Breaking the centuries-old tradition amid the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, the palkhi procession of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram have been called off.
However, “padukas” of the saints will be carried to Pandharpur either by air or on a bus.
The decisions were announced at a meeting chaired by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar through videoconferencing on Friday. District guardian ministers and district collectors of Pune, Satara and Solapur also attended the meeting.
Every year as part of the palkhi procession, lakhs of warkaris walk from Pune to Pandharpur, covering a distance of over 200 km, accompanying a rath carrying the “padukas” of the two saints. Around 15 lakh warkaris converge at Pandharpur every year after a journey of 19-20 days. From Pune, at least seven lakh warkaris undertake the “wari” annually with both the palkhis.
Announcing the decision, Pawar said since Covid-19 cases were rising in Pune, Satara and Solapur districts, the palkhi procession has been called off. “Even if we allow handful of warkaris to proceed from Pune, there is a possibility of thousands joining it on the way. In such a situation, it will be difficult to control the crowd and there is a risk of spread of the infection,” Pawar said.
The minister added that the “padukas” of the two saints will still reach Pandharpur for the Ashadhi Ekadashi celebration. “The ‘padukas’ with a handful of warkaris will go to Pandharpur either by plane, or a helicopter or a bus,” he said.
He added that the decision was taken after discussions with the trustees of Alandi and Dehu Devasthans.
Divisional Commissioner Deepak Mahisekar said the coronavirus cases have seen a major spike in the division, except for Sangli district. “The number of cases is expected to rise further. In Pandhapur too, positive cases have been recoreder,” he said. Pune District Collector Naval Kishore Ram said the decision to cancel was taken after extensive discussion with the representatives of warkaris.
At the meeting, trustees of Alandi and Dehu Devasthans put forward their proposal. “We suggest that at least 25 warkaris be allowed with the palkhis… However, our demand was turned down by the government. Though we are not happy, we will abide by the government decision as we do not want to do anything that will lead to the spread of the infection,” said Manikrao More, president of Dehu Palkhi Solha Samiti.
He said it was decided that “padukas” of the two saints will proceed to Pandhapur a day before Ashadhi Ekadashi, which falls on July 1.