Covid-19: Maharashtra’s centuries-old ‘palkhi’ tradition to mark a departure from the past
On the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the much-revered palkhis (palanquins) of the pre-eminent saints of Maharashtra, Sant Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram maharaj, will reach Pandharpur by air instead of the annual pilgrimage on foot. This would mark a major departure for the Palkhi tradition of the last seven centuries.
Following a meeting here on Friday, Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said, in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and the aggravated situation in Maharashtra, the palkhis with the silver paduka (footwear) of the saints will be carried by air to Pandharpur. This decision was announced after a meeting at the council hall here on Friday with the trustees of the temple trusts at Pandharpur, Dehu and Alandi.
Every year in June, almost seven lakh to a million warkaris (pilgrims) from Maharashtra and the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, participate in the palkhi procession. The procession embarks from the pilgrim centres of Alandi and Dehu in Pune district and the pilgrims march through the day and rest at night, reaching Pandharpur after a fortnight.
Pawar said that the tradition over the centuries “would be continued this year too. However, in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the palkhis would be carried in a plane or a helicopter and not on foot.” He said the precise mode of transport would be decided after taking the weather situation into consideration as the pilgrimage takes place during the monsoons in the month of June. “If air travel is not suitable then the palkhis would be carried by bus, he said.
The deputy chief minister pointed out that the Palkhi procession passes through Pune, Satara and Solapur districts all of which have been affected by Covid-19. The procession on foot would therefore not be advisable, he said.
The guardian ministers of Solapur, Datta Bharne and Satara, Balasaheb Patil, respectively, agreed on the issue. On May 15, Pune Divisional commissioner Deepak Mhaisekar had held a meeting with the temple trustees and it was decided that a final decision would be taken on Friday in Pawar’s presence. The representatives of the warkaris (pilgrims) also agreed with the decision arrived at by the state government.
Divisional commissioner Mhaisekar, Pune Police commissioner K Venkatesham, district collector Naval Kishor Ram and heads of the various temple trusts were among those present at the meeting.
Pawar appealed to the devout not to plan a visit to Pandharpur this year but view the ceremony on television at home.