With the chants calling out to their beloved Vithoba, the Warkaris march to their beloved deity in Pandharpur. Devotion seeps through their voices and faces, as they walk on to reach the destination and show their true devotion. Believer, spiritual, atheist, orthodox… whatever your belief is, the sight of a Warkari is soul stirring.
Each year, Pune experiences a renewed interest and emotion in bhakti, thanks to the Pandharpur Yatra or Wari/Ashadi Ekadashi Pandharpur Wari. Here, literally lakhs of devotees travel from Dehu to Pandharpur where the Vitthala temple is located. Despite being an overtly religious event for the Hindus, what it actually spreads is the message of being true to God, keeping faith and reaching out to the almighty in a simple fashion. Before I embark upon the journey of what the Wari means to me and how I view it, it is imperative that one understands a few things of this event.
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The Warkari (pilgrim) movement can be effectively called that one thread which has strung entire Maharashtra together. Bhakti movement (of which the Warkari movement is a part of) propagated the downfall of class, creed and other such monstrosities which afflicted the early Hindu beliefs in and around Maharashtra. Saints like Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath, Namdev and so on, brought Hindu religion and its beliefs closer to the masses and made sure that religion was not the toy of a chosen few. Bhakti means faith. The movement did the exact work of bringing people closer to their faith. You can compare the protestant reformation in Europe to Bhakti movement.
The Warkari movement was the outcome of the Bhakti movement. While Bhakti movement was related to worshipping Vishnu and Shiva in a spiritual manner, in case of the Warkaris, they worshiped Vitthal (or Vithoba) who is an avatar or Krishna (who in turn in one of avatars of Vishnu). The Ashadi Ekadashi Pandharpur Wari has the Warkaris travel the arduous journey to Pandharpur simply on their beliefs, singing abhangs, chanting the names of Vitthal and Dynaba Tukaram within a Dindi or group. It is believed that Ekadashi is a perfect day for spiritual enlightenment. The journey goes on for 22 days from the month of Jyestha and finally on the eleventh day of Ashadh, reaches Pandharpur. One of the important aspects of the procession is carrying the Palkhis of Sant Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar in which their padukas (sandals) are kept.
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To describe its reach among the masses, all you need to do is to be near the procession for five minutes and the memories will stay with you for eternity. If you see the Warkaris, they mostly belong to the lower strata of the society for whom religion once was a distant dream. This, however, does not limit itself to the poor sections. Rich, poor, farmers, soldiers, men, women, children… or in other words, people from all sorts of background join forces to reach God. A smile appears to your face when you see the movement cut across barriers of religion, and geographical boundaries. Each year, one finds faces from far-off places joining the Wari. You hear stories of atheists becoming believers. You see non-Hindus coming to not just join in but also help the Warkaris tread their paths.
Despite being more spiritual than religious, I await the Wari to renew my faith in my spiritual beliefs. I may not follow all the rituals, visit temples or have the knowledge of every religious ceremony. Yet, the Wari reconfirms my belief of being a good human being to attain spiritual happiness.
You do not need a war or nuclear explosion to humble someone. All you need to do is see the faith of the Warkaris and the Wari. All your mighty degrees and superiority complex about your wisdom comes crashing down. You finally become a student of life and its hidden meanings.
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