Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Varkari Movement

Varkari is a school of Bhakti based on Bhagavata Dharma, the main deity worshipped being Vithoba or Vitthal.

A famous abhang of Jnaneshwar needs to be quoted in this context. "Kanada Vitthalu Karnataku / yene maza lavayila vedhu" meaning "Kannada Lord Vitthala of Karnataka is drawing me towards him". Literally millions of people are drawn by the idol of Vitthala whose abode is in Pandharpur (in Southern Maharashtra) since centuries. The custom of Varkari has grown around Pandharpur.

Varkari Movement (in a nutshell)

• Varkari  is a religious movement (sampraday) within the bhakti spiritual tradition of Hinduism. It is geographically associated with the Indian states of Maharashtra and northernKarnataka.
• In the Marathi language of Maharashtra, vari  means 'pilgrimage' and a pilgrim is called a varkari. Every year, Varkari walk hundreds of miles to the holy town of Pandharpur, gathering there on ekadashi (the 11th day) of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Aashaadha (which falls sometime in July). Another pilgrimage is celebrated on the ekadashi of the month of Kartik (which falls sometime in November).
• Varkaris worship Vithoba (also known as Vitthal), the presiding deity of Pandharpur. Vithoba is a form of Krishna, an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. Because of this association with Vishnu, Varkari is a branch of Vaishnavism.
• The teachers responsible for establishing and supporting the movement through its history include Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Tukaram, Chokhamela

The term Varkari is made up to two words -- "Vari" means moving or going on pilgrimage, and "Kari" means one who undertakes it. 

Features of a Varkari (Principles on which he lives)
·         A Varkari is a strict vegetarian 
·         wears a mala or rosary of Tulasi beads, round his neck.
·         Though a devotee of Vitthal, a Varkari is no recluse. He will have his family and vocation.
·          But he will follow all the rules of a pious life, visit Pandharpur every year, preferably in the month of Ashadh (rainy season) with his family and friends.
·         Varkaris usually move in groups, irrespective of caste and creed, performing bhajans and singing songs of saints, associated with Vitthal and Pandhari (short form of Pandharpur).
·         "Pundalika Varada Panduranga Hari Vitthal!" is the ecstatic exclamation in between songs.
·        Fasting on ekadashi (Twice in a month),
·         brahmacharya (self-restraint) during student life,

Importance of Ashadi Ekadashi
Ashadhi Ekadashi is a day of great celebration and jubilation at Pandharpur, when the Varkaris - devotees of Vitthala who gather from all over Maharashtra, walking all the way from their homes to Pandharpur - have the holy darshan of their beloved deity. The Skanda and Padma Puranas refer to places known as Panduranga-kshetra and Pundarikakshetra or Paundarika-kshetra. The Padma Purana also mentions Dindiravana, Lohadanda-kshetra, Lakshmi-tirtha, and Mallikarjuna-vana, names that are associated with Pandharpur. 

Notable Marathi Saints
The writings of Sant Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram & others helped common man to inculcate these qualities in him. The Saints Of the Varkari tradition made realising "Almighty" in very simple words. Each Of them wrote separate small booklets of verse in plain words.All called it the HARIPATH. Each saint in his own rustic but sweet style has tried to express the result of fusing the chanting Lord's name; as in Lord Vishnu and mentally feeling oneness with HIM. Such a state of mind surpasses all desires and negative thoughts. It resulted in people coming together unitedly

  • ·         he lived from 1275 to 1296
  • ·         Saint Jnaneshvara has tremendously influenced culture, literature and language of Maharashtra.
  • ·         The sacrificial lives of Jnaneshvara and his brothers and sisters were a revealing experience for the common people. At that time, the facilities of information media were not at all available. But the impact of the saints' ideal lives and their expressions was surprisingly large and tremendous on the minds of the common people. While translating the store of knowledge in Sanskrit into Marathi and making it easily accessible to the common people, Jnaneshvara chose Bhagavadgeeta and wrote his commentary on it.
  • ·        He was a 13th century Maharashtrian Hindu saint (Sant - a title by which he is often referred), poet, philosopher and yogi of the Nath tradition
  • ·        Jnaneshvara underwent many sufferings because of the high-caste people. In fact, any individual or a group of people did not inflict sufferings on an individual. The Brahmins of that period accepted Jnaneshvara's greatness; but they were at the mercy of the traditions and rituals of their religion.
  • ·        whose works Bhavartha deepika teeka (a commentary on Bhagavad Gita, popularly known as "Dnyaneshwari/Jnaneshwari"), and 
  • ·        Amrutanubhav are considered to be milestones in Marathi literature.
  • ·         he took voluntary samadhi at the young age of barely 22
  • ·         Jnaneshvara endowed Marathi language which had been a folk-language till that day with great literary qualities.
  • ·        In a big assembly of Sanskrit Pundits in Varanasi Gyandev was elected as the President.
  • ·  Dnyaneshwar wrote the Pasayadan which is a prayer for the general well being of the people. Pasaydan is included at the end of the Dynaneshwari

