This title is misleading. This blog is titled “Econ Mom” on the waari wrongly. Actually, Econ mom as a character is conspicuous in this blog by her absence. Because this is the ONLY walk I have done where Econ Mom did not, or rather, could not surface. My first Waari from Alandi to Pune.
This is easily the most fun thing I’ve done in a long time. And easily, the most crazy as well. Walking 23 kms straight. From Alandi to Pune. As a part of the Marathi Waari. Chanting, singing, dancing, walking the path to salvation. With the waarkaris. Ram Krishna Hari.
Maharashtra, the land of saints. In every district, in every nook and cranny, in every bhajan sung in that remote village, in every granny’s story, you’ll find a mention of saints. Saints are revered in that it is they who show the path towards the ultimate truth. Saints, from different castes, even religions, have found acceptance in the Maharashtrian culture and have been looked upon as friends, guides and philosophers in the eternal quest for truth.
The Saints, their deity and the Waari
Sant Dnyaneshwar, who with his three siblings, was treated as an outcast by the society 700 years ago, had no bitterness, no qualms, no regrets to share back. In return of the humiliation, he only had his Abhangs (devotional poetry, for lack of other words) and his masterpiece “Dnyaneshwari” to offer back to the society. Dnyaneshwari, which he wrote when he was 16, is the most prolific and yet spontaneous, scientific yet literary interpretation of the Bhagwad Gita in Prakrit. Since the Bhagvad Gita was told to Arjun in Sanskrit, a language that was fast disappearing then, most people found it difficult to understand it. The Gita’s interpretation in Prakrit (Marathi) was a Godsend to people who could now fathom the teachings of the main script of Lord Krishna easily; that the interpretative content is a masterpiece was an added-on attraction.
Whilst the Master wrote his Dnyaneshwari at Nevasa (Marathwada), there were other saints that were contemporarily creating new thought streams throughout Maharashtra. There was Namdeo, famous for his many Abhangs which he used to present to the people through a very interesting art form- the Kirtans. There was Gora Kumbhar, the potter, who famously said that in every potter resides a Guru, who has to make sure that soft, mushy, immature clay gets converted into a more mature and infinitely useful avatar. And then there was Janabai, the lady saint, whose bhajans reveal as much of her softer side as her hard penance that takes her close to the truth. There were Visoba Khechar, Savta Mali, Sant Kurmdas, Narhari Sonar, Chokha Mela… all contributing to spiritual awakening in Maharashtra in their own unique ways.
The common thread running here is Vithoba or Pandurang, the deity at Pandharpur. There are so many wonderful things about Pandurang, the most fascinating being that his name is “Pandurang,” one who is fair, when his idol is completely black. In the darkness of the self will one find light. It is believed that Sant Dnyaneshwar used to walk his way to Pandharpur to meet his favourite deity, a tradition that lakhs of people follow all over Maharashtra, even 700 years after the great Master wrote his Dnyaneshwari.
Preparations at home
I have been a big fan of this Waarkari sect for the longest period of time. And while I have walked small bits of some dindis earlier, I had never done the Alandi-Pune stretch, always intimidated by the idea of walking 23 kms. However, the idea had been increasingly gripping my mind, the most insistent thought process being that as I grow older, the 23 kms will become more and more challenging, culminating ultimately into a life-long regret, something that I DEFINITELY do not want on my plate at the ripe age of 85.
So, when my friends Anagha, Vandana and Meenal called saying that they knew someone who’d drop us off at Alandi and then we would walk down from Alandi with the waarkaris, it was a call my heart could not ignore. I admit I was a bit scared, and Lil One’s observations about my physique and critical appraisals of my muscle strength were doing nothing to boost my confidence. Hubby was trying to keep a straight face and told me super-sweetly that he would do his bit and come to pick me up when I’d suddenly drop to the ground. “If”, I said with gritted teeth, “if I drop to the ground”. He tried to look surprised. “That’s what I said, dear. Now, you can’t be losing your temper just before the Waari. Focus. Ram Krishna Hari.” Oh, I’ll get him. Ram Krishna Hari.
The day arrived. We met in Pune and headed to the bus that was to take us to Alandi. There was a lot of giggling and gossiping about whose husband had been the most discouraging in this wonderful idea of ours. However, behind all the talk and the laughter was a serious intent of doing this, and doing it right. I could sense my own love for the Waari in all my other three friends as we chatted up about what the Waari meant to us.
