Pandharpur Palkhi is a 1000 year old tradition which was started by some of the renowned saints of Maharashtra and continues to be practised by their followers called warkaris (people who are with the palkhi or wari), in the Hindu month of ‘Ashadh’ (June- July) and ‘Karthik’ (November- December).
The Palkhi is followed by dindis, an organised group of warkaris, who dance and chant praises of Dnyanba-Tukaram (the famous Maharashtrian saints, Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram) through their entire journey from Alandi and Dehu to the holy town of Pandharpur. The procession reaches Pandharpur on the eleventh day of June and lasts for a period of 22 days.
Pandharpur, a small town in the district of Solapur, is one of the most prominent pilgrimage sites in Maharashtra. Owing to the half-moon-like shape of the town, Pandharpur is also known as Chandrabhaga. Located on the bank of the Bhima River, this place is named after a merchant, Pandarika who attained self realisation in this religious town. Pandharpur, on a whole, attracts four annual pilgrimages or yatras of Hindu devotees. Among them the yatras during the month of Ashadh (June – July) attracts the largest number of pilgrims.
The Palkhi festival was started by Narayan baba, the youngest son of saint Tukaram, in the year 1685. Diverting from the existing dindi-wari tradition of that time, Narayan baba along with his dindis started the palkhi containing the silver padukas (footsteps) and mask of saint Tukaram from Dehu and proceeded to Alandi to place the padukas of Saint Dnyaneshwar in the same palkhi before heading to Pandharpur. This practice continued until the year 1830 when disputes within the Tukaram family in regards to the right and privileges of the palkhi brought about a change in the tradition. So from 1830 onwards, the practice of the twin practice gave way to two separate palkhis of the two saints which start from their respective towns before meeting in Pune for a short stopover. There after the palkhis again take different paths from Hadapsar and again gather at Wakhri which is a small village located close to Pandharpur.
The Sant Tukaram Palkhi from Dehu village and the Sant Dnyaneshwar Palkhi from Alandi together account for more than 1.5 to 2 lacs devotees which take part in the procession or the palkhi festival every year. Excluding these two, a total of 41 other palkhis visit Pandharpur every year.
Pandharpur holds a lot of significance among Maharashtrians because it is home to the temple of Vithoba, better known as the Vithhal temple. ‘Viththal’, ‘Pandharinath’, ‘Vithoba’, which are the popular names of the deity, is regarded to be the God form of Lord Krishna in Hinduism who is also considered to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Stretching over a massive area, the Vitthal temple has a total of six gates and the one located to the eastern side is known as the “Namdev Gate”.
After the procession reaches the holy town, the temple gets flooded with Warkaris and the celebrations begin. The palkhi rituals are quite elaborate and can be only fully understood and appreciated by the followers of holy tradition or the Warkaris. Yet, the procession is still a lot of fun to watch because of the energy, the vibrant colours and the chanting.
For more details see these pages