Irfan Engineer


This year I joined the wari (procession to Pandharpur), which is a 250 k.m. and 21 days long procession from Alandi and Dehu to Pandharpur, albeit for a day on Sunday 7th July for an approximately 8 k.m. stretch from Baramati to Sansar. I desire to share the experiences and thoughts that came to my mind.

First a brief background of the wari. The wari is about 800 years old, wherein the padukas (footwear) of the two saints are carried in a palkhi (palanquin). Saint Dnyaneshwar’s palkhi starts from Alandi, while saint Tukaram’s palkhi commences from Dehu. More than 2 million warkaris (participants in the procession) undertake the 21 days and 250 k.m. journey, accompanying the palkhis. Some warkaris bring their own palkhis of saints from their villages, some carry Tulsi plant or coconut as offering to the Lord. The warkaris walk in dindis – or village-based groups. In Pandharpur, they first bathe in a holy river and worship Lord Vitthal and his spouse Rukhmini. Along the way they sing the abhangas (compositions) of Saint Tukaram and repeat names of the saints rhythmically, also accompanied with dance, drumming and sound of cymbals. The dindis are registered and well organised and disciplined – they start daily at 6.00 a.m. and halt at designated places for freshening up, meals, and halts for rests. There is an important distinction between other religious processions, where the processionists carry image of the Lord. In the wari tradition, the warkaris carry the favourite bhakt (follower/worshipper) – Saint Tukaram, represented by the paduka to the Lord’s temple. In this 800-year-old tradition, one has never heard of any violence on or by the warkaris. They pass through the areas inhabited by various castes, and communities and their temples and mosques. None has objected to the waris all these years. When the wari is to pass through a Muslim area on their Eid or other festivals, in some instances, the Muslim community has deferred their celebrations, or included in the waris as well in their celebrations by offering them goodies of their festivals. Many Muslims are also part of the wari.

Saint Dnyaeshwar and Tukaram are bhakti saints. The Bhakti movement was a popular faith movement and religious expression of the subalterns and lower castes, those excluded from the temples due to their lower caste status on the basis of purity and pollution notions, privileging the Brahmins as the custodians of religion, temple and offerings to their Gods. To the Bhakti saints, God was not in the temple, but omnipresent, and within the heart of the believer. Serving the most needy, irrespective of the caste, is akin to worshipping Vitthal. In an instructive story, Saint Tukaram is trying to help a cow come out of muck in which it is stuck outside Lord Vitthal’s temple. Even after a long time and efforts, he is not succeeding and keeps trying. His impatient followers tell the saint that they are all waiting for him to enter the Lord Vitthal’s temple and begin the worship as the auspicious time for worship is about to approach. He refuses to enter the temple until he succeeds in pulling out the suffering cow. The cow then appears in its true form – Lord Vitthal Himself. Vitthal was testing His favourite bhakt. The story instructs that the Lord is suffering with those who are marginalised and suffering. Their liberation is His worship. The Bhakti movement was resistance movement to the oppressive caste system and over-ritualised Brahmanical traditions, which barred the subalterns from accessing the Sanskrit religious texts, and thereby controlled religion and used it as an instrument of oppression. The Bhakti movement and Sufi movement were spiritual expressions popular among the people, as they were inclusive in their approach, believed in equality of all human beings, and love as only true religion. The Sufi and Bhakti movement were parallel movement, and they influenced each other. Some Bhakti Saints were disciples of Sufi Saints and vice-versa.

I was part of dindi No. 261, called “Ek divas tari wari anubhavavi” (experience wari, even if only for a day). There were about 400 people in the dindi, including Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Mhatre – famous Marathi litterateur and poet, Feroze Mithiborwala, an activist. This dindi is organized by Sharad Kadam and others associated with the Rashtra Seva Dal, a progressive-socialist organization for the past 11 years. Their objective is to mobilize progressive writers, artists, activists, and youth to participate in the wari. They see wari as a progressive cultural festival. Sharad Kadam told this writer that the warkari tradition stands for equality, dignity of all human beings – irrespective of caste, class and culture, and service to the most needy. These are the Constitutional values as well. He further said, that their dindi joins on the first Sunday after the wari reaches Pune, wherever the palkhi is going to be. They take a night halt at Pune on Saturday and travel on Sunday early morning to catch up. That is because some people can spare only a Sunday amidst their daily chores. Women also participate in the wari in large numbers. There are no separate and private arrangements for women for their bathing / changing and nature’s call. However, no one looks at them with wrong intentions. This enables them to participate in large numbers.

