Features Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 05:30
  For about three weeks every year, the road connecting Alandi in Pune and Pandharpur in Solapur turns into a divine path, engulfing itself with the mysticism of Bhakti saints like Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram. A tradition dating back to 800 years, the Palkhi procession between the two cities is a unity of culture and religion. The Palkhi procession is an annual festival in which the warkaris, members of a religious movement from the Bhakti era, walk down 250 kms from Alandi to Pandharpur accompanying the padukas, or the wooden slippers of their holy saints Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram. The warkari sect originally belongs to western Maharashtra and northern Karnataka. It is believed that several centuries ago, Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram had walked down to Pandharpur, the former from Alandi and latter from Dehu, to meet Vitthoba, a form of Krishna. The practice was later established by the youngest son of Tukaram, Narayan Maharaj, in 1685 when he carried the saints padukas. The warkari sect believes in one god and considers all human beings equal. This is the reason why all of Maharashtra, irrespective of caste and creed, participates in the pilgrimage.        (Tukaram's Phalki) Every year, the Dnyaneshwar dindi starts first and then Tukaram dindi joins in later, from Dehu. Warkaris gather during the Ekadashi of the Asadha month according to the Marathi calendar, which comes around the end of June or beginning of July. There are around 300 small dindis that join the long procession, but these two are considered the most important. A Dindi is a small unit of the procession who follow a particular saint. Today, the entire city of Pune is involved in the procession. Thousands of people from all around the state of Maharashtra come to either witness or participate in the pilgrimage. Over the years, the participation has increased by many folds. Technology too is being increasingly used to improve the experience. This year, a mobile app named ‘Facebook Dindi’ was launched by Swapnil More, Mangesh More, Akshay Joshi, Amit Kulkarni and Suraj Dighe to provide real time updates to pilgrims and devotees. The app’s real time updates will help those who missed the procession but still want to stay updated or want to join in later.  The app tracks the position of the palkhi procession, their camping locations and also the time and place where ringan and bharud are performed. Ringan and bharud are entertainment activities performed for the tired warkaris along the journey. For better security and to avoid any mishaps, CCTV cameras have also been installed all along the way. (A man performs the Bharud) Many young boys and girls have actively contributed in making this pilgrimage an enjoyable experience. School kids volunteer their services twoards the warkari sect and some even provide chappals for their tired feet and bananas for them to have on their way. Every year the warkari sect and the other social groups also promote one social initiative, and this year there is a campaign for a ‘plastic free dindi’. Students and employees of Maharashtra Education Society created awareness about cleanliness and also cleaned the premises of palkhi procession.  This huge gathering of people is also used by politicians to make political statements. Platforms are raised along the roads and political parties distribute rain-coats, food and fruits for the warkaris. This year the farmers’ children who committed suicide displayed banners requesting others not to commit the same mistakes.   Photos taken by Bhagwat Petkar and Praveen Khunte