Said to be one of the World's Largest and Oldest movement, the Pandharpur Wari has countless people gather on a specific day every year and walk for a distance of around 250 kms. Know what keeps the 800-year-old tradition so alive even in modern times.
The manifestation of the God Vishnu or his avatar Krishna, Vithoba or Panduranga, is a Hindu deity ardently worshipped in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Also know by the names, Vitthala, Vitthal, Pandharinath, Hari and Narayan, the Lord’s idol is a dark complexioned, standing on a brick and hands on the waist. This idol is unlikeother idols, which have either a weapon or grant a blessing with the hand.
Vithoba’s temple at Pandharpur is the key centre of worship for the deity. Also called as the South Kashi (Dakshin Kashi), Pandharpur is a famous pilgrimage, on the banks of Chandrabhaga River in Solapur district of Maharashtra, India. Believed to be the earliest Vithoba temple, the Pandharpur Vithoba temple attracts huge number of devotees all through the year, most during the annual yatra called ‘Wari’ in the Hindu calendar month of Aashaad (June–July). It is the first of the two months that comprise the monsoon season.
Four annual processions to Pandharpur take place every year, in the Hindu months of Chaitra, Aashaad, Kartik and Magh. However, the Aashaadhi Wari is the most popular among devotees and gets maximum participation.
In a devotional procession, the Wari, involves the palanquin carrying the paduka (footwear) of Sant Tukaram and Sant Dnyaneshwar from Dehu and Alandi respectively, to Pandharpur. The Wari begins on the 8th or 9th day of the Hindu month of Jyestha. The journey of 21 dayson foot sees believers and disciples come from about all parts of Maharashtra and few neighbouring states. The essence of Marathi culture is thus a part of the entire experience.
Numerous processions, called the ‘Palkhis’, join the main Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar Palkhis along the way. The Wari culminates at the Vithoba temple in Pandharpur on the 11thday of Aashaad i.e.,the Aashaadhi Ekadashi. A bath in the holy Chandrabhaga river is believed to have the mystic power to wash away all the sins.
Most Warkaris, come from the rural agrarian backgrounds. Dressed in simple and understatedclothing, most Warkaris depend on patrons for their meals and other needs. Open to all, the Wari welcomes whoever wishes to be a part. The old and the young, the men, the women and the children, the rich and the deprived, the healthy and the specially-abled, the sincere regular followers or the one-time adventurous individuals, the ones that walk the entire distance of 21 days or the ones that walk for particular distances. There are no restrictions in terms of the accessibility to all. The Wari unites devotees beyond cultures, economic classes, languages, geographies, communities, age and professions.
During this journey, ‘Ringan’ is a special event. During Ringan, a consecrated horse called ‘Maulicha Ashva’ runs through the Warkaris. The holy dust kicked off by the horse is collected by Warkaris and smeared on their heads. Collective singing, dancing and chanting of Lord Vitthal keep the Warkaris engaged and unified with a common spirit.
Warkari literally means 'the one who performs the Wari'. Thus, anyone who becomes a part of the Wari relates to him or herself as a Warkari today. However, Warkari is a sampradaya (religious movement) within the Bhakti Spiritual Tradition of the Vaishnava sect in India. Warkaris worship Lord Vitthal. Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Chokhamela, Eknath, and Tukaram, GadgeMaharajetc. are some of the saints and gurus associated with the Warkaris.
United in faith, Warkaris walk with discipline and systematically in the Waris. They greet each other with a heartfelt ‘Ram Krishna Hari’ and have a common name – ‘Mauli’. The inspiring feat through the ghats, the uneven roads, the rains challenge not just the body, but both – the mind and the faith in the divine.
The two processions from Dehu and Alandi attract lakhs of devotees. However, it is fairly easy to organize and manage them as the followers are segregated into a smaller group called ‘Dindi’. Each Dindi has between 50 to 1,000 Warkaris. Each Dindi, numbered according to its position in the procession, has a leader and a team of nominated members, who are allotteddefinitetasks. Some groups take care of night halts and meals for the Dindi members, while the other groups engage in bhajan,kirtan etc.
