Work is Worship!

                                          श्रावण मासी हर्ष मानसी हिरवळ दाटे चोहिकडे, 
                                          क्षणात येते सर सर शिरवे क्षणात फिरुनि ऊन पडे 

These are the first two lines of the famous poem श्रावण मासी हर्ष मानसी by celebrated Marathi poet बालकवी ठोंबरे, Balkavi Thombare! The poem is the celebration of the month Shravan from the Hindu Calendar. Every child who had taken education in Marathi in our times knows at  a least a few lines, even today. It has become part of Marathi folklore.

We were going out somewhere, while entering the car a drizzle started. Today we went out a couple of times and both times it was same. In one moment there was rain, the next moment a heavy shower followed by a peek a boo by the Sun! I said to Jaya, “This is typical weather for the Hindu calendar month of Shravan.” I hummed the above lines; but then I remembered that currently the Hindu month going on is Ashadh! This is due to Adhik Mass in Hindu calendar. This calendar is based on Lunar month which is 29 ½ days of our normal calendar. To compensate for this loss of days, every two and half years we have Adhik Mass.

I am good with this but there is a major issue. All Hindu festivals and everything related to the God is celebrated as per Hindu calendar. The palkhi, ( ) the Palaquin procession terminates on Ashadhi Ekadashi i.e. 11th day of the month of Ashadh. This is where the issue starts. Large number of farmers take part in the procession and the total time taken by Palkhi to reach Pandharpur is 21 days. It is expected that they complete their work in the farms and take some time off for Palkhi. For a couple of years Palkhi starts in 3rd week of June and if there is Adhik Mass then it starts later in July as per Gregorian Calendar. Our seasons are discussed based on Gregorian calendar. So, rain gods follow the Gregorian calendar. Now, how can farmers be away from work, in major part of July, when they need to be on the farms?

Palkhi, bhakti, pooja all these things are fine but if the appropriate things are not done at the right time on the farms, the produce can get damaged, quality can go down! In fact, all the crop could go bust! How to do the right things? Has this ever been discussed in farming community? The farming depends on vagaries of weather, market conditions, disease and many such variables! So, if they remain away from the farms at the wrong time, then I shudder to even think what can happen. 21 days is not a small time to be away.

This brings us to other subject on the topic of farming. The subject that is being discussed much is the excess production in certain areas of farming. In many areas production is quite high and ever-increasing population also is not able to consume it. Let us look at Sugar. Since sugarcane is a cash crop, everybody wants to grow sugarcane. Our annual requirement of sugar is 25 million tons and we have produced 30 million tons. What to do with this sugar? International market is also weak hence the price that one gets is also not remunerative. Strikes? Government support? Government cannot support everything.

Same thing is happening in animal husbandry. Once people realized that milk production is a good business, a large number of people went into that business. They got themselves imported Jersey animals which produce a lot of milk compared to local animals. They took loans and when the going was good everything was fine. Large number of cooperative organizations have come up which collect the milk, process it and bring it to market. Excess milk is converted into milk powder. Milk collection has become quite organized but India has fully market driven system. Government may give some support but ultimately it is buyer and seller system. Excess production and supply will put the rates under pressure and which currently has happened. Solution? People are being misguided by the so-called leaders. They have asked the people to throw away the  milk every day and not give it to collection centers. With this, endless loop is formed where farmers lose more money.

Is it the way to do it? In many European countries milk business is under stress, most of the time. A few farmers do commit suicides but there is no suicide epidemic. They protest in a different way. They take their cows in large numbers to the departmental stores as a protest. They create traffic jams by bringing the tractors in the cities with the purpose of creating jam. In a factory in Japan there was some labour dispute going on for a long time. With no solution in site, the workers resorted to a novel method of protest. They kept on manufacturing shoes only for the left foot. After one week of this protest, a solution was reached. There was only temporary loss in sell but production did not suffer.

In the initial phase of independent India, there was shortage of everything. Food, Milk, Grams, Grain, you name it, we had shortage. We were forced to accept low quality grains, generally fed to animals in the US, as we had no choice. In last 40 years we have made a lot of progress. Go to any market, go to any shop. We see abundance of everything. The way we survived shortages, we have to learn the art and science of handling excesses also. It is the right balance of keeping manufacturing expenses under control, at the same time we should manage to keep final selling price under control, to keep inflation under control.