My experiences in the wari:

It was very uplifting to be a part of the sea of human beings. Wherever I saw – there was a sea of men and women – all chanting the names of the saints and singing their compositions. We had to walk about 8 in hot sun. All the warkaris were cooperating with each other, even with the strangers and sharing the water they possessed with whoever wanted it, as we were all getting dehydrated. The chants distracted me from my suffering due to the hot weather. All the warkaris were passing on their energy to each other, without which it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible to walk that entire stretch in hot sun. I felt tired only after we reached our destination at Sansar. The sea of humanity was calm and serene as there was invisible thread of love binding us all together, though we belonged to different caste, class, community and gender. I met Dr. Pillai in our dindi, whose mother tongue is Malayalam, and who practices medicine in Baramati. I was shocked to read his very good poem in Marathi, which meant that Tukaram abolished the differences between castes and communities; and that Allah and Vitthal are same Gods. No one in the wari asked me or others our religion or caste, as that was immaterial to them. We were all human beings, different from each other, individuals, and yet tied to all others in bonds of acceptance and love, helping each other when needed. The sea of human beings, like the great oceans had great energy in its belly, yet it was disciplined and calm, absorbed in love for each other. They had only one common objective – help each other reach Pandhapur and fulfil their vows. Some warkaris had undertaken this journey for as long as 25 years and would be doing so for many coming years as long as they were abled. Love and commitment to Vitthal summoned them to the journey. Dr. Pillai also had undertaken this journey for a number of years as he was disturbed by growing communal hatred in the society. He felt that the wari spreads message of love and inclusion. The warkaris were chanting “Dnyanoba Mauli Tukaram”. Dnyoba and Tukaram refer to the saints. Mauli refers to Lord Vitthal, who is worshipped as mother (not father) – with care and love that mother is capable of; to whom one can even complain, display one’s occasional unhappiness and disappointment. Vitthal is a caring deity rather than power wielding and punishing deity. What made the wari so serene and calm, spreading the values of love and inclusion, whereas in the recent past we have witnessed communal violence accompanying Ram Navmi processions, Jal Abhishek Shobha Yatra (in Nuh, Haryana), Hanuman Jayanti Shobha Yatra and other such yatras?

The traditional Ram Navmi and Hanuman Jayanti Shobha Yatras that have been taken out for over decades, still pass of peacefully and are traditionally welcomed by the Muslim community in some ways by offering coconuts, or cold drinks or snacks. The traditional yatras also stop playing music while passing through a mosque, to allow the Muslims to pray peacefully. However, those organized by followers of political ideology of Hindu nationalism often violate the conditions of the licence/permission granted by police. They insist on diverting from the traditional route of the yatra and meander into Muslim neighbourhoods, play loud music near mosques for irritatingly long period, including during prayer time and shout political slogan asserting superiority of Hindus. CSSS fact-finding reports document these violations wherever it leads to violence. One big difference in the wari and religious processions organised by Hindu nationalist political organisations is that the participants in the former are bound by religious and spiritual values, while the participants in the latter are bound by political ideology and political objective, viz. establishing hegemony of the majority community, even when there is resistance to it and even if violence is to be used. Members of Muslim community enthusiastically participate in the former (wari) and accept it as a part of their culture, whereas they fear the latter (shobha yatras organised by Hindu nationalists). I saw only one police constable at one chowk (cross roads), regulating the traffic and yet there wasn’t any need of police force at all. Whenever vehicles approached and needed to cross the wari, members would stop and allow them passage, and catch up if they are left behind. A massive police force accompanies the shobha yatras organised by Hindu nationalists, and yet they are unable to prevent breakout of violence or stop them from violating the conditions of permission. The participants in the wari were serene, whereas the participants of the Hindu nationalist shobha yatras are full of feeling of superiority and pride on one hand and prejudices against the minorities on the other hand which provokes them to be violent on smallest of pretext.

One warkari told this writer that once they participate in the wari, it gives them enough energy to live a good disciplined and religious life for the entire year. They return to the wari next year to carry on for another year and so on. This wari has fille me with enough energy, or shall I say calmness and inspiration, perhaps to carry on for much longer, perhaps forever! I feel like going next year as well to be even more charged and inspired. I haven’t been to Haj pilgrimage. I sense it might have the same effect on me. Vitthal! Vithal! I prayed that may that one God teach us peaceful co-existence.

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