Pandharpur Wari

May 2017 - Maharashtra

An annual 21 day pilgrimage across the Maharashtran countryside, the Pandharpur Wari is a glorious demonstration of planning, determination and devotion. A successful pilgrimage requires serious organisation: food and water are needed, roads are blocked for hours as thousands flow through the tributaries that lead them to their destination, ambulances are on hand to tend to those with bloody feet or overcome by the (blistering) heat. Pilgrims sleep in improvised way stations. I joined them for a night in a primary school, but the whole village was occupied for the night with bodies lining the streets and fields.

The wari generates its own economy; beards must be trimmed, phones charged, sandals repaired and maintained, clothes washed and rumour has it that a mobile post office follows the procession although I couldn't find anyone who knew of its whereabouts.

The pilgrimage has a festival atmosphere, women carry pots of basil (tulsi) on their heads and chant entrancing, rhythmic praises of Saint Tukaram. The wari passes through the city of Pune and offers a moment for the citizens to reconnect with rural life and welcome the villagers. Locals line the street distributing tea, water, bananas and cheap biscuits. I saw several distributors of food drop the boxes as they were engulfed by very excited, desperate people which changed the atmosphere slightly but was soon forgotten as waves and waves of people continued on.