This needs a lot working together and the system must try and become independent of government support. After all government is you and me. If one hand is paid in excess then the other hand will also need money to buy costly stuff. It is all fine to say that it is middlemen or agents who are the culprits. But the major markets for everything are towns and cities. Reaching produce to the right market at the right time, needs planning, logistics, storage which many a time has to be cold storage. Even with great storage and logistics, Europe is supposedly sitting on big mountain of butter. Similarly, India is sitting on a mountain of milk powder.

It is easier said than done. Farmers have no time and money to do the marketing of their crop. This also needs money.  As far as Maharashtra is concerned, we don’t see problems in farmers from Konkan and Western Maharashtra. The milk problem appears to be problem of more developed society same as in Europe. But in eastern and north eastern areas of Vidarbha and Marathwada these problems and suicides are in large numbers. Experts need to study the reasons for this and find out the real problem behind this. It could be something social, it could be something to do with aspirations. It may be related to way the people think.

In the society, these upheavals keep on happening but the so called advanced communities keep on advancing socially in each generation. They don’t depend on government support and dole all the time. Till the time, societies don’t follow the basic ethics of “Work is Worship”, there will be problems galore. We see that in the  large cities like Mumbai and Pune, any person who wants to work has work. The fighters among them move up fast in the society, not those who want support, all the time, generation after  generation! Don’t make looking for support from someone your habit. Find your own solution, your own path. Take part in Palkhi if it is in June as hundreds of years seems to have proven that during this period basic work for the farms is done and end June and beginning July is a lull time! By all means, during your farming schedules, follow Hindu rituals but not Hindu calendar!


Palkhi! The Great Tradition!

Even writing about Palkhi gives a sense of feeling that cannot be explained in words. This great tradition started about 800 years back there are various theories about the same. But what we see are now two Palkhis, one is Dnyaneshwar Palkhi and the other is Tukaram Palkhi. Palkhi is a palaquin procession carrying the footprints of two great saints of Maharashtra, Dyanoba and Tukoba as they are lovingly called. As expected, the old traditional things anywhere change with time, but the basic core does not change. The belief and love of the God Vithoba is to be seen to be believed. Palkhi culminates in the city of Pandharpur a day before Ashadhi Ekadashi in the month of Jyesth (June-July). The famous Mandir of Vitthal and Rakhamai is the place where all reach and have maha puja on the next day, the holy Ashadhi Ekadashi.

This blog is mainly for people who do not live in Maharashtra so I am assuming that they may not be aware of this phenomenal event taking place every year! I have shared some lovely videos, the number of videos are a little more than what I normally share. 21 days of ritual following hundreds of years of tradition is the beacon for the society to pursue a life of piety, in this part of the country. The way faith is bringing together hundreds of thousands of people, from different walks of Life, pun of course intended, is unbelievable. I have taken liberty not to give meaning of some Marathi terms in English.

I feel that more and more experts from various fields should come together and can help make the Palkhi an even better experience. More donations can pour in to support the 21 days of ethereal journey year after year. Government does help but there needs to be a self-generating system which can make things better during Palkhi. Food, hygiene, medical help, sleeping areas all can be definitely improved. I am sure improvement in wash room arrangements will be appreciated by all. Currently all the work is mainly done by small organizations, they provide food stalls, tea stalls and many such supporting things. But if this is available all through the 21 days, people will be happier and will continue this pious journey for years to come. This is one tradition that has not diluted in the essence of what is achieved and what all are looking for! The meeting with their beloveds Vithoba- Rakhumai on Ashadhi Ekadashi.

Tukoba Palkhi starts from Dehu road and Dyanoba Palkhi starts from Alandi. They merge in the city of Pune. The people walk the 250 kms distance in 21 days. This annual pilgrimage is called wari and those taking part in wari are warkaris. There and many other Dindis (is a sub group of Palkhi) honouring various saints that join the procession on the way. There is one Dindi that joins Palkhi from as far as 550 kms. It comes from a town called Ankali in Karnataka. This Dindi is led by two white horses and has 50 people in it. This tradition has started 185 years back. They travel from Ankali to Alandi in 11 days to join the Palkhi!

Along with the Dindi (Palkhi) procession, service (seva) to the poor and needy, like Amrut Kalash (annadana – donation of food), Narayan seva, medical help and building and repairing of rural infrastructure, is done. This is known as Seva Dindi.  From last two years “Niramal Wari” has also started to keep all villages clean during the Wari.

