India is a melting pot of many cultures and religions. There is no end to the chain of festivities through the year. Most festivals follow the usual routine of performing religious rituals to a deity at home or in a temple close by. But an unusual festival in Pune, called Palkhi, tests the faith of followers, who walk 250 km to reach a temple in another town.
The Palkhi, a unique pilgrimage in Maharashtrian culture, is a thousand year old tradition where the footwear (paduka) of Sant Tukaram and Sant Dnyaneshwar are carried in a palanquin (palhki) from Dehu and Alandi to Pandharpur.
The time of the festival coincides with the pre-monsoon showers in the first week of June. It falls on a particular day in Ashadh, a month in Hindu calendar.
The palhkis arrive in Pune, the starting point from all over the state of Maharashtra. They stay in the city for two days before proceeding to Pandharpur. The complete distance is about 250 km and the pilgrims cover the entire stretch in about 22 days. It is a story of human endurance, hope and immense faith.
It is a colorful sight with the saffron flags in contrast to the white peta (turban)
Pandharpur is on the banks of the river Bhimarathi. The place gets its name from Pandarika who achieved self-realization there.
Approximately 150,000 devotees walk along with the Sant Tukaram palkhi from Dehu village while about 225,000 devotees march along with the Sant Dnyaneshwar Palkhi.
On the way, food is provided by the local residents, charitable trusts and social workers. Many consider it a privilege to feed the pilgrims (warkaris) and make elaborate arrangements for their halts.
It is interesting to see these pilgrims, as they go singing and dancing along the route. If one has the time and patience, it is indeed worth watching the colorful procession.
If you are in the city, and in a hurry to get to some place during the days of Palkhi, it is wise to keep a track of the dates, route and the time of the procession .You can avoid being stuck in one place for a long time as the authorities often reroute the traffic to make way for the procession. I admire the devotion of the local devotees who wait for hours on the road side to get a glimpse of the Palkhi.
The magnitude of the whole procession can be gauged by this picture below.
The warkaris keep the spirit going by singing bhajans (devotional songs). Earlier the warkaris comprised of the farmer community of Maharashtra, but now we find many educated youngsters joining in with the backing of academicians, professionals and foreigners.
For those who are interested, this year the palkhis start on June 11 from Dehu and on 12th of June from Alandi.
There will be a marginal change in the route. The newly constructed bridge at Sangamwadi will be used and both the Palkhis will meet at COEP corner instead of Mariaai gate corner.