Lockdown puts fate of annual palkhi processions in limbo

THE ongoing nationwide lockdown amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has put a feeling of uncertainty around the annual palkhi processions of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram to Pandharpur this year. While the state government is yet to take a decision on whether to allow the processions, ‘warkaris’ or pilgrims are firm on keeping the tradition going.

The annual palkhi processions, also known as ‘wari’, are held in the month of June. The Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Palkhi procession starts from the temple town of Alandi in Khed taluka while the Sant Tukaram Maharaj Palkhi procession starts from Dehugaon in Maval taluka of Pune district. The palkhis are accompanied by lakhs of ‘warkaris’ from across the state and other parts of the country. The palkhis or palanquins of the two saints travel 240 kms to reach the temple town of Pandharpur, in Solapur district.

This year, the palkhi processions are scheduled to take off June 13. However, with Pune in the ‘red zone’ of pandemic, ‘warkaris’ are waiting for the state government to issue directions and advisory.

In a meeting on Wednesday via video-conferencing, various stakeholders from different parts of the state decided to hold the palkhi procession of Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj. They said they would ensure that social distancing norms were followed.

Advocate Vikas Dhage-Patil, chief trustee of the Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Sansthan Samiti, said, “… We have come to a conclusion that we should not break the centuries-old tradition of carrying the ‘padukas’ of Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj to Pandhapur. At the same time, we also came to an agreement that the palkhi procession should in no way lead to the spread of the infection.”

“People who are seated in the rath carrying the ‘padukas’ and those accompanying the chariot should undergo medically examined and guidelines regarding maintaining social-distancing be given to them,” he said.

Dhage-Patil said various alternatives of reaching Pandharpur were also discussed in the meeting. “Since the ‘wari’ has a tradition of going on foot, we have suggested that alternative route can be found so that we can avoid the red zones.”

He added, “We are ready to carry out the procession with much lesser number of ‘warkaris’ this year. We are also ready to forgo the overnight halts at various places. For Sant Dnyaneshwar palkhi, there are at least 12 overnight halts at various places en route to Pandharpur,” he said.

“We will abide by whatever the decision the government takes in this regards after monitoring the situation of pandemic in June. If there are more cases in June, we will leave it to the government to taken an appropriate decision. One thing is certain that the ‘padukas’ will reach Pandharpur.”

Madhukar More, president of the Sant Tukaram Maharaj Sansthan Committee, said, “Discussions regarding holding of the palkhi procession with the state government is underway. We want to hold the palkhi procession by following all the norms laid down by the government. We are ready to follow the government directions… We do not want to do anything that will lead to the spread of the infection.”

Meanwhile, District Collector Naval Kishore Ram said, “The decision regarding the ‘wari’ will be taken after discussions with the trustees of the two sansthans.” He added, “As of now, nothing can be said. The final decision will be taken at the state level.”

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