Jnaneshvari has deeply influenced the people of Maharashtra. But so far there has not been a detailed analytical study and evaluation of its influence. Jnaneshvari is rich in many figures of speech such as simile, metaphor,drstanta. Its influence on Marathi language is still to be seen. Jnaneshvari made Marathi speaking world confident of the strength of the language. Jnaneshvari has shown how ably he expressed the complex meaning in the most subtle ways. If a Sanskrit scholar does not write a commentary on Prasthanatravi, he is not considered a scholar. So also a Marathi scholar cannot be a scholar in the true sense of the term if he has not expressed his views and reflections on Jnaneshvari. We are confronting tremendous forces of Western culture. Still our life-values arc shaped and directed by Jnaneshvari. 

Impact on the Modern Marathi Literature
·         Tilak's Geeta-rahasya tried to coordinate action, devotion and knowledge. It is difficult to find as to how much impact of Jnaneshvari was there on the mind of Lokamanya Tilak.
·         Both Mardhekar, the pioneer of new poetry and Vinda Karandikar were inspired by Saints' literature. This is evident not only from their use of ovi and abhanga but from their vocabulary also.
·         Karandikar has rendered Jnaneshvara's Amritanubhava into modern Marathi language.
·         Dilip Chitre who translated important abhangas of Tukaram has recently translated Amritanabhava into English. We find new poets in Marathi are much inclined to the study of Jnaneshvara and Tukaram.
·         Out of three works on the life of Jnaneshvara, the novel Mogara Fulala by G. N. Dandekar is the masterpiece.
·         There are some dramas and films also available in Marathi. The life of the people of Maharashtra is not falling victim to the extremities of individualism, hedonism and materialism. This was only because Jnaneshvara impressed the importance of a particular way of life on their mind.

Family of Dnyaneshwar

Nivrutti Nath: Elder brother of Dnyaneshwar, Nivrutti Nath was an authority in nath sect. Dnyaneshwar accepted his elder brother as his guru. 

After Dnyaneshwar, Nivrutti Nath travelled with his sister on a pilgrimage along Tapi river where they were caught in a thunderstorm and Mukta lost in it without a trace.
     Nivrutti nath took to salvation (Samadhi) at Triambakeshwar.
·         Sopan Deo: Younger brother Sopan Deo attained ‘samadhi' at Saswad near Pune.
·         Mukta bai: The youngest of the siblings, Mukta Bai (or Muktai / Muktabai) was known for her simple and straight expression of thoughts.

Tukaram or Tukoba, constantly sang the praises of lord Vitthala, or Krishna. It was the constant singing about God which led Tukaram to compose his abhangs. It is these abhangs for which Tuka is most famous. The abhangs are unique in the world of literature. They are often called poems, but they don't have the artful imagery associated with poems. The abhangs express Tuka's feelings (whether elation or frustration) and philosophical outlook. During his 41 years, Tuka composed over 5,000 abhangs. Many of them speak of events in his life, which make them somewhat autobiographical. Yet, they are focused on God and not Tukaram.
He faced varieties of difficulties with astonishing patience. He refused diamonds and opals offered by Shivaji Maharaj himself. His devotional songs are an invaluable contribution to Marathi spiritual literature.

Sant Eknath

In Eknath's philosophy, one finds the doctrines of Vedanta and the tenets of Sufism. People from all creeds thronged to listen to his recitation of the Bhagavata and singing of keertan-s. He abhorred caste barriers. His followers belonged to different castes and callings. Once he was offered the food prepared for sraddha (and therefore meant only for the Brahmins) to sweepers. On another occasion, he gave Ganga-jal (holy water from Ganga) to a dying donkey! Such acts, though prompted by compassion, angered the orthodox Brahmins who caused endless trouble to him and his family. However, Eknath remained composed and serene and bore their animus without any trace of rancour or malice against them.

Literature Works

Eknath's major work is his Eknathi Bhagavata, a Marathi commentary on the 11th Skanda of the Bhagavata Purana which contains the Uddhava Gita. It is said that it took him three years to complete it.
His other works include Rukmini Swayamvara, Bhavartha Ramayanaand numerous abhang-s. His short poems, known as Bharudas, were remarkable literary creations, in that one can read into them both secular as well as spiritual meanings.
Saint Eknath in his Eknathi Bhagavata says:

Kaya vacha mane jive sarvasve udara; Bapa rakhumadevi-vara vitthalacha varikara.
The Varikara, whose father is Vitthala—the husband of Rakhumadevi—is generous with all of his body, speech, mind, and life.

