De h u-Al a n d i to Pa n d h a r pu r
B h a s k a r H a n d e
Dehu-Alandi to Pandharpur
Dehu-Alandi to Pandharpur
Pu n e
Dehu-Alandi to Pandharpur
First Edition 2010
Second edition 2013
Bhaskar Ekanath Hande
Vaishwik, S. No. 246/4 Saket Society
D. P. Road Aundh Pune 411007
Tel: 020 27298182
All right reserved
Price Rs. 200
The author is grateful to
Jaishree V. Rao,
Jayant Deshpande For editing.
Vaishwik Publication Pune.
Swaroop Mudran Pune
Vaishwik Art Environment
1 Dr. Sadanand More
2 Pracharya Ramdas Dange
3 How I embarked on the Palkhisohala Project
4 Revolutionary Magnificence
5 Dehu-Alalndi Pandharpur Palkhisohala 2008
5.1 The Journeys of Jnandev and Namdev
5.2 Dehu and its inhabitant, Tukaram (1608-1648)
5.3 Spiritual and Religious background
5.4 Palkhi—concept and form
5.5 The Varkari and Society
6 The sense of belonging
7 maps of Route
8 Photographs of VARI.
Dr. Sadanad More
Pracharya Ramdas Dange
How I embarked on the Palkhisohala Project
I made up my mind to walk with the Palkhisohala (pilgrimage
to Pandharpur) quite some time ago: in 1991, when I
started to make sketches based on Tukaram’s Gatha (corpus of
verses or abhangas). It was always an attractive subject for me.
An artist-painter’s profession consumes a great deal of time. I
had the urge to join this pilgrimage many a time, but couldn’t
find the time for it. Also, 700 years had passed since Jnandev
took his samadhi, and so in 2008, the 400th anniversary of
Tukaram’s birth, I was doubly inspired to participate in the
Palkhisohala. I participated not just as a person but decided to
make something creative happen. I was inspired to document
something about our glorious past for future generations. In my
earlier books, I’d already written that adequate notice has not
been taken of the names of individual painters, sculptors and
I first travelled for two months throughout India. It was a
project called ‘Show Your Hope’, a travelling exhibition that
went from Holland to India. Artists from 86 countries participated
in it. I made the journey in a truck, passing through
Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Pakistan. My responsibility
was to organize the exhibitions in India. I held them in Amritsar,
Chandigarh, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Nasik, Pune, Goa and Bangalore.
The exhibition ended on June 18, 2008. After that I was in
a relaxed mood, so I started a new project and immediately
decided to document the Dehu-Pandharpur Palkhisohala 2008.
I think the 400th birth anniversary occasion had such a
strong impact on me that I decided to document it. Instead of
just talking I prefer to set an example. What we actually
produce is the only evidence we have in the practice of art.
Mere theorizing is of no use. The evidence has to be captured
when the event takes place.
I asked other artists to do sketches with me for the
Palkhisohala. I distributed sketch books to the artists. We
started on the day of the Palkhi Prasthan in Dehu Sansthan. In
the past I’d show up for such events held in Dehu.
So far this was not new to me, but making sketches
challenged me. Only five artists were present at the time.
Just making a start was enough. Each artist made 10 sketches
on the first day.—The result was not satisfactory but the artists
were excited about the experience. Sitting in public and
sketching was not a big deal for me. I’ve been doing sketches
since my art academy days. My thoughts kept churning in my
brain, as I wanted to document the Palkhisohala with a different
The word Vari comes from Vaar, which means seven
days. Seven days come again and again, and so does the Vari
come year after year. People need something that is in tune
with their spiritual life. The Palkhisohala gives a large number
of people a platform. The Palkhisohala may have a tradition
that goes back 323 years, but the number of people travelling
and participating has increased significantly. The number of
Deendis has also increased.
The Palkhisohala was started by Narayanmaharaj, the
son of Sant Tukaram, in 1685. Narayanmaharaj was in his
thirties, quite a mature age to make a decision. He made the
trek from Dehu to Pandharpur via Alandi on foot; he was
convinced that this journey, carrying Tukaram’s and Jnandev’s
symbolic footwear every year, was a family obligation. He
introduced a whole new concept to the devotional in society.
However, in the Varkari Sampraday some authorities don’t pay
much heed to this approach. Was Narayanmaharaj the founder
of the Palkhisohala, or had the family of Tukaram already
initiated the Vari? The double moniker “Jnanoba-Tukaram”
was coined by Narayanmaharaj. But pilgrims went to Pandharpur
even during Tukaram’s lifetime. His poems or abhangas
contain ample evidence of that. Today’s Palkhisohala is conducted
according to Narayanmaharaj because his principal
motive was to carry Jnandev’s and Tukaram’s padukas (the
impressions of footprints in a mould).
An artist marching with a Deendi is a totally new experience
for people. My fellow artists travelled only as far as
Pune—I carried on further. It was a complete change in my
lifestyle as I lived in luxury in Europe for a long time. Even in
India I lived comfortably. But in the Palkhisohala I decided to
adjust to its usual ways. I had a rough experience of life 25
years back, so why should this be any different? I was quite
relaxed after a turbulent period of four years. I had decided
to settle in Pune after living in Holland for 25 years. That
might have been one of the reasons I was prepared for the
pilgrimage. I often wondered why. I never traveled in Maharashtra’s
interior. I was born in Umbraj, a village in Pune
District. During the first 17 years of my life I’d never ventured
beyond my Tehshil area. Ever since I was a student in Mumbai
I’ve travelled frequently to North India, but seldom inside
Maharashtra. I decided to join the pilgrimage and see what
experience I could gain. I visited places where Tukaram’s
padukas took a rest, i.e., where the Palkhi stays overnight. I
made sketches in charcoal, pencil and pen, and also took
In Baramati I met other artists who were studying in
rural art schools. They welcomed me with enthusiasm. Actually,
student artists come in direct confrontation with this
subject, as opposed to the classical figures they’re exposed to
in school To my mind the Palkhisohala is like an academy for
all branches of fine art: dance, drama, music, literature,
drawing, painting. One’s eyes and mind should be open to
everything. All art academies and universities keep their eyes
closed to such events and blindly follow traditional English art
education. Professionally, everyone admits their influence but
academics seldom pay any attention to them. I came to this
event rather late but it was never out of sight for me. Otherwise,
the project ‘Your form is my Creation’ would never have
taken place. I have received two State awards. The first one
was for work inspired by Tukaram’s verse. Unwittingly, I heeded
my inner soul and became familiar with the living academy
that the Palkhisohala represents, thanks to the entire bhakti
One meaning of peace refers to the inner peace, a
piece within us: a state of mind, body and mostly soul. People
that experience inner peace say that the feeling doesn’t
depend on time, place, people or any external object or
situation, proclaiming that an individual may experience inner
peace even in the midst of war. One of the oldest writings
on this subject is the Bhagvad Gita, an important part of
India’s Vedic scriptures. Bhakti is one of the outcomes of
this process. War and peace can predict certain aspects of
human behavior. It may affect the daily life of the common
man or society as a whole. The Vari or pilgrimage is one
event that involves a large number of people in peaceful
procession. Devotion is one of the states of mind, a feeling
or emotion, that brings together an entire society.
Walking keeps one’s mind fresh and the body fit. In
city life everyone is under some pressure or other. It’s hard
for people to recognize the pressure they are under. Walking
is one way to keep the body in condition. Medicines would
hardly keep one’s health in order but walking can work
wonders for your heart and lungs. Travelling long distances
changes people’s environment, and thus induces new
Tourism is travel for recreational or leisure purposes.
The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people
who “travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment
for not more than one consecutive year for leisure,
business and other purposes.” Tourism has become a popular
global leisure activity. Thinking of global activities in the
context of the Palkhisohala and its Vari, I arrived at the
point where inner satisfaction played a higher role in the
life of ordinary people.
Sketching is to the artist as gesture is to a dancer,
words to a poet and notes to a singer. They are all manifestations
of expression in the creative world. It might be
capturing a moment in a photograph, but beyond these expressions
it’s the rhythms of the body that get transformed
into a realm where ecstasy flows inside out. An artist draws a
line that puts shade and shadow beside an energetic flash.
Realistic drawings show the artistic nature of the Vari, so I
decided to experiment after having practiced abstract expression
for so long. But still, they end up as abstract forms. What
I had lithographed in 1992 reappeared in Pandharpur while I
was drawing the Pradakshina (circling). The peripheral procession
of the Deendi represents the Palkhisohalas.
A Revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational
structures that takes place in a relatively short
period of time. Aristotle thus described two types of political
1. Complete change from one constitution to another
2. Modification of an existing constitution
The glorious Revolution of England and the North American
Civil War happened during the same period; the most
significant period for the beginning of Liberal Thought. The
French and Russian Revolutions happened in violence. Most authoritative
heads had been publicly persecuted. Economy was
in depression and governments did not evoke confidence in
public mind. So what were the thoughts of the common man?
The common man suffered emotionally and economically
and a fever of anger rose against the situation. His confusion
led to mob anger, with the mobs taking action. Decisionmaking
was influenced by action… not the other way round.
With every act, man was confident of change; but when he
lost, he became frustrated with his own unthinking actions. It
affected the emotional, sensitive and creative man differently.
Man has to think first; his actions then become an outcome
of his thoughts.
Many artists made paintings before and after a revolution.
These proved to be lessons in history for the common
man, who would search for hidden meaning, maybe suggestion
of a time period. There was so much to learn from the paintings
and sculptures of each period… as I looked at paintings of
the French Revolution at the Musee du Louvre in Paris, I shut
myself in my thoughts and instinctively found a message for
Every phase of the revolution ushers change… expression of
emotions was on high alert. Language would get rough and
the poet desperately sought new words of expression. The
artist sought new shades of color for an intelligent portrayal
of emotion. Performers put forth their best. The dancer transformed
like an acrobat in battlefield. The musician wrote
songs on bravery. Hope was on high alert and with hope grew
fear. A persecution complex led every man to believe he was
surrounded by the enemy; making him see the enemy even
amongst friends and relatives, too confused to act as a thinking
citizen. The citizen was victimized by the constitution,
rebels and traitors. The press and the media were under surveillance.
During the revolution, reality is tangible and can be
seen in actuality, through the photographer’s images, despite
suffering bullet wounds.
I saw visual evidences of revolutions in the form of
prints, which today appear through the electronic media. I
have been through the gloom, a soul that has actually witnessed
the troubled event. I had written a poem in 1989, on
the protest in China’s Min Square. The trees then were in blossom.
The blossoming tree always reminds me of that protest.
I documented a pilgrimage from Dehu-Alandi to Pandharpur
in 2008. I realized something extraordinary had happened
on the Deccan plateau which was to make history. I
explained this phenomenon in my book ‘325 years Dehu-Alandi
to Pandharpur Palkhisohala.’ It was a pilgrimage of twenty
days, when I discovered so much it made me mark those pages
in history and nudge one to rethink about one’s life.
So much change had happened in Maharashtra several
times in history; sometimes when laws were violated, sometimes
when kingdoms were overthrown with violence. But
here in Pandharpur, I saw revolution and military transformation
by messengers of peace of the 18th century. The fact
remains that the Varkaris today are like soldiers holding flags
for peace, not for violence. When I see this, I ask myself if it
is the air of the Deccan Plateau that has brought about this
change, this revolution. At the top of the plateau is the sky;
the bottom of the plateau lies under the ocean. Does this result
in a universe of peace?
Peace and violence are the essence of human emotion and
behavior. Revolution and evolution are the work of man, who
heals his mind with art, but grieves and weeps when forced
into a difficult situation. It forces him to act in rage, when his
mind has been taken over by his sentiments. In a revolution,
man behaves differently, independently; his actions are not
in the hands of his commander. The thinker or the artist must
have observed this. Classic examples are when rape takes
place in war or when the worthy get killed. Religious practices
may have caused families to disagree and go separate ways.
Human cleansing could have taken place. There must have
been so much negativity.
Arguably, Picasso’s most famous work is his depiction
of the German bombing of Guernica, during the Spanish Civil
War. Guernica, this large canvas embodies for many the inhumanity,
brutality and hopelessness of war. Asked to explain its
symbolism, Picasso said, “It isn’t up to the painter to define
the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them
out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must
interpret the symbols as they understand them.”
Through this two dimensional painting, Picasso expressed concern
for his motherland, when Guernica was bombarded in the
War. Picasso was interviewed for his expression of sentiment
in this painting and his views were published in various periodicals.
He told the public directly to interpret the painting; the
viewer should figure out what is going on in the artist’s mind.
The artist guides the emotions of the common man, anonymously.
The artist’s sensitivity makes him a master documentarian
of wartime plea.
Social equality came into being during the French
revolution. During the Russian revolutions, social injustice and
inequality were discussed that brought about social change.
Thus there was a lot of mental disturbance and many people
immigrated to Europe and became famous personalities. They
survived despite circumstance and their paintings and books
guide today’s new victims of revolutions and wars, giving them
hope to survive in tough times. Many visual artists show the
way to emotional cheer. They share their thoughts and discuss
amongst themselves about the many revolutions that the continent
of Europe has had. I see my life and try to understand
it from that viewpoint.
I have been living in The Hague since 1983 and am
aware of the many changes that have taken place in the past
thirty years, socially, economically, artistically. The Netherlands
was the most liberal European state since its golden
age. Spinoza wrote his masterpiece, Ethica and introduced
radical, liberal thinking. The Peace Palace, often called the
seat of international law, is in The Hague. It houses the International
Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial body
of the United Nations.
I remember the Yugoslavia Tribunal which took place in
The Hague and Slobodan Milosevic, President of former Yugoslavia.
His trial began at The Hague on 12th February 2002,
with Milosevic defending himself. He did not recognize the
Tribunal but participated in the proceedings with the idea
of presenting the Serbian view of the truth. The charges for
which he was indicted were genocide, complicity in genocide,
deportation, murder, persecutions on political, racial or religious
grounds, inhumane acts, forcible transfer, extermination,
imprisonment, torture; willful killing; unlawful confinement;
willfully causing great suffering; unlawful deportation
or transfer, extensive destruction and appropriation of property
unjustified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully
and wantonly, cruelty, plunder of public or private property,
attacks on civilians, destruction or willful damage done to
historic monuments and institutions dedicated to education or
religion. Milosevic was indicted in May 1999 during the Kosovo
War by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity in Kosovo. I had witnessed
the entire proceedings and learnt how laws act after
The other side of the story… we put together in Show Your
Hope Project in Holland. In 2006, I became a promoter of
exhibitions, traveling to Asia, especially India. 18 exhibitions
were held in various cities; the message was Show Your Hope
against war in Balkan, Iraq and later on, in Afghanistan.
Moral values were discussed at the time of the fifth
election, in the first decade of the 21st century in Holland.
Five elections took place within eleven years. Many foreigners
took asylum and moved to another country through The Netherlands
and Belgium. In 2012, it took more than six months to
form the government. Those were tense times, but not ignited
by the fire of a revolution. People were able to think and talk
things over; things could be marginalized.
At the artistic front, many art academies and design
schools were established in the Netherlands and many students
passed out of the academies. There were not enough
jobs for even the professionals. Artists were criticized even
for their efforts in art conservation and preservation. Museums
are to attract visitors from all over the world and this is
one of the positive points of Dutch culture.
Economically, the Euro was introduced in 2001, when
Gulden was at half its value. As I think of those days of Gulden
exchange, I travel through time and some memories flow
through. The currency of a country is the medium of economy
for the exchange of goods. But a change of currency was for
me, an experience in the country becoming liberal. In 1992,
European states came together under the Maastricht Treaty.
I enthusiastically made a souvenir bag of coins, a symbol for
Unity, like Santa’s bag of gifts!
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the fall of the
Berlin Wall in 1990 brought about big changes in Europe. It
was the fall of Communism - Socialism of the Lenin era. Statues
of Lenin were moved from public squares in East European
countries. There was constant media coverage of incidents
in the last quarter of the 20th century. Everything was sensational
and became the height of expression. Every sensitive
mind reacted on issues and incidents and most artists felt that
social transformation was taking place; the signs and symbols
were being moved from the streets.
In India, such incidents occurred when the British Raj
ended and India and Pakistan became independent nations.
Lahore in the north, Mumbai in the south and Calcutta in the
east had lots of statues removed from streets and dumped.
When I came to live in Byculla, Mumbai, opposite the Victoria
Gardens and Museum, I would spend many happy hours
there, studying and sketching. Around the Museum building
in the open area there were a lot of marble statues, some in
good condition. I was astonished at the story of these statues,
which were not even useful to students of art schools. National
fervor renders a person blind and in his rage, he becomes
capable of burning, destroying everything of the past in
art and science. Marble statues remain in good condition for
years, yet they are not in any public collection. I think they
are made in the interest of politically motivated regimes, to
show domination of wealth and power. After a fall of political
power, culture always gets plundered. It inspires other minds
with new values that are sometimes undermined.
