13th June 2012
“Namdeo Tukaram” “Namdeo Tukaram”. The chant is consistent, accompanied by devotional songs venerating the two saints who worshipped Pandurang. They walk in the rain, over highways and rough paths alike, through crowded cities, and lonely villages. Wealthy and poor, shod and unshod, male and female, women and children, all walk shoulder to shoulder, negating their differences as they are all united by their devotion and faith. They address everybody alike as “Mauli” which means God, as they believe that the divine is present in us all.
The chanting and singing comes from thousands of pilgrims who annually make a pilgrimage with the “Palkhi” (Palanquin) bearing idols and padukas of Saint Dyaneshwar and Pandurang from Alandi to Pandharpur. Dyaneshwar in the 13th century is said to have spread an understanding of the Gita by preaching it and illuminating the average person’s life by its guidelines. He initiated the 250 kilometer/156 mile walking pilgrimage between Alandi and Pandharpur. This route is said to be a walk of enlightenment. Dyaneshwar a child of ostracized bhraman parents became a Sant - Saint when took Samadhi at the age of 21.
Every year, this pilgrimage, begins in June, during the onset of the monsoons in Maharashtra, India. The devotees, typically farmers, leave their villages after sowing theirs crops. They leave their seeds to germinate as per the will of nature while they pray to Pandurang. As they gather at the starting point, the congregation at Alandi swells to tens of thousands of people and they proceed with the Palkhi to its due resting place in Pandharpur, with only devotion in mind.
This journey takes them 15 to 20 days and nights. The devotees camp for part of the night and gather under minimal cover around bonfires and keep on singing their bhajans that are stories about the saints or Pandurang himself. They are in a state of bliss throughout the journey despite the tropical monsoon beating down on them or the sun blazing on their wandering bodies. Without a thought to the fragile seed germinating in their fields at home, or the financial hardships that they face during the rest of the year, their joy is fulfilled by accompanying the Palkhi. Pune happens to be in this route.
During this very time, 6 years ago, I was on top of Saswad Ghat, and I met a mauli whose spirit I captured in a pixel and his power arrested and inspired my soul. On taking this image shown below, I promised him a copy, and in the unfortunate juggle of life, Indian- USA, USA-India, and back and forth for so many years, that little piece of paper bearing his address was sadly lost. Also, many hard drives crashed, erasing all reminence of him. Untill one day, Janhavi my sister, produced a digital copy she had saved on her hard drive back in the day. Thank God.
Today, I stand by a promise made many years ago, postponed but definitely not forgotten. And the resurfacing of this image has resurrected my vigour to reach out and make the gesture.
Today the Palki has arrived in Pune. And today has been a very special day for me, because finally, something that has tugged at my heart and soul so deeply, for so mant years, is finally being realised. Today, with the help of Babubhai the billboard guy, his assistant, the very talented Pintu, the ultra dedicated Kisan, and with a little transportation help from Meghraj. We erected a 10 foot call to this man in the image. I dont know his name or his place in the procession. All I know is that he is one of the 150,000th person in the Palki procession, if he is still around in this world or on this side of the world?
This poster stands on the corner of Sholapur road in front of Kroma mall, where the procession will proceed on the 15th, where hopefully he sees it and we have a magical encounter.
Tomorrow, I head to this mountain, to drop a 20 foot tall poster over its facade in Saswad, where I initially photographed him for that hopeful second chance, incase Sholapur road does not work out.
The message on the board says: Shraddhayukt Ani Prembhave Warichya Nimitane Shubha Kamana: On the Occasion of Wari (Palkhi Procession) My Best Wishes Filled With Love and Devotion.