A passage to Pandharpur

Alisha Shinde
Saturday, 7 July 2018

The devotion with which the warkaris walk has led to many creative expressions. Alisha Shinde catches up with a few artists to find out their association with the holy walk.

As we witness a sea of people passing through the city annually with the palkhis (palanquins) of Sant Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar, we can’t help but marvel at their devotion that helps them brave fatigue, rains and unfavourable conditions. This tradition of the holy walk to Pandharpur is followed by thousands of people for decades now and year after year, the number of Warkaris is growing.

When the wari, as the holy walk is called in Marathi, passes through the streets, the sight is breathtaking — clad in white kurta-dhoti/pajama, and sporting a U-shaped tilak on their foreheads, the men chant Gnyaba Tukaram and Pundalik Varada Hari Vitthal while the women in colourful saris carry holy tulsi pots on their heads. Oblivious to the reactions of the city onlookers, they continue their walk, as if they are on a mission. 

Such high level of devotion is bound to inspire others. And that explains the emergence of paintings, books, films and songs devoted to the wari. Talking to a few city-based artists, we find out how the pilgrimage moves and inspires them. 

Music is integral to wari
Vocalist Pt Shrinivas Joshi, son of the late Pt Bhimsen Joshi, says that his relationship with the wari is an old one. “My father is quite famous among the warkaris because of the many abhangas that he sang. So the call and inspiration of the wari for me is quite natural,” he says, adding that the songs sung by his father like Maze Maher Pandhari, Kaya Hi Pandhari, continue to inspire him even today.

While the warkaris are making their way to Pandharpur, music is an integral part of the journey and it is extremely pleasing to the ears. The walk has a certain tempo to it, a musical one, because of which people are drawn to it. Joshi believes that the wari and the music have and will continue to inspire musicians, not only in composing songs but also in leading their personal lives. 

He finds the spirit of the pilgrims who walk all the way to Pandharpur ‘mesmerising’. “Most of the people who walk along with the palkhi are old but they walk against all odds, mainly because of their faith and devotion,” Joshi points out, stating that he finds it similar to playing an instrument or singing which too require a lot of dedication and passion. 

Enlightening poetry 
Chandrakant Redican, co-founder, Bullock Cart Poetry, says that he was brought up in Jejuri, a small temple town near Pune which boasts of a rich heritage.“The place took me closer to the religion and culture but to make sense of the beliefs and rituals in this age of science and rationalism was difficult,” says Redican. It was through reading the famous saint poets such as Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath and Namdeo that he could understand the concepts of god and spirituality, he says.

Redican rues the fact that the world is changing fast and today, in the name of religion, people from all over the world are playing politics and fostering communalism and racism. As a poet, he feels compelled to speak out against it all. “The words of Tukaram and the poets of the Bhakti movement inspire me and provide the arguments and ideas to use in my poetry,” he says. 

When asked how the wari inspires him to pen down poems, he says that there is great inspiration to be found in the poetry of Janabai and many other saint poets. Important ideologies like liberalism, secularism and feminism can be supported through the works of the poets that the Warkaris respect and look up to, he adds. 

Bullock Cart Poetry, which was founded by Redican and his sister Priyam, holds the poetry of these saint poets in great regard. “Having grown up seeing the wari go through our village every year, we consider the wari and its ideals a part of our culture,” he concludes. 

People are the subjects
City-based photographer Veda Pathak has been capturing the holy walk for quite some years now. She believes that it is amazing to watch how with the arrival of the palkhi, the usually sluggish Pune comes to life. “When the palkhis come, the pace of the entire city changes,” she says. 
She has noticed that each year, the wari is different from the previous year in terms of the people who walk and the people who come to see the palkhi but one thing has been constant — the devotion and faith among the people. “Old people, families and even children walk together in harmony, singing abhangas and dancing which is so pleasing to the eye and soul. When you walk with the wari, you are sure to feel a spiritual cleansing,” she adds.

“There are many faces, stories and emotions in the wari and that draws me to walk with them at least for a few miles,” Pathak says. “There are people all around — some of them participating in the wari, a few volunteering and some just watching and each of them coming from a different background,” she adds.

One gets a positive vibe from the crowd filled with so many elements, she says. “Be it colours, people, cows and even the tilak on the foreheads, every single thing involved in the wari has a strong significance which is so interesting to capture,” she says. 
And when she captures the people and such moments in a frame, they become timeless memories for her, Pathak says before signing off. 
The colours of devotion
For Rahul Chakraborty, a watercolourist, “When the pilgrims make their way to the temple in Pandharpur, it is not just a walk, it indeed is a direction.” 

He says that it is extremely inspiring to watch families walk the 200 plus km stretch but what is more inspiring is the movement which they represent. “The wari stands for oneness, equality and brotherhood which is so mesmerising to watch, and when you paint that scene, you feel happy and satisfied,” Chakraborty says.   

Having painted a scene from the wari, he says that the simplicity of the pilgrims strikes one easily but what catches the eye most are the hues of orange and white. “These colours stand out every time they are used in a painting,” the artist says.   

“The wari brings society together,” Chakraborty adds and points out that it indeed becomes difficult to do full justice to such a glorious event but that keeps him motivated. “I have to set the mood right on canvas, just the way it is in real life,” he says. 

With a calm mind and only the image of the holy walk, Chakroborty brings the essence of wari alive in his paintings.  
Screen test
Shahrukh Sayyed, who once documented the wari for a film, says that while doing a college course, he was introduced to a professor who had shot many documentaries for a number of channels. “Luckily, then, the wari was in the city. So we got an opportunity to make a documentary on it,” Sayyed recalls. 

He says that since his childhood, he has been intrigued by the fact that so many old people set out on a journey to pay visit to a god. “It is indeed overwhelming when you see such dedication, all for love of a god.” 

Sayyed’s association with the warkaris started in his school days when he used to volunteer to provide food and water to them. “Walking with the palkhi is indeed magical — one simply does not get tired even after walking for miles. When my teammates and I started walking with it for the documentary shoot, we did not even realise how much we had walked,” he says. 

Talking about shooting the documentary right in the middle of thousands of devotees without disturbing them, Sayyed says it is quite challenging, however they managed. “We noticed the spirituality of the warkaris which they seem to pass on to one another through encouragement and cooperation from time to time.” 

He states that the documentary that they shot showed how people from different walks of life come together and make their way to the temple in Pandharpur. He recalls the sights that he saw at the wari. The one that stayed with him was how right from old people to young children, people were dressed in white, and women were carrying Tulsi pots on their heads. “We loved capturing their enthusiasm for the documentary. It cannot be compared with anything,” he adds.  

When asked what he took back with him after wrapping up the shoot, he says that if it wasn’t for the spirit of the people around them in the procession and a large crowd that had gathered to see the paduka (footprints of the saints), he would have never learnt management of such huge crowd.

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