It was that time of the year again last weekend, when tens of thousands of warkaris (pilgrims) entered Pune on foot moving the faithful one step closer to heaven. Men, women and children from villages around Maharashtra and neighbouring Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh were on their 17-day annual pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Lord Vitthal in the temple town of Pandarpur in western Maharashtra. With their unshakable faith, the simple village pilgrims were accompanying the two holy ‘palkhis’ (palanquin processions) of Sant Tukaram and Sant Dnyaneshwar. The palkhis carry the paduka (foot prints) of Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram to the pilgrim town of Pandharpur.
Divided into several dindis or groups, some held aloft idols of Sant Tukaram and Sant Dnyaneshwar, while few others carried on their heads tulsi plants. Waving bright orange flags, the pilgrims’ dance and sing bhajans in groups to the tune of clanging cymbals. Sweets, snacks and other eatables are freely distributed to the pilgrims by local residents, mandals and housing societies and seek their blessings. The pilgrims, who started their journey from Alandi and Dehu, the two temple towns about 40 km from Pune, follow the palkhis of the 16th century Maharashtrian saint-poets. Many associations organised camps at various places in the city for the pilgrims. After halting for two days on Saturday and Sunday in various parts of the city, they will resume their onward journey on Monday morning. While they walk during the day, they halt in the evening for the night in the villages along the route before reaching Pandarpur in Solarpur district on Ashadhi Ekadashi on July 23.
The faith of the people is so strong that even the disabled are not deterred to join the 255-kilometrer road winding journey through cities and villages. Donning the ubiquitous white and orange ‘tila’ and waving bright orange flags, the pilgrims dance and chant bhajans in groups to the tune of clanging cymbals, filling onlookers with divine joy and taking them one step closer to heaven. The pilgrims do not seem to be tired of the long and arduous journey. This is one procession where love, caring and sharing is at its best irrespective of religion, caste and creed. Jai Ho.