Palkhi-Unusual Indian festival

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.

A section of the crowd, probably from the Hare Rama group
A colorful section of the crowd (picture by Kaushik Sridharan)

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.


The warkaris singing and dancing (picture by S Roy)

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 proceeding to Pandharpur (picture by Nilesh Walimbe)

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.

Author: Joe

Born and bred in Bombay (now Mumbai) having spend the last 41 years in Pune (earlier Poona). Have been into photography for quite some time but got hold of a digital in 2003 and since then have been shooting away to glory. Hate posed photographs and like to shoot the daily life around us. Nothing like traveling and observing the local people and their culture.

Comments

  1. This is very interesting story. Even though I lived in India fore more than 20 years, I did not know this kind of cultural event exist. I know people go to temple (mostly Tirupathi) in South India by walk in groups. But definitively not in these numbers and for 23 days.

    Thanks for sharing this info.

    • Most welcome Kumar 🙂
      What you said is true. In fact I am here in Pune for so many years but every year I discover something new about the Palkhi, and am fascinated by the fervour and devotion of the simple minded devotees.

  2. I know India is the birth of several religions an the culturally it is a diversified country. I didn’t know the Palkhi exist in India. Is this group of people belong to a sub division of Hindu religion? What is it signifies “Walking in groups”?

    Jon

    • What you said Jon is right, in India you will find many religions, but this particular pilgrimage is not due to any sub division of the Hindu religion. It is just that is is specific to the state of Maharashtra as it originated here.
      ‘Walking in groups’ is just for convenience sake as the groups are formed from the small town or village from where they started the “padyatra” (travelling on foot)

  3. Nice photos and interesting story. No wonder, India is a melting pot of many culture, diversity, and strange but amazing rituals.

  4. Thanks Joe, for bringing this to light…reminds me of a similar procession of massive proportions in Jaisalmer (Rajasthan)…for the Ramdevra Temple…The highway wasflanked by thousands of slippers and shoes that the pilgrims decided to sacrifice to proceed barefoot …a sea of people and kilometers of footwear and a path dotted with food tents made for a great combo..

    • Very true Sawmya, it is only when we go to these small places and look closely we realise the devotion with which they set out for such pilgrimage.

  5. Hello.

    Born and brought up in India and I had no idea that such a festival exists! Great info.

    It is amazing to see what all people do in the name of devotion and faith.

    Another such festival is Rath Yatra in Puri (Orissa).

    Pooja 🙂

  6. There are so many festivals, rituals, customs, etc, exist in India, this is one among them.

    Nicely written blog with good photos. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Nice site says:

    Hello, I am also visiting this website on a regular basis, this web page is genuinely fastidious and the users are genuinely sharing nice thoughts.

Speak Your Mind