Wednesday, July 11, 2007
A walk in lord’s footsteps
As Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram palkhis came visiting the city on Monday, Dibyajyoti Sarma joined the revellers to welcome the congregation and tried to find out what it means to be a part of the palkhi
Vitthala, Vitthala, Vitthala… The chanting resonates the crowded street. When it halts for a brief while, the sound of drums fills the atmosphere. And even if there’s no sound, the sight before you is just staggering. The length and breath of the road, till your eyes could see, is a sea of humanity - men and women, young and old alike - men carrying the saffron flags, men carrying their tanpuras and ektaras and cymbals, men carrying their meagre belonging for the road ahead, and women with the pot of basil plants, or statues of Vitthala and Rukumini on their heads. As the procession progresses, for once, the big bad traffic of the city comes to a standstill. And you are humbled by the passionate sight of walking devotion.
The Palkhi has arrived in the city.
“It was an experience of a lifetime,” says Naresh Chaturvedi, a native of Bihar who has made Pune his home for some years now. “The day I arrived in Pune, it was the day of the palkhi. I was staying at Deccan, in a lodge. It was drizzling and at afternoon, the busy street was suddenly converted into something else. I had never seen so many people together on the street, that too for a peaceful procession. Later, I saw the Ganapati festivals. They are colourful, noisy and fun. But the palkhi procession was something else. There was more a sense of duty than fun, more a sense of reverence than festivity.”
Since then Naresh has made it a point to attend the palkhi, even if as a spectator. The event is just too spectacular to miss.
Spectacular? Certainly not. “It’s a part of our lives,” says 76 years old Rukmaji Thakur from a village in Ahmedngar district. “For us warkaris, the year begins with this event, and when it’s over, we wait for the next year. This is the part of our duty.”
“I couldn’t come last year,” another old man with a pair of small cymbals hanging around his neck reveals. “And I was so sad throughout the year. I hope I don’t miss it again till I live.”
The highlight of the journey from Dehu and Alandi to Pandharpur is not the crowd which is of course enormous, and growing by the year, but the sheer journey of 22 days on foot. Isn’t it tiresome? For many city-bred people who just cannot move without their wheels, the idea of the journey is not just amazing, but also unthinkable. “It is not religious fanaticism. When the tradition dates back to thousand years, you don’t ask for reasons. Instead you accept it as it is,” comments a bystander who has come to see the wari. Refusing to divulge his name, he explains: “It is said that you can reach your god only through penance, in a hard physical way. That’s why most of the temples are built on hilltops. This trekking is also a kind of penance.”
Not so much of penance, as it is bhakti. You have read about the bhakti movement in textbooks. But what you see here is something entirely different. Here spirituality is not a revelation to be separated from other worldly existence. It’s a part of it. “You can’t be here unless Mauli wills it.” This is what Shantabai Muley believes. She has been the part of the congregation for several years now and intends to continue it if that’s be Mauli’s will.
And when Vitthala is on your heart where is the time to think about physical hardship? “When you are among the devotees, with the chanting and kirtan going on day and night, there’s no time to worry whether your legs are in pain or your body is aching. And once you reach his abode, you forget everything else,” Shantabai clarifies.
And this time, Mauli is especially kind, as far as the rains are concerned.
The crowd is enormous, yet what you see are people from villages, that too mostly older men and women. “Not really true,” a 30-something Gajanan Patil begs to differ. He is young, he says, and points out to a group of young men clad in trousers and kurtas. As he finishes answering a call from home on his mobile, he explains: “My grandfather is not well. But he insisted on coming. So I am accompanying him.” But the journey is not without bonus. He gets to see Pune, which he had never visited before. As his mobile rings again, you see another old man fiddling with his cell phone. “For the people at home,” the warkari answers meekly.
As you witness the congregation is still flowing, you really do not know how to react, other than feel a sense of awe, and a realisation that with belief anything is possible.
The palkhi is a 1000-year-old tradition followed by the warkaris. People collectively go singing and dancing, chanting in what are called as Dindis (organised group of warkaris) to the holy town of Pandharpur. The whole process of palkhi lasts for a total of 22 days. Every year on the eleventh day of the first half of the month of Ashadh, the Palkhi reaches Pandharpur.
In the year 1685, Narayan baba, the youngest son of Tukaram decided to bring about a change in the dindi-wari tradition by introducing the palkhi. He put the silver padukas (footwear) of Tukaram in the palkhi and proceeded with his dindi to Alandi where he put the padukas of Dnyaneshwar in the same palkhi. This tradition of twin palkhis went on every year, but in 1830 there were some disputes. Following this, it was decided to break-up the tradition of twin palkhis, and organise thereafter, two separate palkhis - Tukaram Palkhi from Dehu and the Dnyaneshwar Palkhi from Alandi.
From that time till date, both the palkhis meet in Pune for a brief halt and then diverge at Hadapsar to meet again at Wakhri, a village near Pandharpur.