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.

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