Mumbai: Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced on Sunday that he will visit Pandharpur in Solapur district of Maharashtra for the prestigious annual 'puja' at the famed Lord Vitthoba Temple on the occasion of Ashadhi Ekadashi on July 1.
"I will go to Pandharpur on the auspicious day and pray for freedom from this (Corona) virus. I recall, in 2010, I had gone there during the celebrations to click aerial photos and I was overwhelmed at seeing the devotion of the Warkaris," Thackeray said.
It is the tradition that on behalf of the state government, the Maharashtra CM performs the customary 'puja' of Lord Vitthoba and his consort Rakhumai at the temple which attracts lakhs of Warkaris from all over.
"May the Lord Vitthal remove all hurdles and problems in the state," Thackeray said, for whom this will be his maiden 'puja'.
However, the state government is yet to take the final call on whether to take the 'palkhis' (palanquins) by road or by air to Pandharpur this year in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Solapur and Pune districts - from where the 'palkhis' traverse - rank among the worst-hit by the pandemic in the state.
For several centuries, on Ashadhi Ekadashi, lakhs of Warkaris from Maharashtra and neighbouring states march around 230 kms from Dehu and Alandi (in Pune), with the 'palkhis' bearing the 'padukas' (foot imprints) of Jagadguru Sant Tukaram Maharaj and Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj to Pandharpur.
This year, the procession was cancelled, but the eight centuries old tradition of carrying the 'palkhis' has been allowed with full physical distancing norms.
Home Minister Anil Deshmkh and Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Saturday visited the pilgrim town and reviewed the final preparations for the upcoming festival arrangements with Solapur Collector Milind Shambharkar and top police officials.
"This year, only nine of the oldest palanquins which come every year shall be permitted for the festival. We are working on the logistics of whether these can be brought by road like every year or by a helicopter this year," Deshmukh later informed the media.
The two ministers requested people to cooperate with the authorities to ensure that the big pilgrimage is conducted peacefully and safely, adding that even Lord Vitthoba would be happy for that.