Maharashtra is a land, central to all cultures of India.If one was to ask what makes Maharashtra special, the novice or the lay man will wrongly reply ; the Sahayadri and the forts of the Marathas,others will answer the great Maratha warriors who tried to counter the Nizam,Moghuls and the British all at one time or yet another wrong answer could be the great gift of classical music and the traditions of vocal school called Gharans and the doyens of these gharranas.But this is only partly true for one of the most valid reasons is that this land is a place where the Shaivas and the Vaishnavs settled amicably.v
The proof is the great Bhakti Cult and the greatest of Saints given by this land.Its because of compassion and faith in the righteousnes that we had a conglomeration of saints like Tukaram,Eknath,Savta Mali,Dnyaneshwar,Namdeo,Chokah Mela,Janabai,Bahinabai ,Ramdas and many more.Theirs was a new uprising in medeaval india when the depression lasted for around 150 years as a result of bankruptcy arising out of wars ,famine and traditional hindu class struggle and emancipation faced by hundreds.The picture was gloomy.The Marathas were waging wars and their demands were increasing while the the mogul clergy and the rulers were converting many to muslim religion ,thus the hindu society in Maharashtra was dissillusioned and this was the era when they sought the guidance of the Marathi saints.The god central to the Bhakti Cult was Vitthal incarnations of Vishnu whose abode was Pandharpur on the banks of Indrayani river.
Even now the faithful go on a pilgrimage every year on foot from Pune and Alandi and Dehu to Pandharpur joining the processions with cymbals and saffron flags and with beads of Tulsi seeds chained around their necks called Tulsimala.They start around 10 days before Ekadashi which falls tomorrow and take the darshan of the dark god who stands with hands on his hips with goddess laxmi by his side named Rakhmabai.They are humble farmers from Marathawada and Konkan and Khandesh they walk on foot singing hymns with purcussion dholaks and dance to the tune of the bhajans loosing themselves in the rythms of the songs in formations called dindi.This strongest cultural bondage happening every year like the Jaggannath Rath Yatra has taken many western observers by storm.and one such cult is the Bhakti Cult started by Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada which is subscribed by many white skinned across europe and US.
The highlight of the Vaishnavs is that they do not indulge in tobacco,drinks ,bad language and nonvegetarian food.They have very humble food consisting of Bhakri and Dal or Chutney only with Prasad made of Rava,jaggery or sugar cooked in Ghee which they put as bhog on the lord at the Mandeer.These are the true aryans who came into the lands of the shaivas and persisted due to their chaste habits and virtues of honesty ,simplicity and nonviolence.Mahatma Gandhi was one such Vaishnav ,but he was not Marathi but from Gujrat.
I have been to Astha Vinayak Darshan and Shirdi and Paithan and Kolhapur and Pawas and Wani on pilgrimage but I must confess that I have missed the Wari of Vitthal .One of the earliest known persons who went on to become a celebrity due to his faith and the annual Wari he would undertake was Shri Dandekar our principal of Ruia college.The Wari ie the guided tour to Pandharpur it is said to be a transcendence of your physical self in the love of the lord Vitthal.On Ashadi Ekadashi ie the first day of Ashad when it rains incessently the Marathi people observe Upavas and dont eat restricted foods but onlyy simple fruits and milk or sometimes abstain from any food to seek penance and forgivance.This time I am observing Upavas in the glory of the Vaishnav lord Vitthal.
We sing a bhajan written by Sant Namdeo during Ganapati Festival “Yeivo Vitthale Maze Mauli ye”It means Vitthal is like our mother chaste and simple.The last lines are “Ashadi kartiki Bhakta jan yeti,Chandrabhagemadhye snan je karti,Darshan hela matre taya hoi Mukti ,Keshavasi Namdeo bhave ovaliti”
I remember when we were in school we used to join the jatra(fair) at Vitthal mandeer in Wadala where all millworkers from the ghats who did not go to Pandharpur especially the Mathadis would converge with their families.It was great feeling to get lost in these humble faithfull people .We would enjoy the merchandise like the toys and the noisy flutes seldom actually getting a chance to witness the actual idol of Vitthal.Five years ago when I stayed in Wadala I visited the lord and sought its blessing.Yes for hard core Shaivas like us who are indulgent, an occasional samskar of the Vaishnavs is rejuvenating.Hail the dark lord of the Vaishnavs -The Great Vitthal