all over Maharashtra and northern Karnataka. They brave the blazing sun or lashing rains on their way to Pandharpur- where their GOD resides. 

During my walk:
I was fascinated with this mass procession of hardiness, devotion and spirituality – devoid of any pretense of glamor. They walk, and walk fast. There is a certain urgency and focus in the gait. I try to analyze from my limited purview and urban upbringing the correlation between hardships and pilgrimage. Varkari! They were mostly simple people with very few belongings and scant means of livelihood.  Everybody is ‘Mauli’ (GOD) for them. This stems from the belief of this Sampradaya (sect) that GOD dwells in everybody.

The tradition dates back to 13th century and has roots in Vaishnavism. (followers of Vishnu/Krishna;Vithoba being one of the reincarnations of Vishnu). Their worship is through ‘Bhajan/Kirtan’ (devotional verses written for GOD). Through these Bhajans/Kirtans, saints like SantDyaneshwar and SantTukaram(who were also Varkaris) communicated the philosophy of life to the common man. Soon these became part of culture and to date carry great importance in Maharashtrian cultural and musical heritage. 

The Palkhi tradition  was later introduced by Sant Tukaram’s son Narayan Baba in 1685 as a mark of respect for both Sant Tukaram and Sant Dyaneshwar, who brought in a lot of social change through their contributions. Their silver Paduka  (footsteps) are placed in Palkhis at Dehu and Alandi respectively. Both Palkhis meet in Pune and from there proceed to a village called Wakhari near Pandharpur.
Anywhere between 1-2 lakh Varkaris walk with the Palkhis. Around 45Dindis (groups of Varkaris from different places) cover this distance. Each Dindi has Vaishnavas(men clad in white clothes who sing Kirtans and Bhajans), a woman carrying water in a Handa (traditional utensil to carry drinking water for the Vaishnavas), and one woman carrying Tulsi-Vrindavan (a pot with an Indian basil plant) which is carried from their home to meet the GOD. 

Over a period of time many more traditions got attached to Vari one of that is Ringan and Dhavawhere a sacred horse (MaulinchaAshva) runs through the circle formed by the Varkaris. Such unique ways of expressions make the Vari tradition very popular. Pune has been hosting Varkaris for years together, many households, individuals and businesses take care of shelter, food, medication, medical treatment and some also provide useful items like sleeping mats, bags and raincoats to protect them from sun. 

Something that needs to be stopped urgently is the gross commercialization of this event, where people use this as a canvas to advertise their products and services or get political mileage through banners. This gesture is so short termed and does not do any good to the recipients. It sets a wrong precedent, litters the roads with food wastage and plastic. All this money can be used for something more long term like building infrastructure in Pandharpur to cater to the needs of Varkaris or building shelters and toilets on the way to take care of their sanitary needs.
On my way back home, sitting in a comfortable A/C car made me feel guilty while my fellow varkari’s were braving the heat in make shift tents or in the shadow of a tree. The seven hours on the road was just one part of the actual spiritual journey…which continues.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Parvati Part II

Navel gazer, that’s what a good friend accused me of.  I had reason to feel hurt and offended.  But then the accusation came from a budding politician who has the lofty aim of ‘greater human welfare’ in mind, so anything that does not concern human life directly is a luxury for him!
History, Heritage, Culture, Conservation, Restoration, Preservation are luxuries for a developing country like India. Is it so? Can Maslow’s theory for a human be applied to a society, a nation? In that case, should the nation move at the speed of the least evolved or the most evolved?
So next time anyone gives you spiel on priorities and urgency as far as human development is concerned, be assured that’s the only excuse he could find to hide his ignorance.These navel gazers, I say!
Now that, I have got it out of my system let me get back to the subject. One visit to Parvati wasn’t enough; curiosity to find the real dateline of the caves was very high. So we went there to pop some more pictures. Existence of Pune dates back to 230 BCE (Before Common Era), which is an era of Satavahana Dynasty. The archaeological evidence says that the Satavahanas ruled from Junnar (Pune) and Pratishthan (Paithan) in Maharashtra later. The habitants of that period followed the Hindu religion and worshiped Vishnu and Shiva but also respected Buddha. The caves at Parvati, Pataleshwar and Chaturshringi in Pune do point to this part of ancient history.

These caves situated at the South-East part of the hill largely lie neglected as very few know the significance and the heritage value of these grottos. The residents nearby and the regulars can take some initiative to preserve this.

We were transcending through 230 BCE to 1700 CE (ancient to medieval era) as we were moving up from the caves towards the Parvati top. The tall fortification wall (Tat & Buruj) was now visible. Parvati also follows the same architectural design of a land-fort with two fortification walls. Only parts of these walls are intact now, enough to give an idea of the old structure.

The sun was already high up and we had not yet reached the Vishnu temple. My photographer friend was more than a little anxious! A frenzied photo session followed, what you see here is the real thing. This temple is truly BEAUTIFUL. The colors and carvings on the dome are any photographers delight!

The representation of Garuda, Vahan (divine vehicle) of Vishnu carved in marble stone alone can be a subject for someone interested in Hindu iconography.

What fascinated me at the Kartikeya temple, were the recently done paintings, depicting the life of Kartikeya. I would love to know the identity of this/these artists. They’ve done a wonderful job with colors. The Kartikeya temple, they say was struck by lightning twice so the idol had to be replaced and the dome reconstructed. The stone structure which hides behind the colorful facade is intact and extremely beautiful.