Every Dindi has one lorry or vehicle that carries the luggage and food material. Women, children, elders and the specially-abled board the vehicles in case of weariness or when crossing a tough terrain. The Warkaris in their handheld bags carry the emergency resources and Tal and Veena (musical instruments). All along the way, food and other important supplies such as footwear, umbrellas, raincoats, medicines etc. are made available by benevolent individuals. Also, in the big cities, that have the carnival-like atmosphere, warmly welcome the pious Warkaris by hosting free medical check-ups, extravagant meals and religious get-togethers.
Sant Tukaram’s Palkhi procession starts from Dehu and reaches Pandharpur via Akurdi, Pune, LoniKalbhor, Yavat, Baramati, Indapur, Akluj and Wakhri.
Sant Dnyaneshwar’s Palkhi follows a different route — it enters Pune from Alandi, then heads towards Pandharpur through Saswad, Jejuri, Lonand, Phaltan, Malshiras, Shegaon and Wakhri.
The schedule of the Wari course is issued well in advance and is strictly followed. The agenda is well-defined and little particulars including starting site, the places of breaks such as the lunch, rest, night stay etc.The citizens that are unable to join in the Wari visit the places that are designatednight halts to take the ‘Darshan’ or seek blessings. All along the route, the celebratory vibe is evident not just among the Warkaris, but also the residents and the local businesses.
Collective singing, dancing and chanting is the essence of the Wari even today. The journey however has become slightly easier, compared to the earlier times that provided limited connectivity and communication. For example, the travelling by vehicles makes it easier to carry the supplies and other essential items and the presence of mobile phones helps all communicate all throughout.
Today, the Wari culture has become popular beyond the traditional Warkaris. The movement has received publicity and mention on global platforms. The media attention and coverage has invited more and more people to participate every year and also follow the journey closely. Artists such as photographers, musicians, choirs, painters become a part of the festivity to capture the exuberance and make it timeless. Last year and this year, in the wake of the COVID catastrophe, the venerable tradition came to a standstill. Instead of the customaryhuge processions, the Palkhiswere taken to Pandharpur in a special vehicle escorted by a few aides.
With such massive numbers of devotees becoming a part of the processions, the issues of public health and people management have become concerns in modern times. The accommodation, the food and the medical services all throughout need attention and sustained efforts to ensure that the journey is seamless, simple and easy.
The site for ‘The Drawing Board 2021’ is ‘Velapur’. Located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, Velapur is a large village located in Malshiras Taluka of Solapur district.The foot journey from Pune to Velapur is approximately 160km. Velapur is the one of the last stops on the Pandharpur Wari, and is situated just about 24km away from the nearest railway station at Pandharpur. Sant Dyaneshwar’s Palkhi reaches Pandharpur via Pune, Saswad, Jejuri, Lonand, Taradgaon, Phaltan, Natepute, Malshiras, Velapur, Shegaon and Wakhri to Pandharpur.
As per the Census Report of 2011, Velapur housed a total of 3531 families. Today, after 10 years, the population of 17,082 then would have definitely changed. Majority of these families in Velapur are farmers and traders, and the popular crops grown are sugarcane, wheat and onions.
The Ardhanari Nateshwar Temple here is revered across the country for its architecture and the unique make of the statue. The historic temple is much more than just rustic aesthetics. Made of gigantic boulders, the temple houses an idol of Lord Shiva. As the name suggests, the right half of this idol represents Lord Shiva while the other half represents Goddess Parvati. Also known as the Hara Nareshwara, the temple was built in the 12th century during the reign of the Yadavas. The temple boasts of carvings and Hemdapanthi-style architecture and stands strong even today as a testimony of the exemplary workmanship of that era. There are many inscriptions found on the walls and staircases of the temple that reveal the history of the temple. This religious place is visited by Shiv bhakts across the country during the holy month of Shravan to seek blessings from the powerful Almighty.The temple is truly a unification of spirituality, religion and enthralling architecture all under one roof.
Saint Dyaneshwar’s Palkhi reaches Velapur on Ashadh Saptami in the night and leaves the next day morning. Warkaris stay for a night in Velapur. The night halt at Velapur requires arrangements for stay and food for the countless Warkaris that have travelled a long distance to reach Pandharpur within few hours. All the supplies which the devotees require need to be present and stored such as clothes, ingredients for food, tents or bedding and other essentials. Locals also contribute or make arrangement of food and water for Warkaris.