Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The story of the Wari

I was raring to do something different in 2012. Life till now had been eventful, thanks to my involvement in couple of activities in Infosys. But there was a transformation waiting to happen - of becoming comfortable in my own skin. And for that, the fears that were deep rooted had to go.

While browsing the Infosys Bulletin Board (fondly called, The Infy BB), i read a post around an IT Dindee participating in the annual Wari happening in a few days and realised that this was my chance. I went ahead with registering and contacting the concerned people.

Wari - Background

Vitthala of Pandharpur
Wari is the annual pilgrimage to the temple of Vitthala/Vithoba in Pandharpur. It is a thousand year old tradition started and continued by the foresight, devotion and commitment of countless saints, Maharashtra has been blessed to have. People from various villages, whose devotional affiliation is to Vitthala Mauli (mother, that is how the devotees address the Lord), leave their homes in small groups called Dindees, and travel to the temple town of Pandharpur, with the calculation of being there for Aashaadhi Ekadashi (Aashaadh is a Hindu month - the beginning of the rainy season. Ekadashi is the eleventh day, considered sacred in these circles).

Sant Dnyaneshwar of Alandi and Sant Tukaram of Dehu
The paalkhis (carriages) of the paadukas (holy sandals) of Sant Dnyaneshwar of Alandi and Sant Tukaram of Dehu pass through the ancient city of Pune and many devotees who cannot undertake the journey, due to the modern way of life, crave to get a darshan (sacred and auspicious sight) of the paadukas.

IT Dindee - The idea

A few foresighted folks from the flourishing IT industry in Pune thought that this opportunity of the procession passing from Pune should be utilised to educate the new generation about these age old traditions and came up with the concept of IT Dindee - a walk with the Warkaris (the ones who undertake the Wari) for a day, covering 21 kms, engaging in their devotional exercises to understand this particular tradition.

IT Dindee 2012 - My story begins...

The day began quite early - I had to reach the pickup point in Pimple Saudagar at 4 am in the morning. We were being picked up from predetermined locations. I met a middle aged gentleman named Mr. Patil, and this meeting  happened to be the defining factor of this experience. He was at a senior position in TCS and a resident of Balewadi. We were soon picked by the minivan, and after others had been picked, our van went straight to Alandi.

All of us assembled at one location. Here we were briefed about the plan for the day, the basic discipline required - the dos and don'ts. As we would be walking in the crowd of the villagers, this opportunity could very well be used to educate them about the wrong practices that we attribute to their lack of education, and to achieve this, we were wearing Gandhi caps with a message to save the girl child.

IT Dindee - The assembly

However as the day passed and ended, it was the villagers, who without any effort, taught me a lot of things about life. Probably because i was receptive enough to learn.

We were to be guided by Palave Maharaj, a Warkari from one of the Wari Dindees. He was a young, handsome, amiable looking man, and he rubbed some nice attar on our wrists. From here, our journey began.

Firstly, we assembled at a place, where we were shown all the games that the Warkaris play, to fend off tiredness and boredom. Extremely childish and boring games - these were my first impressions. Only when we were called upon to play them, did i realise how amazing they were! E.g. we made a circle of people who had to enact various characters and move in the circle back and forth, as demonstrated by the leader who was Palave Maharaj. He was acting like a small boy, a newly married bride, an old woman, a fierce warrior and we had to follow his lead. There was no predicting what would the next character be, and we were on our toes observing and following, all to the the chants of Dnya..neshwar Ma..uli, Dnanoba Mauli Tukaram. It was seriously an exhilarating and entertaining exercise. Post this, we played fugadi briefly and settled for breakfast.

(Source - bharatestates.com)
The trip started after half an hour, when we were just ahead the paalkhi of Sant Dnyaneshwar. The plan for the day was to walk till 1:00 pm, have lunch and rest, and then proceed to a point where both the processions would be crossing each other, so that we could have the darshan of both the carriages. As we started, we were chanting holy words and singing devotional songs. Personally, i was more interested in observing the people making the trip.

Mr. Patil (referred to as 'my friend', from now on), was guiding me about a lot of things, as he had already walked with the wari last year. He had prepared for the long walk physically, and asked me if I had too, and i hadn't as i was not worried about walking 21 kms in a day. We saw a lot of stalls distributing food to the pilgrims. My friend told me that the people who were lapping up all those food items were not the true pilgrims, but poor opportunistic people. He directed my attention towards a truck going along with the procession and added that the warkaris are self-sufficient in their ways. We could also see small mobile shrines, opened up to worship interesting phenomena like a cow with three hind legs etc. Innocent villagers were worshiping these, and this was an indicator of how much blind faith rules the minds of these people.

Paalkhi and Wari
(Source - indiatoday.intoday,in)
We walked for a few hours and after some time boredom started to set in. I tried to strike a conversation with some fellows, but could not get a spark and so eventually just gave up. Our party made a temporary halt at one place, where we created a circle and did some garba like dance, chanting and playing the cymbals, and it was a good diversion.

The walk till lunchtime was uneventful. I already had misgivings about coming for this, as I felt there was really nothing stimulating to be taken away from here and i felt bad about spoiling one weekday on this experiment. But then, as a devotee, i believe everything happens for a reason and just left it to Him to reveal why He had made me do this.