Another incident of this kind happened in the Indian
state of Uttar Pradesh, where recently, Mayawati of the Bahujan
Samaj Party ordered many sculptures of herself to be
made and kept in public places. What happened after her
party was defeated in the 2012 elections? History repeated
itself and the statues were removed and dumped by the new
government. In a democracy, it is not a fair practice to make
statues and keep them in public open places. Why can’t the
parties just keep them in their offices? Culture develops
manually, not mechanically. The best ideas survive under any
circumstance. One of the Indian states received an order from
the Supreme Court not to place statues in public places and I
admire the decision taken. Authorities should develop museums
in the interest of the common man and preserve important
and valuable objects for future generations.
In the history of revolutions, I find the source for thinkers
to gather their views. Leaders of both sides act in anger.
Commoners as well as generals suffer under the political leaders.
Conspiracies lead to confusion and a suffering generation
tries to find a way out of trauma. Revolutions provide the
writer with themes, for maybe a drama or opera. They provide
the artist with ideas for a mural, the actor with an opportunity
to air his voice. The dancer may find a new theme for
choreography. A philharmonic orchestra may find a new chorus.
Epic songs and hymns get written. The saga of revolution
will always be in the minds of men causing changes around the
In modern history, a very different kind of revolution
took place in India, which transformed military men to participate
in 800 kilometers long peace marches every year. Without
a break, this march to Pandharpur has been happening
for 327 years. One can see a combination of philosophy and
culture in this march, which began in 1685. I make an attempt
to mark these years in Europe, India and North America,
searching for incidents, events, revolutions and wars. Today,
information technology brings news to our living room. Then,
it was just not possible to hear or know anything for thousands
of miles. To receive any real news, it could take many months
and the rest would be only gossip!
In North America from 1685 until 1688, a French colony,
Fort Saint Louis, existed near what is now Inez, Texas. Explorer
Robert Cavelier de La Salle, a French explorer credited
with claiming Louisiana and the Mississippi River Basin for
France, intended to found a colony at the mouth of the river.
But inaccurate maps and navigational errors caused his ships
to anchor instead at 400 miles (650 km) west, off the coast of
Texas, near Matagorda Bay.
In England, The Monmouth Rebellion was an attempt
to overthrow James II who had become the King of England,
Scotland and Ireland upon the death of his elder brother
Charles II in 1685. James II was a Roman Catholic and some
Protestants under his rule opposed his kingship. James Scott,
1st Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles II,
claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne and attempted
to displace James II. Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis and for
the following few weeks, his growing army of nonconformists,
artisans and farm workers fought a series of skirmishes with
local militias and regular soldiers. The rebellion ended with
the defeat of Monmouth’s forces at the Battle of Sedgemoor
and Monmouth was executed for treason. Many of his supporters
were executed or transported in the Bloody Assizes of
In Europe, The Nine Years’ War (1688 - 97) was a major war of
the late 17th century fought between King Louis XIV of France
and a European-wide coalition, the Grand Alliance, led by the
Anglo-Dutch King William III, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I,
King Charles II of Spain, Victor Amadeus II of Savoy and the
major and minor princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The Nine
Years’ War was fought primarily on mainland Europe and its
surrounding waters, but it also encompassed a theatre in Ireland
and in Scotland, where William III and James II struggled
for control of the British Isles and a campaign (King William’s
War) between French and English settlers and their Indian
allies in colonial North America. The war was the second of
Louis XIV’s three major wars.
In India, Bombay Presidency, the East India Company’s
headquarters moved from Surat to Bombay in 1687. The Portuguese
owned land on the west coast of India that was a contract
with the Maratha rulers. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb
himself headed South in 1681. With his entire imperial court,
administration and an army of about 500,000 soldiers, he proceeded
to conquer the Maratha Empire, along with the sultanates
of Bijapur and Golconda. During the eight years that followed,
King Sambhaji led the Marathas, never losing a battle
or fort to Aurangzeb, who almost lost the campaign but for
an event in early 1689. Sambhaji called his commanders for
a strategic meeting at Sangameshwar, to decide on the final
onslaught on the Mughal forces. In a meticulously planned operation,
Ganoji Shirke and Aurangzeb’s commander, Mukarrab
Khan attacked Sangameshwar, when Sambhaji was accompanied
by a few men. Sambhaji was ambushed and captured by
Mughal troops and he along with his advisor, Kavi Kalash were
taken to Bahadurgad, where they were executed for rebellion
against the Empire.
In relation to the above events in North America, England,
Holland and India, the Palkhisohala was started by an
individual. Sant Tukaram’s younger son Narayan Maharaj had
decided to take the paduka, footwear of Tukaram and Dyaneshwar
to Pandharpur in groups, dindi, chanting abhangs.
This was a difficult era on the political scene. King Shivaji
had passed away in 1680 and his son was on the throne. The
Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, had descended on the Deccan
plateau, to fight the newly created Maratha kingdom which
challenged the mighty Mughal Empire. Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son
was at war with the Mughals, the English and the Portuguese.
Narayan Maharaj was a moneylender by profession, who became
a soldier in the Maratha army. Dehu is situated on the
banks of the Indrayani River. Tukaram disappeared in 1650.
Narayan Maharaj was born about four to five months after
Tukaram’s disappearance. Those were not peaceful times. His
idea to start a peaceful march to Pandharpur was an adventurous
one, especially under foreign rule.
Aurangzeb intended to demolish the Maratha kingdom.
The peace march was to be held from Dehu –Alandi in Pune
district to Pandharpur. This was under Maratha rule and Pandharpur
was inside the Adilshahi of Bijapur, the dynasty that
ruled the Sultanate of Bijapur, west of the Deccan. The Bijapur
sultanate was absorbed into the Mughal Empire on 12th
September 1686, after its conquest by Aurangzeb. This area
around Pandharpur was especially sensitive lying on the border
of the Maratha kingdom and the Adilshahi of Bijapur. River
Bhima was called Chandrabhaga in Pandharpur and this river
and Nira geographically form the dividing line between the
two kingdoms. At the time Palkhisohala started, the two kingdoms
were at war. But devotional activities and intelligence
activities were going on simultaneously. People supported the
Maratha army. The route for the march was through Adilshahi
territory and today, this route has not changed. The Alandi
route was changed by Dyaneshwar’s followers who were also
military heads. The form of Palkhisohala is a format of military
march. The structure of administration is, likewise, the
same. Mughals, Marathas, the British Raj and now the Republic
of India... Palkhisohala has been recognised by each administration.
Its march of soldiers of the soul, soldiers of the
land, soldiers of devotion, soldiers of peace, is a positivity of
humanity, formed in good faith.
This march influenced all modern Indian philosophers,
political leaders, thinkers like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, economist
Namdar G. K. Gokhale, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar,
Bramho Samaj members, British Justice Ranade etc. Today,
many western universities send researchers to find the mes-
sage delivered by this march. The number of people participating
in this march has already passed several hundred thousands,
coming from the western and southern states of India.
The second revolution took place in 1930, against the
British Raj. Mahatma Gandhi led the Satyagraha, his Dandi
March. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, he
said. He believed in resistance without violence, non violence
against the mighty power of the British Empire. He succeeded
with the help of the concept of the Varkari movement and
a thousand-year-old tradition of Buddha, Mahavir, sufis and
Varkari like Namdeo, Dnyaneshwar, Kabir, Nanak, Eknath, Tukaram,
Bulleh Shah, Narsi Mehta etc.
The examples of the past provide the present with the
strength and the solutions. War is not a solution to a problem;
it is only a link to another conflict. As Gandhiji said, “It has
always been easier to destroy than to create.” and “There are
many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no causes that
I am prepared to kill for.”
How do I conclude with words, my memories of India,
Holland, Europe, of the past thirty years? Words are gone with
the wind. The wind liberates the sensitive mind.
Dehu-Alalndi Pandharpur Palkhisohala 2008
The Journeys of Jnandev and Namdev
Jnandev and his contemporary, Namdev, travelled throughout India
in the 13th century. Jnandev was a thinker, and founder of the
tradition of Marathi Bhakti poetry. He was also able to distance
himself from the tradition of the Vedas and the rules of Brahmin
superiors, and engage with the common public. He was a child of
his time in changing tradition and bringing about a more secular
society, and he surpassed all established thought. He studied Shaivism
and Shaktism. He respected and appreciated all religions and
castes, and his Guru’s views. He was the seed that grew into a
huge tree within. Namdev was a good businessman in his time and
a devotee of Pandurang. He served as an experienced person and
a travel guide to Nivruttinath, Jnandev, Sopan and Muktabai. As his
business supplied fabrics to several places in India, he must have
established good public relations, cultivated during the five trips he
made to Punjab—via Gujarat, Central India and North India—in his
lifetime. His trips from Pandharpur to Punjab in the 13th century
were likely by bullock-cart and on horseback. Today’s Palkhisohala
involves daily travel of at least 22 km and thus overnight stops—the
places Jnandev stayed overnight were either at a dharamsala or at
those owned by his business friends. He knew where these places
were, and that helped in guiding Jnandev and his brothers in their
journey to Kashi and the rest of North India. Nivruttinath, Jnandev’s
elder brother, studied Shaiva doctrine for twelve years in North India.