For me, this was a deeply spiritual experience. All of the bhajans and bharuds I knew, all the things I had only heard of, would now open up in front of me and I could hardly wait. Anagha, who is an entrepreneur and one of the most loving and sorted people I know, enjoys the entire paraphernalia around the Waari; the chanting, the walking, the love, she connected to it at a very deep level. Meenal, on the other hand, is a thinker. She was connecting every experience to her thought process; her mind was searching a thousand answers in this walk, she was, I thought, deeply living the walk and connecting each experience to her inner self. Vandana, easily one of the sweetest and most enthusiastic people you can meet, was enjoying the process itself to the hilt. Innocence of the self is a great quality and it helps to connect very simply; Vandana connects to any process quickly and that is her great strength.
We reached Alandi at 9:30. After visiting the Sant Dnyaneshwar Samadhi, with a deep sense of belonging and happiness, we began our walk with the waarkaris at 10:15 a.m.
The road ahead of us was full of “Dindis”, small processions that walk from their native places to Pandharpur. Everyone was chanting “Ram Krishna Hari”. It was so immensely awesome to see that in a crowd of 2,00,000 people, no one had the time or inclination to talk or gossip. You join a Dindi by saying Ram Krishna Hari. You walk with them chanting Ram Krishna Hari. And you separate from them chanting Ram Krishna Hari.
Till my eyesight could reach, I could only see the Dindi flags and the Waarkaris. I could only hear the chanting. There was such energy around us that our feet were carrying us much much faster than what I had imagined. We joined this Dindi and the other, walking slowly with a procession if we felt like joining in their bhajans, walking fast to meet some other dindi elsewhere. At a place where the waarkaris had stopped to rest, some people had put up an act where Sant Dnyaneshwar meets with Lord Krishna. We could not approach the stage because it was too crowded, but it was great to see the act from a distance. Some ladies were holding Tulsi saplings on their head; Tulsi is very dear to Vithoba and hence ladies carry the saplings all the way from home for the Lord at Pandharpur. When we asked if we could click some pictures with them, an old lady told us to actually carry the saplings whilst clicking pics! So we carried the Tulsi saplings for a while, sang bhajans with them and with a “Ram Krishna Hari” left them to join another Dindi.
It was extremely sunny in patches and the sun was bearing down on us pretty badly. We were all turning tomato red and were beginning to get sun-burnt. But one keeps walking. Inspite of the sun, you chant Ram Krishna Hari. And so we walked, till about 12.30 noon. Suddenly, the weather changed and there were light showers. Only at one place did it rain so heavily that we had to take shelter. Otherwise, it was a bliss, that shower. It truly was great fun, walking in the refreshing breeze that the first shower brings, the Ram Krishna Hari chant intact. It then was cloudy and then again at around 2:00 noon, the sun came out brightly. Scalding us, tanning us, it was unbearable, the heat. Ram Krishna Hari.
I was thinking that Vithoba was dishing out a slice of life. You walk a slice of life. Sunny, unbearably hot, light showers, heavy rains, the weather keeps changing. In the walk from life to death, the weather will always change. What ought not to, is the belief. The faith. The sweetness. The calm. The knowledge that the bad patch will be followed by the good. Ram Krishna Hari.
We walked our Waari with the pilgrims till Khadki, where we separated from them to take another route to Pune. The procession takes another route and reaches late in the evening. As we left the color and the chants and the beauty of the waari behind, all of us felt bad for one, long moment. Wistful, that we had to separate. Remorseful, that we couldn’t do more. And yet, we were calm. Happy. Peaceful. Ram Krishna Hari.
After the hustle of the waari, the walk on the Khadki road seemed lonely, though there were people like us aplenty. Anagha was wearing her activity tracker, which told us that we had now walked 18 kms. By now, our feet were beginning to hurt. Seriously. Every step was now increasingly tough and we were longingly looking at the rickshaws that we could now occasionally see on the roads. We had also taken to glaring at the activity tracker, as if it was a machine fault that we were still only on the 19th km. Another 3 to go.
We encouraged and cajoled each other, chit chatting, laughing, as only 4 women on a waari can. Friends are needed on that long walk to help you, support you, laugh with you at your incapabilities and share a slice of life. As we finally reached Pune, there was jubilation, happiness and a deeper perspective that all of us were taking away from the waari. The faith and the fun and the company had helped us to complete the waari in 5 hours. 25,000 steps on the activity tracker. And an eternity of calm.
Some moments are beyond logic. These were 5 full hours beyond logic. Econ Mom could not even surface to calculate the GDP increment that India gets from tradition and culture. I was not even a regular Mom on that walk. For those 5 hours, I was not an economist, or a mom, or a wife, or a daughter or a professional. I was just another waarkari on my individual trip. A trip to happiness.
Anagha, Vandana and Meenal, this one is for you! Love you all, women! A salute to your enthusiasm and spunk and fun quotients! Where do we go next 😛