It is believed that participation in Ashadi Dindi and Seva Dindi helps an individual in many ways by bringing good health, peace & prosperity in his life. Chanting the continuous glory of the God in the Ashadi Dindi procession and Seva Dindi purifies an individual, there is an inner cleansing that takes place in Mind, Body and Spirit and the participants tend to lose their individual identities and experience bliss. It develops all aspects of human personality and helps us understand the true purpose of Life.

Management in Wari is a great wonder. It can possibly be compared with the Dabbewalas of Mumbai ( for precision without having any modern management tools. Their simple target is to meet Vithoba on Ashdhi Ekadashi in Pandharpur, their only tool is faith!  Most of the people taking part in Palkhi are uneducated or less educated farmers. In recent past, highly educated people have started taking part and one Dindi is called IT Dindi. There are thousands of people taking part in the Palkhi.

The whole is divided into a sub groups called as Dindi. There are more than 200 Dindis on each route. Each Dindi has between 100 and 500 members. The Palkhi is at the center of the Wari procession and around half the number of Dindis are ahead of the Palkhi and the other half are behind. All Dindis are assigned their number and position in the procession and the sequence is strictly followed. The numbers are mentioned as follows: e.g. 5th Dindi ahead of Palkhi. There are many unregistered Dindis also, who join the Wari, they walk well ahead or extreme back of the official Wari procession.

The timetable of Wari route is published well in advance and is strictly followed. It is well defined and minute details are made available including starting location, the location of breaks including lunch, rest, night stay location. Palkhi follows its timetable strictly and things like, inclement weather, heavy rains are simply ignored. None of the warkaris are seen with any special gear against the rains though it is high rainy season in Maharashtra.

Every morning, early dawn, after worshiping the Saint’s footwear, Paduka in Marathi, the Palkhi sets out at 6 am. A Tutari (wind instrument) is blown thrice to alert all Warkaris. At the first signal, all Warkaris get ready to leave. At the second signal, the Dindis stand in the queue as per designated sequence and at the third signal, they start walking. After 4 to 5 km, they take a quick break for breakfast. They take break for lunch as per the given schedule. Though they have their own arrangements for food, many people and organizations are taking part in giving support, this number is increasing day by day! They provide, water, medicines and many things required on a daily basis. Yesterday I read about a group of barbers who provided free shave to those who wanted it. It is said to be a question of faith. There are many people in support system who give their day, though probably they lose their daily wages on that day. This is simply done for their beloved Vithoba!

Every Dindi has one truck or a similar vehicle where the luggage and food material is kept. This is used at the night stay location every day. The Warkaris just carry the emergency material, Tal, Abhang book etc. during walk. The management ensures that the tents are set up and the food is prepared before the respective Dindi arrives at the location. The Dindis also decide the sequence in which the Abhang to be sung. Most of the Dindi members know all the Abhang but the newcomers carry the small book while walking. At any point of time, only one Abhang is sung in the Dindi. The warkari who adorns the garland of Tulsi is called as Malkari. The person who carries Veen in the entire journey is called the Veenekari. These persons have a special status in the Dindi and whole management is driven by them. Any dispute during travel between the Dindis is resolved by them at the stay. Though it’s a huge mass of humanity, I have rarely heard of any serious disputes ever taking place, thanks to Vithoba! Can we humans always keep same faith in day to day life and live the life of Warkaris? We read of murders taking place based on very minor disputes!

From last few years, the additions of doctors have improved the medical facilities in the Wari. The doctors do take care of the members who have got infected or become weak during travel due to walking. There are a few professional doctors, who close their city practice and devote their 21 days in the wari and take care of the Dindi people every year.

The stay arrangements of each Dindi are well defined and planned at every location. Most of the Dindis make stay in the temples available in village or in the tents.

What do people earn by walking the walk? The zeal with which it is done year after after, shows that it is not the journey but their faith in Vithoba to help the achieve the life of piety. With such large number of people keeping aside time, in their yearly schedule, to go and meet Vithoba, it’s a good sign for the society. My cousin Prafulla, who retired as an engineer, and teaches yoga, joins Palkhi every year for ten days! He is 70 plus. I am going ask him after he comes back this year, why does he take part every year? I am sure he will say, ” Do you need a reason  to be with God”?

Vitthal Vitthal Jay Hari Vitthal!