He also had experience of travel in North India. These journeys
always make me wonder when I travel long distances. Like Mumbai
to Amsterdam, a journey which keeps giving rise to new thoughts
and freshens the mind. Last year (2008) I walked along with those
participating in the Dehu-Pandharpur Palkhisohala. So I gained some
experience and can well imagine what sort of difficulties people
might have faced in their journeys all over India in the 13th century.
Earlier on, I had travelled to North India as an art student, and from
Mumbai to Darjeeling as an artist. Recently, I travelled to exhibitions
at Amritsar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Nasik and
Pune. I had all this experience even before I decided to walk in the
Dehu-Pandharpur Palkhisohala. I understand the poetry of travelling
and pilgrimage. Along the way I made sketches to celebrate
Tukaram’s 400th birth anniversary.
Namdev’s journey had always inspired my earlier writing.
Jnandev, Namdev, Eknath, Tukaram and others in the tradition of
Bhakti poetry are the bedrock of my thinking process. A source of
inspiration, as are Indian Sufi poets like Bulleshah, Kabir, Waris Shah
and Ramdas, Mirabai, Tulsidas, Surdas, Narsi Mehta. That was the
reason I invited the “Show your Hope” project to India and achieved
something which would never have been experienced. It was to
obtain experience through travel. But what I gained is priceless
experience and a relaxed mind. The whole world is full of complex
situations, and so most people try to attain a peace of mind in their
The road that goes to both Jyotirlingas passes by my birth-
place, and it might well have contributed to my passion for estimating
and comparing distances. As in Rameshwar to Pandharpur via
Gokarn, Venkobagiri, Mallikarjun Shail Mountain; Parali Baijnath to
Ondha Naganath via Tuljapur and Mahoor; from Ondha Naganath
to Bhimashankar via Paithan, Shani-Shingnapur and Alandi; from
Alandi to Bhimashankar and Tryambakeshwar via Junnar and Harishchandragad;
from Tryambakeshwar to Somnath via Saptshrungi and
Ammalner; even the central route from Rameshwar goes through
Gokarn, Venkobagiri, Mallikarjun Shail Mountain, Siddheshwar in
Sholapur, Pandharpur, Tuljapur, Paithan, Ghruneshwar and Omkareshwar
to Mahakal of Ujjain. These geographical routes have always
been trodden annually by many Indian pilgrims on several religious
occasions. The followers of Shaiva especially travel regularly along
these routes. The Mahaparv routes in India are lined by four peeths
(centers), twelve Jyotirlingas and three and a half Shakti Peeths.
People travel to all these places all the time. I may not visit all
these places but my inner being ponders over all these routes, comparing
them to the annual Dehu-Pandharpur pilgrimage. The number
of people walking along these routes is the greatest among all
the pilgrimages in the world. The largest gathering, the Mahaparv
Kumbh Mela occupies first place—it is performed in a very different
manner. Taking this into account, the tradition of the Dehu-
Pandharpur pilgrimage and the Alandi-Pandharpur Palkhisohala have
played a secular role in society. In no other part of the world does
this take place. The main theme is that all humans function at the
same level, being equal regardless of age or caste.
Two personalities influenced Tukaram: Jnandev and Namdev.
His reason for writing poetry (abhangas) is contained in his
verse. Jnandev and Namdev appeared in his dreams and asked him
to write down the rest of their work through his mind and hand.
Tukaram honoured their will, obeyed the order and began writing
at the age of 21; he’d continue writing till the age of 41. His last
appearance was the second day of the lunar fortnight of the waning
moon in the Hindu calendar in 1649 A.D.
One must always rely on the perspective of time to value
someone’s work—how much one person can accomplish and under
what circumstances. Jnandev lived only 21 years, but had a profound
influence on society. Tukaram, lived 41 years, and his poetry
modernized Marathi. Namdev lived 90 years, supported the cause of
Jnandev, wrote verses and travelled a lot. Various aspects of everyday
life exert their influence on a person while he actually lives his
life. Everyone has a life, long or short, but can impact society in
disproportionate ways. Historians and critics have no doubt noticed
this. Some may say that their work is more important than their
life. But to tell their stories to the common man, they will first have
to reflect on their own public as well as private lives in order to
lead unpretentious lives, without hypocrisy.
Dehu and its inhabitant, Tukaram (1608-1648)
The village, Dehu, in District Pune, in the Maval region of
Maharashtra, sits on the banks of the Indrayani river. Tukaram was
born and performed his divine deeds in Dehu and neighbouring
villages. About three hundred years before Tukaram, his ancestor,
Vishwambhar, lived in Dehu. The whole family owed its religious allegiance
to Lord Vithoba. It was in Ashadh (the fourth month of the
Hindu lunar calendar), on Shudh Dashmi (the tenth day of the waxing
moon) that the Lord appeared in Vishwambhar’s dream and told
him of His existence and went to retire in a grove of mango trees.
The very next morning Vishwambhar went into the grove with fellow
villagers and found the idols of Lord Vithoba and Rakhumai. He
then brought them over to his house and installed them for worship.
People soon came to know of this divine miracle and started coming
in droves to pay obeisance. An annual festival soon became a regular
feature. And a tract of land was bequeathed to Vishwambhar to
take care of the festival expenditure. A pilgrimage would be held on
Shuddh Ekadashi (the 11th day of the waxing moon) every month.
The Pandharpur Vari (pilgrimage) during the holy months of
Ashadh and Kartik had long been a tradition in Vishwambhar’s family
since his forebears. It was his unwavering and steadfast devotion
that was compelling. However, after Vishwambhar’s demise, his
sons, Hari and Mukund, showed no religious inclination and turned
to their original vocation: the armed services. They sought royal pa-
tronage, along with their families, and became officers among the
royal soldiers in the army of that time.
Their mother, Amabai, frowned upon this. The Lord was also
unhappy with their decision. He once appeared in Amabai’s dream
and told her of His unhappiness over the state of affairs. “I left Pandharpur
and came to Dehu for you, but you chose to leave me and
seek royal patronage. This is not fair. You should return to Dehu,”
he said. Amabai spoke to her sons about the Lord’s admonition and
tried to persuade them to return to Dehu. The sons, however, paid
As fate would have it, the state was soon invaded by an alien
power and both brothers laid down their lives in the ensuing battle
with the foe. Mukund’s wife preferred to sacrifice herself as sati following
her husband’s demise. Hari’s wife was pregnant at the time
of his death on the battlefield. Therefore, Amabai returned to Dehu
with her. Soon, the daughter-in-law was sent to her parents for her
delivery and Amabai devoted herself to the Lord’s service. Hari’s
widow gave birth to a son, who was named Vitthal. Vitthal’s son was
Padaji, Padaji’s son Shankar, Shankar’s son Kanhoba. Kanhoba’s son
was Bolhoba. Bolhoba had three sons: Savji was the eldest, followed
by Tukaram and Kanhoba, the youngest.
Tukaram’s family belonged to the Kshatriya (warrior) caste.
His forefathers had embraced martyrdom while fighting the enemy
on the battlefield. The family was also very cultured and religious.
Worship of Lord Vithoba had been its hallmark for generations and
so was the annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur. The family also had
the distinction of being mahajans (money-lenders). It owned farm-
land, and engaged in money-lending and trade. The family owned
two wadas (houses) at Dehu: one as its residence and the other, in
the marketplace, for trade and business. It enjoyed the respect of
the villagers and also of those living in the immediate vicinity. They
were called kunbis (farming community) because they engaged in
agriculture, and vanis (trading community) due to their trading activities.
However, Tukaram abjured all these, with the result that he
came to be called a gosavi (akin to a fakir). Nevertheless, ‘Gosavi’
was never the surname of the family. It was ‘More’ and ‘Gosavi’ was
By tradition Tukaram’s public discourses on religion would
be mixed with poetry, which included some of his own compositions.
His discourses focused on the day-to-day behavior of human
beings, and he emphasized that the true expression of religion was
in a person’s love for his fellow men rather than in ritualistic observance
of religious orthodoxy, including the mechanical study of the
Vedās. His teachings encompassed a wide range of issues, including
the importance of the ecosystem. Tukaram worked towards the enlightenment
of society in the “Varkari” tradition, which emphasizes
community service and group worship through music.