Relation between Eknath and Jnaneshwar

Eknath should be remembered for another notable, and noble, deed. Jnaneswar, the author of Jnaneswari, had attained samadhi in 1296. During the nearly 250 years that separated Jnaneswar and Eknath, several interpolations had crept into Jnaneswari, and distorted and corrupted versions were in circulation in Eknath's time. Eknath worked very hard to collect the manuscripts of the original rendition wherever they were available, and produced a critically edited version. In fact, but for Eknath's devoted and untiring efforts, Jnaneswari in its original form would have been lost to posterity

Saint Namdeo who was contemporaneous with Saint Jnaneshwar says:
Ale ale re hariche dingara Vira varikar pandhariche; Bhakti premabhava bharale jyanchya angi Nachati harirangi nenati laju.
Here come the children of Hari, the brave Varikaras of Pandharpur, whose being is full of devotion and love. Coloured by Hari, they dance without reserve.
Namdeo was known to all the saints of his time. He was present at the time of the Samadhi of Dnyaneshwar, Changdeo, Nivritti-nath etc. In the Namdeo Gatha there are as many as 225 Abhangas giving a detailed description of the occassion of the Samadhi taken by all these saints of his time. These abhangas give a graphic des­cription of the occassion and they are full of "Bhakti" "Prem" and "Karuna" Rasa. The skill of Namdeo as a poet is seen very well from these Abhangas.

Story of Changdev and Jnandev meet

Jnanadev met Chang Dev. Chang Dev was a famous saint who had managed to defy death by his Yogic powers for a thousand and four hundred years. He used to live at Vateshwar. He was very proud of his attainments in Yoga. He had Bhuta Siddhi or complete control over all living beings. He used to travel on a tiger with a serpent as whip. Chang Dev had a curiosity to see Jnanadev. He started with a large number of disciples, riding on a tiger with a serpent as whip. Jnanadev and his brothers saw Chang Dev coming in all pomp. Jnanadev asked the wall on which he was seated to move forward to welcome Chang Dev.
Chang Dev witnessed this great miracle performed by Jnanadev. He was humiliated. He quietly got down from the tiger, made prostrations to Jnanadev and accepted him as his Guru.
Mukta, a mere girl of fourteen, gave instructions to Chang Dev, an old man of a thousand and four hundred years. She said, "O Chang Dev! Listen. If you want to attain salvation, the first step is sincere devotion. Devotion will bring Vairagya. Vairagya will lead to Jnana. Therefore your aim should be Jnana and your first foot must be on devotion".
Story of Pundalik
Mythological sources state that saint Pundalik was the progenitor of Varkari tradition. Young Pundalik was a great devotee of Vitthal. Touched by his selfless and innocent devotion, Lord Vitthal, decided to give darshan (appearance), himself to Pundalika and visited him. But Pundalik who was busy serving his old parents, was not amazed. He threw a brick lying nearby and requested the Lord to stand on it and wait till he was free! A very popular abhang states that Pundalik, totally absorbed in serving his parents, forgot about the visiting Lord and he had to stand on the brick for twenty-eight seasons! ("Yuge zali atthavis, ajuni na mhanshi, bais!" -- Saint Tukaram's abhang says "28 tiresome yugas have I have been standing and you have not asked me to sit yet!")
The supreme shrine of Vitthala is shown as standing on the brick as waiting with his both hands clasping the waist. The Pandurangashtakam by Adi Shankaracharya explains the reason (of Vithoba's posture)
 Sant Eknath
Eknath embraced jal-samadhi in Lakshmi Teertha in the river Godavari on the Krishna Shashti day (sixth day of the dark fortnight) of Phalguna month in the year 1598 AD.
Sopan Deo

Younger brothet Sopan Deo attained ‘samadhi' at Saswad near Pune.
Nivrutti nath
Nivrutti nath took to salvation (Samadhi) at Triambakeshwar.

Sant Dnyaneshwar
Sanjeevan Samadhi at Alandi
Sant Tukaram
Ramdas Swami
Sant Namdev

Very soon Pandharpur became the center of Bhakti movement in Maharashtra, with several saint-poets who belonged to different castes, hailing Vitthala,

Changadeva was a moving yogi,
Visoba was a Shaiva,
Gora Kumbar was a potter.
 Savata was a gardener,
 Narahari, a goldsmith,
Sena, a barber,
Joga an oilman,
Chokhamela a Harijan (scavenger)
 Jana, a maid servant, and
Kanhopatra, a dancing girl.

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