Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jai Jai Vithala

- by Janaki Krishnan

It was 'Vithala Vithala' all the way this morning, as hundreds of Varkari pilgrims danced their way from Cotton Green to Shivaji Park.

They were on their way to the Vithala temple at Pandharpur, 450 kilometers from Bombay.

Men in traditional white caps and dhotis, with cymbals hanging from their necks, danced and sang devotional songs composed by Tukaram and Gynaneshwar, the great Bhakti saints of Maharashtra.

They were accompanied by women in nau-varis – long nine yard sarees – skillfully balancing tusli saplings on their heads. Some carried copies of the Gyaneshwari, a 13th century translation of the Bhagavat Gita from Sanskrit into Marathi.

A colourful palanquin, drawn by bedecked oxen, contained the idol of Lord Vithala. It halted at intervals, for people to pay obeisance. Residents of nearby buildings showered flowers on the ox cart.

My attention was drawn towards two brightly coloured cut-outs of Vithala and Rakhumai, the deities of Pandharpur. Vithala is another name for Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Little children, dressed as Krishna and Rukmini, brought a smile to my face.


The procession halted at Five Gardens for lunch. This family, led by a kirthankar with a stringed tanpura, had brought their own simple food.

There were others who ate in larger groups. They were served rice khichdi in disposable plates made of leaves.

Lunch was not a prolonged affair. When the sound of drums and cymbals started again, the whole group – men, women and children – rose quickly to their feet, and resumed their singing. I stood for a moment and watched them. When the rest of the city seemed to be revolving around fashion, fame and money, here was a group totally oblivious of everything around them, walking to a different beat.


This was no ordinary noisy procession, such as the ones I see every year during the Ganesh festival. The members of this group, young and old, seemed to be floating on a different plane, with Pandharpur in their heart and Vithala on their lips.

3 comments:

CanisLupus said...

Its nice to read about the Varkaris. Used to live in Pune for a while, and the Varkari procession/progression was a major event in the city. A portion of the varkaris also solicit alms ,(read money), during this event, especially in the big cities.

Deepa Krishnan said...

I went my dance teacher and mom, we were trying to study Varkari costumes for a dance-drama at Shanmukhananda. Didn't see anyone asking for alms.

Anonymous said...

the nathani is spectacular, but would never wear one myself.

anjali