Pandharpur Vari (waari) in brief
Pandharpur Yatra (Vari or waari) is an annual procession to the Vitthal Rukmini Temple at Pandharpur in Solapur district of Maharashtra. The ‘vari (waari)’ starts from Dehu and Alandi in Pune district. And it attracts millions of people and pilgrims known as warkaris. Pilgrims follow Hindu saint Sant Tukaram Maharaj Palkhi from Dehu and Sant Dnyaneshwar Palkhi from Alandi, which is a 21-day travel by foot over 250 kms to Pandarpur.
Pandharpur Vari (waari) Route 
The main Pandarpur Yatra starts from the Sant Tukaram Temple at Dehu in Pune District. The warkaris or pilgrims follow the Tukaram Maharaj Palkhi procession. This main procession is joined by Sant Dnyaneshwar palkhi from Alandi near Pune. A smaller group of varkaris is known as ‘dindee’. Numerous other dindees from other towns and villages join the yatra on the way. Sant Tukaram’s Palkhi procession starts from Dehu & reaches Pandharpur via Aakurdi, Pune, Lonikalbhor, Yavat, Varvand, Baramati, Indapur, Akluj & Wakhri respectively. Sant Dnyaneshwar’s Palkhi starts from Alandi & reaches Pandharpur via Pune, Saswad, Jejuri, Lonand, Faltan, Natepute, Malshiras, Velapur, Shegaon & Wakhri to Pandharpur.
Pandharpur Yatra 2019 date concludes on Ashadhi Ekadasi is on July 12, 2019. Ashadhi Ekadashi is the eleventh lunar day of Hindu month of Ashadh. As per 2019 schedule, the date of commencement of Tukaram Maharaj Palkhi from Dehu is June 24. Sant Dnyaneshwar Palkhi from Alandi begins on June 25, 2019.
Organization and Traditions of Vari (waari)
It’s interesting how Vari (waari) is organized and various traditions associated with it. Innumerable dindis representing followers of various saints and their teachings come from different villages. People from different castes, religions, strata of society come together and walk with utmost devotion and discipline. The fact that there has been no major accident or stampede in 800-year-old tradition is the testimony of their discipline. Each dindi can be 20-30 members or a few hundred also. The group has an organizer from their village itself who plans the yatra for them, which includes food on the way as well as places to stay.
A sense of camaraderie and fellowship naturally flows amongst devotees, as they walk together. As pilgrims walk, spontaneous chants of “Gyanba, Tukaram”, “Vitthal, Vitthal” and “Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hari “resound in the air. Varkaris also sing different devotional songs of Bhakti tradition (Abhangs) and socialize with fellow devotees with their stories and experiences. Men wear white colored kurtas and pyjamas/dhotis with tikaa on their foreheads and Gandhi topis. Women are in multitude of colored nine-yard saris carrying tulsi saplings on their heads. A beautiful tradition of this vari (waari) is that the pilgrims refer to each other as Mauli (referring to Sant Dnyaneshwar). It is a way of acknowledging and bowing down to the Divine in each other.
Generosity of local people
As the pilgrims pass through different towns and villages, locals shower them with their generosity. Unlimited tea, water, bananas, sweets and cooked food flows freely from the locals to the pilgrims. Not only that, locals also open up their homes to varkaris for bathing and resting. Some locals even offer free mobile phone charging service. Even local politicians, business people, government officials, police forces, social service organizations team up to be of service in various innovative ways. Free medicines, ambulances on motorcycles, doctors are available all along the way in case of emergency.
Upon reaching Pandharpur on Ashadi Ekadashi, these devotees take a holy dip in the sacred Chandrabhaga River which is tributary of Bhima River. Then they take darshan of Lord Vitthal by visiting the temple.
Birth of Varkari sampraday
For almost past 800 years, varkaris (pilgrims) have been fervently participating in annual vari (waari) to Pandharpur. Varkari culture is unique to Hindu religion as it surpasses boundaries of castes, sects and gender. Everyone is the same in the eyes of their deity Vitthal. But who were the original varkaris? How did the tradition of varkari began?
Varkari is a religious movement (sampraday) within the bhakti (devotion) tradition of Hinduism. It is more of a social reform movement than a religious movement. It is geographically associated with the Indian states of Maharashtra and northern Karnataka. In the Marathi language of Maharashtra, vari (waari) means ‘pilgrimage’ and a pilgrim is called a varkari. The origins of the varkari culture are deeply rooted in the lower echelons of Maharashtra. The political events at the end of the twelfth century which changed the region from Kannada-speaking to Marathi-speaking triggered a reform movement led by saints from varied castes background over time. This gave rise to Varkari sampraday.
Saints of Varkari Sampraday
Sant Dnyaneshwar is often regarded as the founder of the cult. The spiritual guru of Varkaris, Sant Dnyaneshwar was a Brahmin who didn’t patronize his caste. Other saints include Sant Tukaram – a farmer, Sant Namdev – a tailor, Sant Narhari Sonar – a goldsmith, Savtoba – a gardener, Sant Gora – a potter, Sant Chokhamela – a Dalit man. Among women, there were Sant Muktabai, Sant Janabai, Sant Kanhopatra and Sant Bahinabai, again to name but a few. The writings of Sant Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram and others helped common man to inculcate good qualities (Bhakti spiritual principles). The saints Of the Varkari tradition made realizing “Almighty” in very simple words.
Spirituality no more remained a privilege of the chosen few. Varkari saints also vehemently opposed the highly ritualistic form of religion and instead laid great emphasis on righteousness. The Varkari saints were also religion tolerant as they included the teachings of Sant Kabir and Sikh Gurus in their philosophy. Moreover, the social structure of Varkari Pant is not hierarchical. Unless and until one doesn’t follow their rules and regulations, they won’t be identified as Varkari even if their parents are senior Varkari devotees. This feature draws a line between Varkari and many other castes and hierarchy-based religious institutions in India. Thus, they influenced equality in every sphere of the society and empowered the most downtrodden in the society.
