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


VARI Pilgrimage

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


Bhaskar Hande

Avinash Thorat

Krushnakant Chavhan


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.



Revolutionary Magnificence


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

the artist.

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

Spanish Civil

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

Judge Jeffreys.

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

everyday life.

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

no heed.

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

an honorific.

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

pilgrimage routes

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.

Shaiva involvement

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-


tant places.

Shakti involvement

5. Three and a half shaktipeeths are at Tuljapur, Kolhapur, Mahoor

and Saptshrungi.

6. Each village has its own female deity (Gramadevata) to worship.

Jain Involvement

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

Jain kingdom.

Brahmin involvement

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.

Vaishnav involvement


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.

Muslim involvement

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


Sikh involvement

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.

Tribal settlements

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.


Secular regime

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

gain momentum.


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

and Alandi.

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 Tal


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

these impressions.

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

of meditation.

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

be nearby.

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

saint poets.

Alandi to Pandharpur Palkhisohala Route

Dehu to Pandharpur Palkhisohala Route


Pu n e

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