Today is आषाढी एकादशी, 11th day of the month of Aashaadh as per the Hindu Lunar calendar. To almost everyone in Maharashtra, it’s the day one worships Vitthal, also known as Vithoba, and keep a fast for that day.
Vithoba is a Hindu god, worshipped predominantly in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Andhra Pradesh. He is generally considered a manifestation of the Hindu god Vishnu or his Avatar (incarnation) Krishna.
Maharashtra has a unique tradition of Bhakti, devotional love, centred around Vithoba. People who follow the tradition think of Vithoba, almost like a human, and so instead of holding the almighty in awe, as is normally done, they love Him like a person. They refer to him as their mother and father (मायबाप), as mother (विठू माऊली) or as a favourite friend (विठू). And relate to him as they would to a real relative.
Maharshtra has been blessed with many poet saints. Dnyaneshwar, Namdeo, Tukaram, Gora Kumbhar and many more. All these saints wrote in praise of lord Vitthal. Through their lives and their literature, they spread the Bhakti tradition everywhere. In the Bhakti tradition, all one has to do is to lead his own life with dharma, as per one’s personal obligations, perform one’s duties, love the god and leave it to Him. No rituals to follow, no difficult concepts to understand, no new vocabulary of religion. Just simple love for ones’s duty and the God. No wonder the poet saints became so loved, along with the God they praised. Even today, after many centuries, their literature is still read and their devotional songs, Dnyaneshwar’s Ovi’s and Tukaram’s abhangas are very popular.
One of the traditions around this is the yearly pilgrimage to Pandahrpur, the place of Vithoba. This is now more than 700 year old. Since that time, all the devotees who could, travelled from wherever they were, to Pandarpur, to reach there on आषाढी एकादशी, 11th day of the month of Aashaadh. And then do a darshan, an audience, with Vithoba. The tradition still lives. Even today, different groups of people, called Dindi’s, originate from the places of the saint poets and walk all the way to Pandarpur. This is called vari (वारी) and the people who do that, the pilgrims, are called varkari (वारकरी). This year, more than half a million pilgrims made it to Pandharpur. The line for the darshan was about 8 Kms. long.. The photo at the beginning of the article shows the Vari.
A varkari is a very different lot.He is a family man, but lives life as per simple rules. He doesn’t discriminate on any grounds, neither gender, nor caste. In india, where cast is caste in stone, that’s pretty unusual. A varkari doesn’t consume alcohol or has any other vices. If possible, he does the vari every year, with his family. During the vari, he would consume simple food, sing devotional songs, celebrate his devotion through the day. They walk for about 15 days to reach Pandharpur.
I have always wanted to do the vari, at least once in my life. Just to understand what Bhakti is all about. What makes a simple person, faced with all the same issues of living as us, make time to visit Pandarpur. And I trust Vithoba, He will make it possible for me to do the vari.