Ashadhi Ekadashi

Today is Ashadhi Ekadashi. People from all walks of life from many parts of Maharashtra and other parts of India too, converge in Pandharpur today for a night full of prayers and songs devoted to Lord Vishnu. 

One of the most popular forms of Vishnu worshipped in Maharashtra is that of Vithoba or Vitthala. The most famous temple for Vithoba is in Pandharpur. Pandharpur has thus been one of the main religious sites of Maharashtra since ancient times.

Vitth means “brick”. When Vishnu appeared in front of His devotee, His devotee was busy caring for His parents. He offered Vishnu a brick and asked Him to wait on it till he could return after attending to his parents. Vishnu stood on the brick and the whole moment was frozen in stone as an idol. 

Vithoba, Vitthala is the name given to Vishnu standing on a brick waiting for His sincere devotee to return.

Pilgrims from Pandharpur have travelled far and wide from Kashi to Rameshwaram spreading this story of the devoutness of God to His devotee. Note, it is devoutness of God to devotee too and not just devoutness of the devotee to God alone.

Such a message is singular to Indian thought where it is not for the devotee to fear God but to realize divinity and live with the divine forces in a state of togetherness and mutual reverence for each other.

Vari: The Pilgrimage

Varkari people undertake an annual pilgrimage (vari) to Pandhapur, gathering there on Ekadashi (the 11th day) of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Aashaadha (which falls sometime between late June to July in the Gregorian calendar).

The pilgrims carry the palkhis (palanquins) of the saints from their places of samadhi (enlightenment or "spiritual birth").

The tradition of carrying the paduka (sandals) of the sants in a palkhi was started by the youngest son of Tukaram, Narayan Maharaj, in 1685. Further changes were brought to the pilgrimage by descendants of Tukaram in the 1820s and by Haibatraobuwa, a courtier of the Scindias. Devotees of Vithoba were holding pilgrimages prior to the 14th century.

In the present day, about 40 palkhis and their devotees from all over Maharashtra do so.

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