Come monsoon,and politicians across party lines take a break to join thousands of warkaris in the annual pad yatra to the holy town of Pandharpur in Solapur district.
On Ashadhi Ekadashi,which falls on July 19 this year,Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan will perform rituals at the ancient temple of Lord Vitthal at Pandharpur. Senior cabinet ministers also visit the temple on the day.
However,the most interesting phase of the pilgrimage is two weeks ahead of Ashadhi Ekadashi,when politicians join the procession that covers 234-km hilly terrain between Dehu-Alandi (Pune district) and Pandharpur.
Be it Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray,NCP MP Supriya Sule or state home minister R R Patil everybody marks their attendance at the pilgrimage,also known as wari. And they are all on foot. Farmers from Vidarbha,Marathwada and western Maharashtra,who are part of the procession,are neither perturbed not awed by the presence of these VVIPs.
Senior NCP leader Babanrao Pachpute says he has never skipped the pilgrimage in the last 10 years. Even as a minister,I officially took permission for a two-week break for the pilgrimage, he says. Pachpute is among the few politicians who cover the entire stretch from Pune to Pandharpur,resting at night and setting off again at dawn.
The government estimates 10 lakh warkaris visit Pandharpur during the 23 days.
State BJP president Devendra Fadnavis made his maiden pilgrimage this year. He has pledged to return the next year,too. Fadnavis,accompanied by his colleague,leader of the opposition in the state council,Vinod Tawde,began his journey at 4 am from Pune.
He walked the 12-km stretch between Jejuri to Valya (village) chanting Lord Vitthals name and often broke into a song amid the warkaris.
It cant be described in words. Its an experience that humbles you. All you can sense through the journey is bhakti, Fadnavis says.
As thousands tread along the route men in white dhoti,kurta and turbans and women in colourful saris just one chorus rings loud: Jai Hari Vitthal! Gyanba Tukaram!
Monsoon clouds hang low over the narrow paths,the sprawling fields surrounded by lush green hills. Theres a drizzle that lifts the spirits and the chorus gets even louder.
Uddhav Thackeray went on the pilgrimage with his son Aditya. In 2011,Uddhav had taken the aerial photographs of the Pandharpur pilgrimage for his book,Pahawa Vitthal.