So, you must be thinking how did the actual tradition of vari (waari) begin. We will get to it shortly. Before that, let’s recount the legend of Pundalik and Pandharpur.
Legend of Pandurang Vitthal and Pandharpur
Pundalik was an ascetic who worshipped Lord Krishna. However, in his early years, he used to ill-treat his parents soon after his marriage. Until one encounter with divinity reformed him so completely, that from the cruelest he became the most devoted of sons.
One day, Lord Krishna decided to visit sage Pundalik. At that moment Pundalik was busy attending to his parents, so he did not bother to rush to pay homage to Lord Krishna. He continued to attend to his parents, stopping only for a second, when he flung out a brick for his visitor to stand upon, it being the rainy season. When he had finished, he went out and asked the lord to excuse him for the delay. But Krishna, far from being angry, was pleased at his devotion, and he bade Pundalik to worship him as Vithoba, i.e. one who stood upon a brick. Ever since then, in the same spot has stood the idol of Krishna standing on a brick around which the temple of Pandharpur has been constructed. Close to Vithoba stands an image of Rukmini who had also accompanied Lord Krishna.
Beginning of Pandharpur Vari (waari)
All the saints of Bhakti movement namely Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram were devotees of Vitthal. It is believed that Sant Dnyaneshwar went on pilgrimage to Pandharpur from his home-town Alandi. While on pilgrimage, he Similarly, Sant Tukaram also went to Pandharpur from his village Dehu. The early varkaris who came from lower strata of society simply emulated the pilgrimage (vari (waari)) of their saviors or leaders. Thus, began the tradition of Pandharpur Vari (waari).
In 1685, the youngest son of Tukaram introduced the Palkhi (palanquin) tradition. The ‘palkhi’ tradition involves the carrying of the silver padukas (footsteps) in a palanquin during the pilgrimage from Dehu near Pune to Pandharpur. He also took the padukas of Saint Dnyaneshwar from Alandi in a palanquin.
The tradition of the twin palkhis continued till 1830 but was stopped in 1830 due to some internal strife in the Tukaram family. Elders in order to avoid problems in future broke-up the tradition of the twin palkhis. They decided to organize two separate palkhis. And thus, we have today Sant Tukaram Palkhi from Dehu near Pune and the Sant Dnyaneshwar Palkhi from Alandi.
Alandi Yatra 
There is also another Vari (waari) known as Alandi Vari (waari) in November. In the second holy month of Karthik, Alandi Yatra takes place where everyone converges to Alandi, which is where the samadhi of Sant Dnyaneshwar is located. This takes place on Utpatti Ekadashi which is the 11th lunar day (Ekadashi) in the Krishna Paksha of the Hindu month of Kartik. This year Utpatti Ekadashi 2019 or Alandi Yatra will be celebrated on 22nd November, 2019. The pilgrims carry a Murti of Saint Dnyaneshwar on a Palkhi (Palanquin). Devotees take bath in the Indrayani River to wash away the sins committed and to start afresh on the path of liberation or Moksha.
Influences of Varkari Bhakti Movement on Marathi Literature
Sant Dnyaneshwar wrote the most seminal work in Marathi – ‘Dnyaneshwari’. which is Marathi translation of Bhagavad Geeta. It is was revolutionary moment because it allowed common Marathi man to understand Sanskrit Geeta. One more significant thing is that he assimilated the worship of Lord Krishna with that of Lord Vitthal. He laid the guiding principles for the Varkaris to follow in his works Dnyaneshwari, Amrutanubhav and his abhangs (devotion hymns in praise of Lord Vitthal).
Sant Namdev wrote Abhangs not only in Marathi but also in Punjabi and Hindi. His oratory skills in delivering Kirtans were such high standard that even Lord Vitthal swayed to his tune. About 2500 of his Abhangs are collected in NamdevVaachi Gatha. He also wrote first ever Marathi biography on Sant Dnyaneshwar named Aadi, Samadhi and Teerthavali.
Sant Tukaram’s work is known for informal verses of in folksy style, composed in vernacular language unlike pure Marathi (of that era) works. Tukaram Gatha is a Marathi language compilation containing thousands of Abhangs allegedly written by him.
Sant Eknath wrote a variation of the Bhagavata Purana which is known as the Eknathi Bhagavata. Eknath is seen as a bridge between his predecessors—Dnyaneshwar and Namdev—and the later Tukaram.
Majhe Maher Pandhari – Immortalized by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
Every abhang is unique still echoes similar emotions. Hence it is difficult to pick one. We will conclude our story with ‘Majhe Maher Pandhari’ written by Sant Eknath. In this Abhang, Sant Eknath refers to Pandharpur as his “maher” or “Mother’s Home”. Further, he says Vittal is his Father and Rakhumaaye is his Mother, Pundalik is his Brother, the River Chandra Bhaga (Bheema) which washes away the sins and purifies is his Sister. He further says he is surrendered to Lord Vitthal and he is unable to utter the greatness of this sacred and Holy place.
This Abhang has been immortalized by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. He rendered his voice to ‘Majhe Maher Pandhari’ with such ethos that it can evoke devotion in every common man.
माझे माहेर पंढरी, आहे भिवरेच्या तीरी |
बाप आणि आई, माझी विठठल रखुमाई |
पुंडलीक राहे बंधू, त्याची ख्याती काय सांगू |
माझी बहीण चंद्रभागा, करीतसे पापभंगा |
एका जनार्दनी शरण, करी माहेरची आठवण |