(Source - zilliondesigns.com)
We settled down at a society and had our lunch. I rested for a while below a tree, and was really not in the mood to go and mix up with the folks who were there. After a while my friend came up to me, and asked me if i would like to go with him. He was not content with simply having a look at the carriages, and wanted to have the actual darshan of the paadukas. Having no plan, i simply accepted his offer and we started walking away from the party. And it is from here that the adventure started...

We walked to the spot where the paalkhi of Sant Dnyaneshwar was stationed in a temporary shrine. Our intent was to have a close darshan of the paaduka and then proceed along with the paalkhi. My friend took my bag, and asked me to go and have darshan and once i had it, he would proceed. 

Sacred Paaduka
(Source - indiatoday.intoday.in)
The crowd was mind boggling and i was getting real angry looking at how badly disciplined the village folk were. I was standing in this queue, and all of a sudden a batch of people joined it in the wrong manner. There was an uproar from the folks who were in the line, but all of a sudden, the folks simply forgot about it and started talking amiably with these defaulters. This was a rude shock for the "civilized" man from the city, but what i realised is how cool these people are. And more importantly, i also understood that with my version of discipline, i was far from making any progress into the shrine, so i simply followed what others were doing -  broke the line, sneaked in and had the darshan. It felt nice - i did something i had not planned on doing and would not have normally done, and considering the reverence i have for Sant Dnyaneshwar, the opportunity i seized made me feel very good. I rushed back, let my friend have his darshan, and as he completed and came back, the bugles for the paalkhi's departure sounded. Our small adventure was properly timed by the Grace of God. From there on, we started following the procession.

As we moved, there were so many things to observe. The kind of devotion folks from villages have is impressive. I have grown up in a temple compound and belong to a devout community, but i hadn't seen this depth of devotion in the city folks. Probably, our devotion has become very superficial, like the lives that we lead. The devotees were chanting "mauli mauli" every now and then, with so much feeling, and i felt how could anyone feel so much devotion inside. My friend too was displaying those tendencies, and i honestly felt weird, as it was all new to me. But as time passed, i could only admire the strength we were getting from this devotion which was part of the whole moving crowd.

(Source - betterphotography.in)
Men and women were bumping into each other, not intentionally, but as it could not be avoided. And it was a no issue! I felt as if there was a kind of an ego loss happening, as people were forgetting about how men and women are supposed to be segregated (which is a huge thing in orthodox circles) and were walking on for the common cause. This was by far, the most splendid realisation i had in the day.

Once the procession halted for the evening break, we two kept walking, after having a sip of water and eventually came across few of the members of the IT Dindee. They were separated too, since by then they had realised that due to some timing issues, they would not be getting to have a darshan of both the paalkhis at the predefined point. Some folks had called it a day and went home. In my mind, i felt blessed to have chosen to go away from the party(something i generally would not do) and get a better experience than most of them. And my friend was responsible for it in a big way.

We waited at this spot for a while. From here, we could see the different dindees. There were women carrying Tulasi (holy basil) plants on their head, a lot of people with mrudungs, taals and tamburis chanting abhangs (devotional songs). It was an energetic and devotional atmosphere, and a lot of city residents had gathered on the walkways to look at them. I loved the sound of the mrudung, specially certain percussion patterns, and they kept playing in my ears for days after this experience.

Tulasi and Tamburi
(Source - lifeforcemagazine.com)

Warkaris singing devotional songs
(Source - bharatestates.com)

Taala and Mrudung
(Source - indiatoday.intoday.in)
After some time of observing, the paalkhi of Dnyaneshwar Mauli was coming closer and we started going along with it. My friend said - lets walk till Deccan Gymkhana and then call it a day. The day was ending and I was surprised that i had really walked the whole 21 km stretch! I was really feeling very happy at his point and to add to the pleasure, it rained lightly which refreshed all of us. Now a lot of city folks waiting for darshan were crowding the streets and showering petals. For me it was a great end to an unexpectedly fulfilling day.

But the surprise was not yet over...:)

After completing the stretch, we were heading for the bus stop when my friend asked me - shall we go and take darshan of the other paalkhi? It was pretty late, but we went ahead. As per his calculations, the paalkhi of Sant Tukaram had reached the main road in Shanivar peth, and we rushed there. On reaching, we realised that the crowd was too much and only one among us could possibly be able to get the darshan. So he took my bag and asked me to go. From here, i did something i could never imagine - running behing the bullock driven paalkhi, struggling among the crowd, to touch the paadukas. The struggle could have been fatal, but i was feeling a surge of happiness and faith in my heart, that i kept on trying and probably after 300 metres, i got my chance, and what a feeling it was! The day had already proved amazing, and this was another blessing...:)

The moment i touched the paadukas was the most fulfilling:)
(Representational image)
I came back to where i thought i had left my friend, but could not trace him. This was a small test i had to go through. After a while of futile search, i contacted the co-ordinator of the IT dindee and managed to get my friend's number from him (i forgot to save it before, and even after this, i don't have the contact details of that gentleman), and finally was able to reach him. We reached the bus stop, where we had a cup of chai together and then boarded our respective buses to reach home.

Before leaving he asked - will you come to the next years wari, and I replied, "Yes, definitely". But in the last 3 years, i haven't been able to go. This year, i am very happy that my ex-room mate was able to go there, and his experience inspired me to pen down this account of that memorable day.

Dnyaneshwar Mauli, Dnyanoba Mauli Tukaram...
(Source - indrayanikathi.com)

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