Vithoba temple, Pandharpur is the main centre of worship for the Hindu deity Vithoba, believed to be a local form of god Krishna or Vishnu and his consort Rakhumai. It is the most visited temple in Maharastra. The Warkaris start marching from their homes to the temple of Pandharpur in groups called Dindi to reach on Aashadhi ekadashi and Kartiki ekadashi. A dip in the holy river Chandrabhaga on whose banks Pandharpur resides, is believed to have power to wash all sins. All the devotees are allowed to touch the feet of the idol of Vithoba.
Namdeva Chi Payari:
An interesting tale is that of the temple's first step called “Namdev Chi Payari” (step of Namdev). The child and future saint, Namdev was an ardent devotee of Vithoba. One day his mother asks him to complete the ritual of “naivedya” (any food made in the house is first offered to God, the ritual comprises placing the offering plate before the deity and sprinkling water around the plate and with a prayer to God). Namdev faithfully does “naivedya” and waits for God to appear and take the offering. But he is disheartened. He keeps praying and requests God to come in person and accept the offering. With no answer, the child starts banging his head at the feet of God. Seeing this utmost devotion and innocence of a child, God appears, eats the offering and blesses Namdev. Namdev asks for being present in the "first step" at His temple, so that he could innumerable devotees will touch him before having the “darshan” (view). So, this first step is called “Namdev Chi Payari”.
Movement Against Untouchability:
In the pre-1947 period untouchables were not allowed to enter the temples, against this communal attitude Gandhian freedom fighter Sane Guruji went on to fast-unto-death, supported by others of the Gandhian movement. He succeeded in getting temple doors opened for all worshipping communities.
Ashadi Ekadasi is a religious procession and is celebrated during the months of June- July (Aashaadh Shukla paksha). It consists of a beautifully decorated Palkhi having the “padukas” of the lord and the Palkhi procession consists of people collectively walking, singing and dancing the glory of the Lord in what are called as ‘Dindis’. This custom of taking out a holy procession is said to have started in 1810. Tradition has it that two of the greatest devotees of Lord from the Maharashtra state, Sant Jnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram had set out on a pilgrimage to Lord Vittala from their respective places and reached the Divine Abode in fifteen days time on the auspicious day of Ashadi Ekadasi.
Following this set tradition by these great souls, even after their merger with the Divine, devotees from the entire length and breadth of the state and even from outside the state set out for Pandharpur, wearing basil beads and singing His glory on a pilgrimage to reach on this auspicious day to have Divine Darshan. This pilgrimage is traditionally called Dindi Yatra. Commemorating this maiden Dindi Yatra undertaken by these great saints even today people from the state traditionally carry Padukas (divine sandals) of these great souls in palanquins on their procession to Pandharpur. Upon reaching Pandharpur on Ashadi, these devotees take a holy dip in the sacred River Chandrabhaga before proceeding for the Darshan of Lord Vittala.
Legend has it that Pundalik, an earnest devotee of Vithoba, placed the service of his parents higher than to that of God. He commanded the violent Bhima River not to disturb his sleeping parents. Pleased by his devotion, Lord Vishnu blessed him with a boon, and the river mellowed and now flows silently as the Chandrabhaga in Pandharpur. On appearing at Pundalik's doorstep, Vithoba found Pundalik with his parents sleeping with their heads on his lap. So as his parents do not get disturbed, Pundalik slipped a brick forward. Till date one finds Vithoba standing on that brick, waiting to be entertained by his 'host', at Pandharpur.
The Palkhi procession has remained unbroken since it began despite wars, famines and floods. More than Fifty Palkhis of saints assemble at Pandharpur every year. In Maharashtra “Varkaris” is a big community. They usually undertake 21-day walk after they have completed the sowing process in their fields. In the Ashadi Ekadasi festival, people from every faith and religion participate. Learned sages also come for it. Jnyaneshwar preached the Gita which is considered the highest religious text in Maharashtra. The 'Bhakti Marg' as propounded by Sant Jnyaneshwar, teach us to forget the physical self in pursuit of the Lord. When the Varkaris sing and dance during the pilgrimage, they forget the material World around them. Along with the Dindi procession, seva to the poor and needy is done reflecting that Lord is in all forms. This is called ‘Seva Dindi’.
During the Seva Dindi, the people on pilgrimage undertake selfless service to the poor and needy like Amrut Kalash (Annadhan), Narayan seva, Medical seva, Building & repairing rural infrastructure etc. 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.