The myths of Tukaram’s disappearance
Due to my experience of living in a foreign country, I could
imagine the social debates on the circumstances surrounding Tukaram’s
Since he denied himself ‘Moksha’, his attitude was clear: he
did not seek ‘moksha’.
He was always thinking and writing, so he knew about the
realities of life.
His kirtan was the last performance and appearance in public.
In his biographical writing he wrote verses which tell us that
he was accompanied by some people.
Perhaps unknown people were involved in his journey, but
later became known in his written works.
The incident may have occurred as part of his journey and
rumors were spread all over.
Due to his business skills and his sense of humor in talking
about himself, he may have kept this a secret but kept writing according
to his nature.
He was conscious about his writing, and also in preserving it.
Hence the “13th day fast”, and the appearance of his Abhanga vahi
Researching his poetry after his disappearance was a task
which requires genuine study. His friends continued to do that. The
result is that all his verses were scrutinized by scholars through the
Rumours were spread that he was murdered by Brahmins or
someone else out of pure hate and jealousy. The issue was kept very
much on the boil—this is typical of any sect that wishes to perpetuate
hate and jealousy—a form of spiritual incorrectness. Love and
hate are both part of the love game. Ironically, aggression also sets
the subject on fire.
Various incidents took place after Tukaram’s disappearance.
Critics and those proud of their caste who were against his work
were involved in spreading rumors. Other sects were trying to put
him down by making false statements and using abusive propaganda
to destroy Tukaram’s social standing as well as to portray him as being
unworthy. Consequently, he’s regarded more as a mystic today
than a person one can relate to.
One could say that the speculations over his death are
practical and logical, but not credible. Some deny others’ beliefs
outright. In due course, the acceptance of facts which one considers
true becomes the measure by which everyone believes in something.
Witnesses to the incident lose credibility when the social
arrangements are on shaky ground. But whom to blame? The social
arrangements in the region of the Western Ghats were in turmoil.
The history of the period when Buddha lived was erased by Brahmin
thinkers and rulers of that time, as well as Muslim invaders. I’m
considering the historical evidence available from the 10th to 15th
centuries, with all the wars and deposed rulers.
When we consider the views of historians and critics, and
the political changes during the regimes of the above-mentioned
period, I come to the conclusion that there may have been other
factors which might have been overlooked by social observers of
that time. The religious sects in the Western Ghats and central Maharashtra
are so manifold that one needs to take a look at the big
picture to come to terms with Tukaram’s disappearance.
Spiritual and Religious background of the Dehu-Alandi-Pandharpur
In contemporary India, there are sects of Shaiva that are
bigger than the Vaishnav. Take for example any village and see how
many temples were inherited by that village. Ganesha, Maruti,
the local Devi (female protector) as well as the main female goddesses
like Mahalaxmi, Saraswati, Sharada, Kali, etc. Shaiva, Shakt,
Vaishnav, Gaanpatya, Mahanubhav, Brahmakumar and kumaris jostle
one another for space. Because of these social tensions, rumors of
Tukaram’s death became more mystical.
1. In Maharashtra three of the twelve Shiva-worshipping Jyotirlinga
temples are located in Tryambakeshwar, Bhimashankar, and
Ghruneshwar. There are twelve Jyotirlingas throughout India.
2. All eight Ganesha-worshipping Ashtavinayak temples are located
in the Western Ghats.
3. Local Shaiva-reincarnated deities like Khandoba and Jyotiba are
placed at Jejuri, Pali, Kolhapur, Ondha Nagnath and Paruli Baijnath.
4. The Shaiva Nathpanthi Guruparampara sect is spread all over
central and south India, with Ganagapur and Akkalkot being impor-
5. Three and a half shaktipeeths are at Tuljapur, Kolhapur, Mahoor
6. Each village has its own female deity (Gramadevata) to worship.
7. Jainism is a significant part of history, and has been involved in
changing people’s minds and carving out kingdoms. The districts of
Sangli and Kolhapur in the south of Maharashtra were part of the
8. Paithan, Nashik and the Siddheshwar Ashram at Solapur are
places where the Vedas traditionally practiced their scriptures. Due
to these practices many lower castes settled around these ashrams
as they depended on each other. So after centuries we still see most
Harijans living in and around these concentrated areas.
9. A part of Brahmanism is in the Konkan, which preserved Brahmin
thought on account of the ancient, Brahmin hero, Parshuram.
10. Brahmakumaris are also competing with other religious persuasions.
11. The Varkari sect has its origins in the worship of Krishna and
Ram. It engages in the annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur, where Lord
Vitthal is worshipped. He is considered as the reincarnation of Lord
12. The Mahanubhav Panth which worships Krishna is widespread in
the north of Maharashtra. It also held sway in western Maharashtra
in the 15th and 16th centuries.
13. Muslim invaders changed the religious views of many greedy
and vulnerable people by force, and by giving offence. They settled
down here and built their mosques. Ahmednagar and Aurangabad
are towns that became Muslim settlements. Malegaon especially
became an enclave for Muslims who chose to remain in India after
14. Because of Aurangzeb and his Muslim policies Guru Gobind
Singh came all the way to Nanded from Punjab to seek revenge,
and ended up settling down there. Since 1670 it has become a holy
place for Sikhs. It is located in central Maharashtra.
15. Apart from all these efforts in settling down in Maharashtra, today
there are tribes that survived all land invasions, like the Bhilla,
Warli, Mahadev Koli and others. They’ve been living for centuries in
the jungles of the Western Ghats and Central India.
16. Two world heritage sites, Ajantha and Elora, represent a period
that got erased in Maharashtra by Jain, Brahmin and Muslim rulers.
Today they’re open to the whole world and all religions.
17. Buddha and his philosophy has maintained peace in the Sahyadri
ranges. Buddhists had carved out many caves in the Western Ghats:
the Karla Caves, Bhaja Caves, Elephanta Caves and others are an
integral part of the heritage of India.
18. Shirdi is the place where most of secular society visits Sai Baba’s
19. ‘Bombay’ became one of India’s first cosmopolitan cities and
placed on Mumbai the crown of all the religions of the world—you
name it and you will find it here. With such a diversity of communities
and religious beliefs one would expect the background of
the current inhabitants to be equally varied. With such complex
communities Maharashtra is still producing good results, with an
extraordinary society and talent within it. Where do they look for
Jnandev and Tukaram have become the ideal leaders of
Marathi- speaking people, whose thoughts reach out to the very limits
of human experience, s and thus attaining Divine status. Society
should survive without suffering and pain. The more you desire, the
more that desire will be reinforced, but the winds of opposition will
blow hard against it. Either your desire will lose its force or it will
Palkhi—concept and form
What is the idea behind the Palkhi in Maharashtra and
elsewhere, and how did it start? Why do hundreds of thousands of
people participate in it? One could ask the organizers about these
things. Is it a religious or social gathering? Does it have a political
purpose? Just walk and find all the answers in the Palkhisohala.
Doesn’t matter which Palkhisohala you participate in. Ashadhi Ekadashi
or Kartiki Ekadashi, the 11th day of the lunar month. There
are other festivals in Maharashtra like Tuljabhavani, Khandoba,
Jyotiba, Ganesha, Ambabai and others. But I’m concerned with the
greatest event: the Ashadhi Ekadashi Palkhisohala.
Actually, Palkhi means palanquin. A palanquin is used to
carry a beloved and respected person over long distances. Others
used to place the worshipped god in it and pay their respects during
the procession on a special day. In North India the palanquin is used
to carry the newly wed groom to the bridegroom’s home. It shows
respect for and is an honor to the beloved instead of walking there.
He sits and the others walk with him or her.
It can be put on the shoulders and carried, or it can be
placed in a bullock cart or horse cart. A bullock cart is used for
long distances and for short distances it is carried on the shoulders.
Processions tend to be short in villages or on mountain routes where
worship takes place. It is a tradition and social event that takes
place all over India as a devotional festival of some sort.
