The Walk with the Palkhi

Dairy entry 

It's a hazy sunday morning. The roads of Pune are unusually choked. Tens of Thousands of Warkaris (Followers of the Wari  tradition, a popular ritualistic sect in Maharashtra devoted to the Lord Vittal of Pandharpur) are walking on roads, as onlookers gaze at the annual event of Palkhi from balconies and through windows. Everyone, barring a very few are holding Manjeere (A rudimentary musical instrument - two metallic pieces connected via a string. The clinking sound produced by hitting one with the other, provides rhythm for singing) in their hands. Some of them are seen with Tanpuras while others are zealously beating the Dholak. Some are carrying their baggage on their head while many are walking effortlessly, balancing metallic tulsi pots on their heads.

People lined up on either side of the road thrust bananas, sago Khichdi, etc in the hands of the walkers. Every co-walker is referred to affectionately as a 'mauli'. While some maulis walk slowly relishing the Khichdi others move at lightning speed. Nobody looks weak or tired. There is music in the air everywhere. Every group repeats the lines of the Abhang (a musical form that involves singing marathi couplets written by various saints in a medium or fast tempo, that evolved to serve the palkhi) sung by their lead singer. The constant clinking of the manjeere, the patting of the dholak and the voices in unison chanting the name of lord, instantly takes one into a trance. No wonder most people do not walk, but dance in ecstasy.

The annual 20 day long journey to Pandharpur on foot is not an ordinary event. It's the homage paid by these millions of people from all parts of Maharashtra thanking Lord Vittal for all that he has bestowed on them. There is no room for illness or fatigue, when Gnyanba and Tukaram are walking with them , in the form of their padhuka (footwear) resting inside palanquins bedecked with flowers. Two groups start from Dehu and Alandi, carrying the Padhuka of saints Tukaram and Gnyaneshwar respectively. They meet at pune on the second day and on the fourth day start moving towards Pandharpur. They take different routes- one through Yavat and the other through Saaswad - in order to collect people from different villages.

I took the one going towards Saaswad, about 32 KM from Pune. The heavy downpours do not deter the enthusiastic warkaris. People keep moving, covering themselves with multi colored plastic sheets. The droning chants of 'Tukaram Tukaram Gnyanba mauli Tukaram' are heard above the sound made by the pouring waters. The road to Saaswad goes through the picturesque Dive Ghat (a range of hills to the south east of pune). There are stalls on either side of the road offering tea, not selling it. On the open fields everywhere, the Warkaris relax beneath the blue sky and scorching sun.

As i walked the winding hill roads, i could only imagine how simple and easy everything would become, only if you could surrender everything to the Lord Vittobha and walk with absolute faith in him.