Name : Saikat Ray [On Oct 06, 2010]
State : MH
Title : PANDHARPUR YATRA, FOLLOWING THE HOLY STEPS
It is quite unlike the treks I had in the Himalayan routes.
The people trudging along the road are not trekkers either. They move on in search of salvation; a pilgrimage trek of primitive origin is underway. Having started their journey at Dehu, a town near Pune, Maharashtra, the pilgrims spend day on the road to reach Pandharpur, the centre of the ‘Bhakti’ sect.
They march barefooted about kms along the Palanquin of Sant Tukaram. As I witness countless pilgrims struggling towards Pandharpur during the annual ‘Wari yatra’, the realization of the power of faith sinks deep within me. Shrine of Lord Vitthala, one of the many temples in Pandharpur is the final destination. Before entering the temple, a bath is essential in the river Bhima, also known as Chandrabhaga which flows beside the temple. Several groups of pilgrims, locally called ‘dindi’s get to Pandharpur on the auspicious day of ‘Ashadhi Ekadasi’ on the Marathi calendar.
Thousands are to be seen walking wearily, wave after wave, with their belongings on their head. The only vehicles on the route taken by ‘warkari’s or pilgrims are trucks carrying ration for different ‘dindi’s, tankers dispensing safe drinking water and ambulances for the fatigued and ill. Food is cooked on the roadside pastures and the ‘warkari’s have their community lunch hurriedly. Exhausted men, women and children lie under trees, regain some energy and walk again. The old stagger leaning on their sticks and their grand children. Chanting of holy names ‘Dnyanba Tukaram’ and melodious prayers fill the air. Villagers seeking blessings offer fruits, drinks, hot or cold, and of course, encouragement as the ‘warkari’s pass by. Nights are spent in the school buildings, temporary shelters and in the open fields.
One of the most famous pilgrimages in Maharashtra, Pandharpur Ashadhi Ekadashi Wari has been taking place for more than years. The ‘warkaris’ of all castes, creed, rich or poor accompany the ‘palkhi’ or the palanquin which contains the ‘padukas’ and masks of the saints, Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram. Numerous palkhis from all over the state join the procession of the main Palkhi, Sant Tukaram’s from Dehu. Sant Dnyaneshwar palkhi from Alandi, Ekanath from Paithan and numerous other palkhis from villages and towns finally meet at Palkhi Tal, an open field in Wakhri village, kms away from the centre of Pandharpur.
A curious ceremony called ‘Ringaan’ is observed at Palkhi Tal before all the dindis march together towards Pandharpur. Numerous warkaris wearing spotless white Marathi ‘kurta paijama’ and ‘manjira’ musical instruments in hand roll on the ground to collect dust and chant the holy names. Some hundred warkaris who carry ‘ektara’, a one stringed musical instrument, run in a circle. Again in the circle, two horsemen let their horses run while the devotees dive to the ground to collect the dust from the horses’ hoofs. They sing holy songs, dance, play games, and build human pillars. Fun activities are enjoyed heartily, the pilgrims being within a short distance from their destination. Several thousand ‘warkari’s and locals gather at the place but not one unpleasant incident happens. A sense of universal brotherhood prevails as all present seek salvation.
On the closing day of the ceremony, the Ashadi Akadashi, Pandharpur observes a fasting. The worshippers sustain the day on sago or ‘sabudana’; all other cereals are shunned. Even most of the restaurants serve nothing but items prepared from sago. No vehicle can ply inside Pandharpur this day and town is virtually taken over by the ‘warkari’s. The bank of the river Chandrabhaga becomes crowded with lakhs of people. One is reminded of the Kumbha Mela at this point. Men and women enjoy the bathe in the knee-dip water while the young men try to build human pillars on the bank and in the water.
I wade in the water taking photographs but it is hard to merge with the locals for I share neither their emotion nor their attire. Thankfully, I am accepted genially and even conferred the status of a guest. Having tea in a temporary stall on the river bank, I find to my astonishment someone has already paid for it and he will at no cost part with the opportunity of providing the hospitality. On the day after Ashadi Akadashi, I and my friends drive to Pune in a rented car leaving behind thousands of warkari’s struggling to take the public transport back home only to return next year with the same zeal and devotion.
Copyright © Saikat Ray