The Dehu and Alandi Palkhisohala had its beginnings in 1675
AD. Tukaram and Jnandev were an inspiration to Narayan Maharaj,
Tukaram’s son. He respected and was devoted to his father and
Jnandev, the founder of the tradition of Marathi bhakti poetry. He
started walking from Dehu to Alandi, and then continued on to
Pandharpur, where Lord Vitthal is worshipped. It is during Ashadi
Ekadashi that one should set foot in Pandharpur. On the 11th lunar
day, all who respect and worship Vitthal take a bath in the river,
Chandrabhaga and walk around the periphery of the Vitthal temple
complex in Pandharpur. On the second or 12th lunar day one gives
up the fast and have normal food. The 13th and 14th days are for
celebration and rest. On the 15th day of the month, or Pournima
(Full Moon), one honors one’s Guru—this is Gurupournima. Everyone
honors his Guru on this day. All bhaktas, or devotees, visit Pandharpur
to pay their respect to Lord Vitthal. To be at the guru’s doorstep,
or near the Guru is to achieve ecstasy. That’s the culmination.
All devotees pay their respect and begin the return journey to Dehu
It takes about 20 days to reach Pandharpur and 15 days to go
back. When the Palkhi proceeds toward Pandharpur, it has commitments
to villages along the way, where it stays overnight. Certain
traditions have been established over the years so everything goes
according to plan. On the return journey the palkhi stops at places
other than those where they stopped on the way to Pandharpur. It
is a matter of honor and fulfillment for villagers who invite people
into their temples. The palkhi returns to Dehu or Alandi on the second
Ashadhi Ekadashi (the eleventh day of darkness that follows the
Full Moon). And then the festival ends.
The day of the full moon in the Hindu month of Ashadh
(July-August) is observed as the auspicious day of Guru Pournima.
Gurupournima is the day when one worships the Guru and expresses
complete gratitude for what we have received and continue to
receive from Him. On this day, in observance of the great Gurudisciple
tradition, seekers from all walks of life who represent the
Sanatan (orthodox)doctrine come together.
Satya Sai Baba had this to say: “Who is a Guru? He is the
Divine dispeller of the darkness within you. The Divine Trinity has
been described as Guru. This implies that the Divine should be
regarded as the supreme preceptor who can destroy the darkness
that is ignorance. Forgetting this basic truth, people run after men
wearing ochre robes who profess to impart a mantra and stretch
out their palms for money. This is not what is meant by Guru. Install
God in your heart. The vibrations that emanate from the heart will
elevate you spiritually and confer Divine Wisdom.”
For me respect for anything means the above two examples,
which are local and global in nature; not only for Santana, but
worldwide awareness of pain and suffering.
Every religious sect has a tradition and a holy place where
the followers of that sect are expected to go for darshan and for
other religious ceremonies. In the Varkari sect Pandharpur is con-
sidered to be a very holy place, where the temple of Vithoba or
Pandurang is located. Every able-bodied Varkari is also expected
to visit Pandharpur on the Ashadhi and Kartiki Ekadashi for the vari
(visit). The devotees of Shri Datta regard Mahur, Ganagapur, Narsoba
Wadi, Audumbar, etc. as their holy places since they believe
that Shri Datta is supposed to have stayed at these places in person
or through His incarnations.
Gurupournima is considered an important occasion in the
system of education. The tradition of learning from a teacher is
treated with respect and the debt is paid with love and affection.
Administration of the Palkhisohala
The administration of the Palkhisohala is well within democratic
rules of order. One can wonder about the way it works, or
be surprised when one knows how it does work. It’s a lot like the
management of a military battalion during wartime. The whole
operation is designed to move the military towards its destination.
It is adapted from military practice in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Many experts have understood what wartime management was like
in the advance of Maratha regiments in the Maratha and Peshwa periods.
Most sardars and shiledars in the Maratha kingdom had their
own Paydal (land military). It was always on the move and had to
manage their own transport. The Patil—or village headman—would
support the local military superior with manpower and money.
Each village had its own sainiks (soldiers), just as each village
today has a Deendi, and varkaris with a Bhajanimandal (musicians’
group). This is turned into a peaceful movement that practices
the doctrine of varkari bhakti. It’s a miracle from within. Even
varkaris call themselves ‘Vaishnavanche Sainya’, meaning Warriors
of Vaishnav. War and peace. A paradox that is inherent in any Indian
doctrine. Inner conflict. Only those who wage war will find the
solution: peace within oneself, as Gautam Buddha realized. Peace
is a notion intended for the non-violent. To spiritually transform violent
moments into calmness. The walking during the Vari calms and
relaxes the mind in order to energize the body. The spiritual peace
one needs in life is derived from the experience that walking with
others provides. Today people may not understand these virtues but
they do represent the contemporary reality.
There is a committee of members who’re elected from Dehu
village and the Varkari Sampradaya. The Dehu temple is registered
as a trust. It has a separate Palkhisohala Committee, which includes
the President; he is assisted by three other festival assistants, and
is the prominent co-ordinator in the management of the sohala.
Each village has its own Deendi which marches with either
the Dehu-Pandharpur Palkhisohala or the Alandi-Pandharpur Palkhisohala.
It may happen that one or more Deendi in a village takes
part in the festival.
Order of the March
The Palkhisohala has been designed as a military march and
its glory lies in the performance of its participating Deendis. At the
beginning of the Palkhisohala big Nagara drums on a bullock-cart
are played to announce that the festival has begun. The Choughada
is played by a person while walking. The Chopdar is a colourful, historic
character in the modern Palkhisohala. To keep everyone walking
in an orderly manner, and intruders and disturbances at bay, the
Chopdar keeps an eye on everyone to maintain the discipline of the
march ‘Devacha ghoda’, or the Horse of God takes its place alongside
the Sardar’s (commander’s) horse. Behind it the holders of the
‘Abdagiri’ (a shield that is a symbol of the region) march, as in the
military. But in the context of the Palkhisohala the sign symbolizing
a particular order of sects and their main deity is moulded onto this
shield, or the ‘Abdagiri’. The Dehu-Pandharpur Palkhi has a special
sign that is called Garud-Takke—a vehicle of Lord Vishnu’s Garud
(falcon). Each Palkhisohala has its own shield. The Dehu Sansthan
(organization) believes in the Vaishnav doctrine, which is why it is
represented by the Garud-Takke. In the Mahabharata war all chariots
had shields and flags. Since then the Sun, Hanuman, Moon, and
all astrological signs are doctrines as well as beliefs. It is these signs
which are moulded onto the ‘Abdagiri’.
A shingadya is a person who sounds off at the beginning of
the march with an instrument shaped like a semi-circle. The veena
is the most respected instrument in the Deendi. Whoever carries
the veena is a Veenekari. The veenekari is the most honoured figure
in the whole Sohala. Each time an aarti is sung at a resting place,
or the early Morning Prayer performed, he must present himself as
the representative of the Deendi along with the Pakhawaj player.
Actually, the veena and Pakhawaj are instruments played in Shiva
temples all over India. Both instruments are played in the Shaiva
tradition, but they have first preference in the Vaishnav tradition.
Behind the veenekari walks the Deendi.
In the order of honour the first in line of the Deendi is Malkachi
Deendi—the Deendi of Dehu Sansthan, owner of the Palkhisohala.
Jaripataka, another honour to the Palkhisohala, is a long,
metal stick like a Dharmadand, and it confers the right to conduct
religious discourses. Then the main Deendi of the festival marches
ahead of the Rath (chariot which contains the palkhi) of the Palkhisohala.
The Rath carries the Palkhi in which are placed the paduka
(impressions in a mould of Tukaram’s footprints). The Rath is carried
on the backs of a pair of bulls. Other Deendis walk behind the Rath
in the order given.
The Bhajanimandal Deendi is made up of four lines of Talkaris
(clappers who use small brass cups struck against each other to
produce a bell-like sound), with one or two pakhawaj players in
the middle. Talkaris consist of 8 to 16 people. The Talkari lines are
spaced so that walking is safe. Singers in the Bhajanimandal sometimes
play the harmonium. Singer-musicians sing the abhangas of
Tukaram, the ovis of Jnandev, Namdev and Janabai, the traditional
‘Gavalan’ (love gossip about Radha and Krishna), the Bharuds of
Eknath and other abhangas, and songs of devotion by other saints
of the Varkari Sampraday such as Chokhamela, Savata Mali, Gora
kumbhar, Bahinabai and others.
The Tulsi-dharak, who carries the tulsi plant (used in
ayurvedic medicine) on her head walks alongside a female group
behind the Bhajanimandal; the woman kalshi-dharak walks with a
pot of water (kalshi) on her head. The drinking water is distributed
in the procession.
There were 240 Deendis participating in the Dehu-Pandharpur
Palkhisohala 2008, with roughly a minimum of fifty to a hundred
men and women taking part in one Deendi.
