People from homes along the route of the famous Wari pilgrimage route in Pune of Maharashtra, are opening up their toilets for the use of pilgrims during their 15-day travel, their destination being Pandharpur.
The Palkhi or procession which is a 333 year old glorious tradition of Maharashtra, observed across the state begins this year on July 6, 2018 and ends on 22nd July, 2018. Over 10 lakh pilgrims or Warkaris normally join this procession from within the state and outside.
The annual pilgrimage culminates in Pandharpur, the seat of the Hindu god Vithoba. In honour of the deity, the palanquin processions carry foot prints of the saints Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram. While the Dnyaneshwar procession leaves from Alandi, Tukaram’s procession begins at Dehu. Upon reaching Pandharpur on Ashadi Ekadashi, these devotees take a holy dip in the sacred Chandrabhaga River before proceeding to visit the Vitthal temple.
During the 250 km walk, the travelers normally make 15 halts on each of the routes in certain villages. It is common for residents of those villages to offer food and refreshment. During the last two years, as a part of the Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen (SBM-G) campaign more than two lakh toilets were built across the district. Even though community toilets numbering 500 were set up on one route and 700 on the second route, they were never adequate to meet the requirement of the masses on their long walk. The challenge each year was enormous.
However, this year will be different. The CEO, Zilla Parishad (ZP) Pune, Mr. Suraj Mandhare has made an innovative appeal to the village communities. He requested all private households on the pilgrimage routes to offer their private toilets, most of which were constructed under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan during the last 2 years for the use of these Warkaris (pilgrims). A white flag has been set up on every toilet to indicate that it is freely available for the use of the weary travelers.
The appeal was made through block officials, gram sevaks and schools teachers, the message also carried in newspapers and through posters.
“To my greatest surprise, people have started responding to this appeal overwhelmingly. Even the economically disadvantaged are opening their homes for the pilgrims,” the CEO said. He is happy that the sanctity of the whole ceremony will be preserved during and after the pilgrimage.
Surprisingly, the gram panchayats also passed resolutions to that effect. “The government has played a very small role, it is people themselves who are talking these steps and I applaud them for their magnanimity.”
The procession is certainly colourful with people carrying red and yellow flags. Hence the flags pointing to toilets are white – so they stand apart.
With people opening their homes to the visitors, the number of toilets offered will definitely exceed the number of community toilets available. “This year we can be sure that this pilgrimage will not only be celebrated with the age old enthusiasm but will be cleaner and healthier also,” Mr. Mandhare added.
In addition, most of the arrangements on the Palkhi route such as water supply and health facilities have been completed by the Zilla Parishad Pune administration. Further, the ZP office has introduced the provision of medical aid through motorcycles for quicker access and a control room has been set up to operate day and night.
Update on 2nd November, 2018: It made the Wari pilgrimage truly hygienic, Mandhare said. Over 5000 household toilets were made available for the pilgrims and they were used extensively over and above the regular mobile toilets that were set up. He said that the most noteworthy point was the change in mindset in response to a genuine appeal. It had been a practice until last year to lock the toilets so they would not be used by those visitors. Delighted with the overwhelming response, he said that they expect 10 times more toilets to be made available the next time. Interestingly, other districts have adopted similar practices and their villages too were full of white flags.