The Waari tradition has evolved for over 700 years. Today, the entire route is roughly 250 kilometres. At its culmination in Pandharpur, roughly a 100 million people gather. This scene depicts a multitude of people on a mountainous part of the pilgrimage route.
When the tradition started, going on foot was the only choice of transport available to the poorest of the poor. Pilgrims walking towards their dear god Vithoba has a touching simplicity and humility even today, when other modes of transport are available and affordable.
The Waari tradition allowed the common man, with duties to fulfil towards his family, to express his devotion. The pilgrimage thus becomes a place where life and its daily routine continue alongside devotion, and there is a humble joy in both.
The Waari passing through a town is a major event that people are eagerly waiting for. Many people who are not able to participate in the Waari gather to watch it pass by. Some even accompany it for a short distance.
At the culmination of the journey at Pandharpur, it is customary to bathe in the river Chandrabhaga. Each person who has made the journey on foot is considered special. Other people consider it a pleasure and a privilege to help such a person bathe instead of him doing it all alone.
The Waari philosophy differs considerably with this and gives women equal right to worship. The joy of being able to make the pilgrimage to reach their dear Vithoba is evident on the faces of women.
From its humble beginnings many centuries ago, the tradition has also been unique in emphasizing equality before god irrespective of caste, creed or gender. ‘God created all living beings, so it is illogical to proclaim that god differentiates between them.’ All things that divide people vanish in the Waari so that everyone can attain oneness with god.
Men and women play together, which is otherwise highly unusual among adults. This playfulness, this joie de vivre, is not arbitrary, but has its basis in the philosophy of the tradition. In the crowds of the Waari, strangers become friends. Their bliss is what causes millions of people to walk with the Waari even in this age, where material comforts entice everyone.
Vitthala, fondly called Vithoba, is like a close friend, a very personal god. Many saints have written Abhangas (traditional devotional compositions) about him. These are sung during the pilgrimage Using such language for devotional compositions was a revolution when the tradition started. Some Abhangas sound like a mother scolding her child; some sound like a lover addressing his love.
Vithoba and his wife Rakhumai are like friends rather than some stern, angry god punishing mortals for their sins. Therefore, they do not have to be placed on a pedestal. They can be simply carried on your head.
The pilgrimage happens in the summer months, with the monsoons in full swing. The heat and the humidity do not deter people from playing. Clothes can get dirty, but in the childlike abandon with which the pilgrim does everything, how does that matter?
Ringan (Round) -
Like most things concerning the Waari, the Ringan is a well-organized activity. At its centre is the palanquin of Saint Tukaram. Once the entire Ringan is organized, one by one each circle runs around the centre. It is a spectacular event and a source of great joy for the pilgrims, despite the physical strain of running after having walked for miles.
The pilgrims are divided into subgroups called Dindis. A Dindi may represent various ways of grouping. Each Dindi has a single person playing Ektari – a traditional, single-string musical instrument. By custom, the Ektari player in the Dindi is also the administrator of the group.
Walking in the heat and humidity can be quite tiring. Some ladies in the pilgrimage carry water in metal pots. They provide drinking water to the pilgrims, and are thus a life support for the Waari. Some women also carry potted basil plants, considered holy in India.
The Ringan also incorporates the all-inclusive ethos of the Waari tradition. One circle in the Ringan consists of sheep. This signifies the inclusion of Dhanagars – a nomadic tribe of shepherds.
One ring in the Ringan consists of the two horses that are an integral part of the Waari. The ring of horses is one of biggest attractions of the Ringan.