Deendis from a village come to register with the Dehu Sansthan
so they can march with the Palkhi. Once registered, it receives
its number. It may be ahead of the Rath or at the back. The same
procedure applies to the Alandi Sansthan. The Deendi is a group of
people participating in the march of the palkhi. In military terms a
Shiledar or Patil represents his group in a military march. Likewise,
the Deendi pramukh (or chief) is responsible for maintaining order
and looking after his deendi. Since the Deendi comes under the
Palkhi management, the Palkhi sohala resembles a senapati who
leads a group of villages under his flag. Just as many deendis do
under the Dehu Palkhisohala. There is usually one Deendi from a village,
but there may be more deendis from that village In a Deendi a
veenekari holds an honorary status in the Palkhi sohala. At each tal
or overnight stop the veenekari must stand in the first row to sing
the aarti when the palkhi arrives. The Bhajanimandal, including the
pakhawaj-wadak (player) and talkaris, numbering roughly 8 to 14
companions. The chopdar is responsible for maintaining order while
walking or marching on the procession route. Varkaris participating
in a deendi must walk only in their group and provide services such
as bringing water, help out any member of the group, help in finding
vegetables and milk on the way. The Deendi group carries enough
food to last for 35 days. Women varkaris help to prepare food twice
a day. The Tulsi-dhari woman and Ghada-kalshidhari woman represent
Lord Vitthal’s favorite plant, the tulas. The tulas has many
symbolic meanings. It is ayurvedic in nature, and acts as immediate
medicine for anyone who falls ill during the journey.
In the palkhisohala the ringan is the most important event,
symbolizing two essential concepts: First, though the old military
practice was transformed into the varkaris’ peaceful procession,
the spirit of entertaining themselves remained the same. Secondly,
the fitness of the varkari is important. People on the route who visit
and have fun with the palkhisohala participate as spectators and
join the march. Ringan shows how a battalion keeps its soldiers fit
and mingles with the local culture. They exchange thoughts, play
games, and demonstrate the best features of the tradition: hospitality
and respect. Horses and other animals like goats and sheep
are invested with a deep meaning in the tradition. In the military
it was not only farmers with horses and bulls who fought in earlier
times; sheep farmers also participated and carried out their duties.
With regard to the belvadi ringan, sheep and goats were also included
along with other aspects.
Some may think of Ringan as the practice by Ram, Samudragupta,
Chandragupta, Ashok and others known as Ashwamedh.
Ashwamedh means the sacrifice of a horse, perceived as a degradation
of Brahminical culture. To keep one’s peace of mind and society
intact are paramount concerns today. The Ashwamedh could
only be conducted by a raja (king). Its aim was to acquire power
and glory, sovereignty over neighbouring provinces, and general
prosperity in the kingdom. This aim does not represent the varkari
In the Dehu-Pandharpur Palkhisohala there’s a gol ringan
(running in circles) at Belwadi, Indapur, Akluj and Vakhri. At Malinagar
and Bajiraochi Vihir there’s an Ubhe ringan (running straight).
At Vakhari, Alandi and Dehu the palkhisohala comes together, along
with other palkhis.
Vakhri is five kilometers from Pandharpur. All palkhis arrive
at Vakhri on the 10th day of Ashadh, or the day before Ekadashi.
Pandharpur is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in
Maharashtra. It sits on the banks of the Bhimā river, also known as
the Chandrabhaga because of its half-moon-like shape. It is named
after a merchant, Pandarika, who achieved self-realization there. In
Marathi he is called Pundalik. His duty was to serve his parents, so
he kept God waiting at his door. He himself passed away and God is
still waiting to serve his disciple. Pandharpur is surrounded by the
most Shaiva-influenced doctrines and practices within a radius of a
hundred miles, encompassing Ganagapur, Akkalkot and the shaktipeeth,
The Vitthal temple on the banks of the Bhimā is the main
attraction in Pandharpur; it is alternatively known as Pandhari.
Pandharpur hosts four annual pilgrimages (varis) by Hindu devotees.
Among them the pilgrimage in the month of Āshādh in the Hindu
Shalivahan calendar attracts the largest number of pilgrims—around
500,000 to 700,000 people. The pilgrimage in the month of Kārtik
attracts the second largest number of pilgrims.
On the south bank of the Bhima sits Namdev’s 13th century
dwelling, which matches the scale of a wealthy person’s house.
His affection for Vithoba and his writings helped the varkari cult
become prominent in Maharashtra. Today all other cults like Prabhupada
and Iskon sit on the opposite banks of the Chandrabhaga.
Many Deendi groups bought land around Pandharpur and set up per-
manent residence for the annual festival. Like the bhaktidham of
Chakan and the Deendis of Khed. In the Pandharpur temple complex
the Jnandev temple is on the right side, the Tukaram temple is on
the left. The Namdev temple is in front.
The river is an important part of Indian culture. It is the lifeline
in rural areas. Certain religious and spiritual rituals are carried
out in the flowing river water. As one of the five elements water has
spiritual meaning. Seventy percent of the Earth is filled with water,
as is our body. As we know, water is essential for our very existence.
In romantic matters the moon is the most discussed in palm
astrology. The geography of the Bhima river is thus: water flows
around the hills, and at its greatest flow during the monsoons it
covers the riverbed, enters the town of Pandharpur and floods its
streets. The land around the town tilts to one side.
In the Pandharpur area the Bhima river is called the Chandrabhaga
because her course takes on the half moon’s semi-circular
form. Fondly named this way as it appears like a half-moon, the
actual Chandrabhaga river is called the Chenab in Jammu & Kashmir
and Punjab. The temples one now sees in the riverbed may have
been built centuries ago not in the riverbed but on the banks of the
Bhima river. Further on it curves more and more inwards. One can
see how this riverbed evolved. On the other side of the river is the
13th century dwelling of Namdev and his ancestor. The evidence of
that dwelling still exists. Theories of Vithoba as one who appeared
as God to his disciples may have been questioned again and again
in the past, and perhaps will be in the future. But physically and
geographically the temples and riverbeds can be confirmed by witnesses.
At the time of the festival many varkaris visit the Chandrabhaga
and bathe in it, just as many Hindu pilgrims in the north do in
the Ganges. During the procession all the palkhis go to the river and
take baths in it along with Tukaram’s and Jnandev’s footprints. Then
they return and proceed to pay a visit to the Vitthal temple.
The Bhima begins in the heights of the Western Ghāts at
Bhīmashankar and flows southeastward for 450 miles (725 km) in
Mahārāshtra, joins the Krishna in Karnātaka, and flows out into the
Bay of Bengal. The Sīna and Nīra rivers are major tributaries. The
Bhīma runs through a deep valley, and its banks are heavily populated.
Its water level is determined by changes in the monsoons; it
no longer floods because of the huge Ujjani dam built on the river
at Paithan. Local irrigation works augment the scant rainfall; major
crops are jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet), and oilseed. Sugarcane
is an important irrigated cash crop.
The legends of Vithoba revolve around the devotee, Pundalik,
who is credited with bringing this deity to Pandharpur, and with
Vithoba’s role as a savior of the saint-poets of the Varkari tradition.
“Vithoba”, “Pāndurang”, and “Pandharināth” are the popular names
of the deity, Vitthal, who is considered the protector and savior of
Lord Vishnu. Rakhumāi or Rukmini is Vitthal’s consort.
The first myth of Vithoba is that of coming to meet his
bhakta, Pundalik. The second myth is of his love for Lakhubai, the
local woman. The third myth is about a shepherd who comes to help
his beloved bhakta, and so on.
There are controversial theories concerning the appearance
of Vitthal in society. All of southern India is involved in these myths.
These are local myths about human nature as well as a mixture of
Shaiva and Vaishnav myths. Or one could say they grew out of the
collective gratitude of the people They are bound to the idea of
human freedom, and. lead humanity to its highest achievement:
Secularism, and the principle that all men are equal. Nothing can
come between God and man.
The worship of Vitthal in the temple at Pandharpur is based
mainly on the contributions of the Vaishnav saints of Maharashtra
and Karnataka from the 13th to 17th centuries—specifically,
Jnandev, Namdev, Eknath, Tukaram, Purandar Das, Vijay Das, Gopal
Das and Jagannath Das have enhanced this worship.
The Varkari and Society
Who is a Varkari? One who follows the path of devotion or
the Bhakti Marga is a varkari. Another simple definition: one who
walks in the Palkhisohala with a Deendi and follows the Varkari
sect. The Varkari tradition is a part of the Bhakti spiritual tradition
in Hinduism. Particularly in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Karnataka,
Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh. In Marathi varkari means one
who travels to Pandharpur during a certain period. For example,
during the Ashadh and Kartik months in the lunar calendar. More
precisely, a traveller in the Palkhisohala goes to Pandharpur from all
parts of the above-mentioned states.
The spiritual movement known as the Varkari Sampraday is
so called because its followers travel hundreds of miles on foot to
the holy town of Pandharpur.
The Varkari tradition has had an all-pervasive impact on the
life of common people in Maharashtra and elsewhere for more than
seven hundred years since the 13th century. The varkari has looked
upon God as the ultimate truth and has, paradoxically, equated Him
with his relations: mother, father, brother, etc., who are of the utmost
value in his social life. ‘Mauli’ is a word that refers affectionately
to any unknown person. This sect has accepted the principle
that men are ultimately equal. Humanity is everyone’s joint family.
It stresses values such as individual sacrifice, forgiveness, simplicity,
overcoming passions, peaceful co-existence, compassion, non-vio-
lence, love. Humility in social life is illustrated by varkaris prostrating
in front of each other because everybody is “Brahma”. All these
values are the philosophical foundation of the Marathi Bhakti poets.
The varkari sect tried to shape the attitude towards life of common
people, which included the downtrodden castes and women. A
person must cultivate a kind of detachment while living his life. The
writings of the bhakti movements helped the common man lead the
life he lives today.
The Saints of the varkari tradition made it possible to realize
the “Almighty” in very simple words as I’ve indicated above.
Each of them wrote verses in plain language. Each saint has tried
to express in his own style the chanting of the Lord’s name so as to
feel at one with Him. Such a state of mind surpasses all desires and
negative thoughts. It allows people to come together as one.
A significant part of society has been transformed into the
varkari sect from various other sects and religions as discussed in
the spiritual and religious background of the Dehu-Alandi to Pandharpur
pilgrimage routes. The vast socio-geographical background
of the pilgrimage has played a major role in reforming society in
secular terms. This transformation took time. As the rulers changed,
so did the languages, and this had a profound influence on the faith
and secular outlook of the varkaris. Sometimes, while leading a
normal life, a very disturbing situation arises that blinds a person
A person may then feel confused and end up disoriented in his own
life or even in his social life. The varkari tradition is the one cultural
certainty that provides solace.
The sense of belonging
A personal view
In India I have very often been asked: how did you get interested
in Tukaram? A question that is asked by common people,
journalists, press reporters, critics and enthusiasts who know the
background. They were simply puzzled by my passion.
My journey led me from Umbraj to Bombay, and then to The
Hague in Holland. I was a 17-year-old teenager from Umbraj, spent
nine years as a Mumbaikar and twenty-five years as a foreigner. All
these years I lived among different peoples, struggling to survive. I
led a restless life, but never stopped reading and writing. I traveled
along many highways and byways. In the process I kept remembering
my village, which seemed so attractive compared to the rat
race of city life and the absence of my mother tongue among different
peoples in foreign surroundings. And so I became introverted.
The distance made me even more aware of my childhood memories
of the countryside, my culture and religion—they dominated my
thoughts; and naturally found their way into my writing. My first
collection of poems, “Dashak” (Decade) was partly influenced by
Tukaram’s roots in this soil are deep. When I first encountered
his verses, my understanding had just begun, my eyes had
begun to wander, my mind was receiving all sorts of impressions
and it was all like a breath of fresh air. It was because of the discussions
between my parents and relatives that I saw Tukaram and
Jnandev depicted in the theatre, in keertan performances and in
the pilgrimage to Pandharpur. I saw a small statue of Vitthal and
Rukmini standing next to the God Khandoba, paintings and statues
of varkaris and saints inside and outside the temples. These impressions
were engraved on my mind from childhood.
When I first read Tukaram, his work was very hard to understand—I
kept making the effort. At the time I was just beginning to
understand the power of writing. For my secondary school examinations
I chose art history instead of mathematics. I wasn’t sure of
further schooling, so to make a living I joined a firm that made film
posters in Bombay. In 1979 I was taking lessons at the Art Academy
in Mumbai. Visuals accompanied the words, and vice versa. I find it
difficult now to recall which came first, the visuals or the words. I
was interested in the arts, but didn’t put much effort into it. I was
doing mostly stage performances.
With my natural talent for the fine arts, I began to draw
larger-than-life faces of movie stars, and colored them with oil
paint. I realized the need for proper art education. I got admission
to the Art Academy. I was supposed to attend evening courses in
literature but it was simply not possible. I avidly read all kinds of
new writing. In applied art, literature and the visual arts became
more elaborate, supporting each other. I got more interested in my
studies, won State Awards and people took an interest in my work.
Drama, cinema, world trade fairs, literary publications and a new
circle of friends occupied me day and night. After five years in an
advertising course I obtained my Diploma of Applied Arts. And then
started my mission to explore Tukaram’s Gatha in depth.
I went through an unstable period of my life in terms of hope
and confidence. I had come to know another world. Advertising was
a glamorous field, but I wanted to gain a full awareness of my capacities
and intellectual ability. I started gathering information on
advanced study in the arts in foreign countries and cultures—I made
my move accordingly. That’s how I arrived in Holland. From 1983 to
1987 I lived in a completely different culture, with a different language
and atmosphere. There were jarring contrasts: in the village
I was a farm boy, in the city I was a country bum and in that foreign
country I was an Indian. So I became conscious that I was nowhere—
certainly not among my own people—and I felt like an alien.
Whenever I got a chance I visited the farm and enjoyed my
stay there. Why this longing? I kept thinking about this. Where on
this earth would I not have the feeling of being a stranger? I tried
to find an answer to this question. Gradually, I began to understand
the spiritual harmony between Tukaram and Vithoba. I began to see
the meaning of not belonging to a people or a place. This is not a
happy state to be in: neither a believer or devotee, nor an atheist.
Then I started to believe in my own being. During the past twentyfive
years I’ve been travelling between Europe and India. I’ve seen
many aspects of life, come across many incidents, but I still cannot
answer this question: why do I live in Europe and not in India, or
why in India and not in Europe. One might say this is paradoxical,
but I don’t see it that way. I search for meaning in the paradoxes
or contradictions that these different traditions present. Together
they become a mixture of philosophies, cultures and traditions, out
of which my life has acquired a new meaning. The devotee and the
deity stand face to face, like Tukaram and Vithoba.
The idea of combining visuals and poetry was fleshed out
when I presented Dashak (Decade) in an exhibition. I selected ten
poems and made paintings out of them. In one of the poems I realized
the form of Vitthal. In the process of reading the abhangas in
Tukaram’s Gatha the form became vivid. Images, forms, symbols
and metaphors surface again and again in Tukaram’s verses. They
inspired me. I produced drawings, paintings, sculptures, and graphics
such as litho silk-screens. I have worked constantly in the spirit
During my travels to and from my native place I read many
books to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. Among them were Dilip
Chitre’s books, ”Punha Tukaram”, and”Says Tuka” (selected verses
by Tukaram in English translation). They quickened my desire to
critically examine Tukaram and his poetry.
I’ve lived in Europe for the past twenty-five years. Visual art
has been developing in Europe since the fifteenth century. Holland
is the land of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and
many other masters. That golden age is known to Europe and the
whole world as the art of and for the common man, but this happened
only in Holland. I work here and simultaneously exhibit my
works. The cultural face of Europe is changing. The art world has
come to the end of the road, and all isms are feeding on themselves.
Flashes of genius are now emerging the world over, not just
in certain regions. Malevich, Paul Klee, Picasso, Miro, Dali, Henry
Moore—all have passed into history. They have brought people
to the museums so they can be spiritually enriched. Now the art
scene is desperately seeking new horizons.
I saw many images and forms in the dialogue between
Tukoba and Vithoba. Those images and forms I put together, with
colour, in the project “Your form is my creation”. It does not belong
to any particular ism or style; it stands on its own. It is like a
meditation on the visual world.
Visual art has been well-developed in Europe over five centuries,
and it has had its ups and downs according to the growth
and development of Europe. Somewhere or other change takes
place but we’re hardly aware of it in our lifetime, though we may
In April 2008 I came back to India by land from Holland
with an art caravan. Along the roads of the Indian subcontinent I
exhibited the work of artists from 80 nations in ten Indian cities,
from Amritsar to Bangalore, under the title, SHOW YOUR HOPE—80
Questions Around the World. I decided to travel with the Pandharpur
Vari (pilgrimage) to experience a centuries-old tradition,
sketch book and camera in hand to celebrate Tukaram’s 400th
birth anniversary with his Palkhi. I walked with the common folk
and witnessed the glorious celebration of the life of a great poet.
This celebration by hundreds of thousands, full of life, speaks
more persuasively than all the words of Tukaram and the other
Alandi to Pandharpur Palkhisohala Route
Dehu to Pandharpur Palkhisohala Route
Pu n e