Whenever Ashadi Ekadashi comes near, and coincidentally it comes during the pleasant monsoon season, a new believer tries to evolve in the otherwise hardcore atheist like me. For some reasons, i like this god amongst the very wide range of gods we hindus have. Not that i pray or follow the rituals associated with any god, but for reasons, i believer this god, truly represents the poor man, which is why i call him god of the poor.
Yes, no second guesses, i am talking about Vitthal, or Panduranga or Vithoba of Pandurang. The God that has never stopped to amaze me since my childhood days. This god and to equal measures his followers have amazed the humanity since last 700 years.
I was always a curious student during my schooling days. My father, like me, was an atheist too and did not believe in idol worship or rituals usually associated with it. My grandfather was a “Warkari“, a regular visitor to Pandharpur and whenever, he visited our place, his unique clothing made him look special, plain white colored clothes and all accessories that a warkari wears with his attire. He was a simpleton, and it took loads of convincing on his part to convince my dad to take all of us to Pandharpur during Ashadi Ekadashi.
And there we were at Pandharpur during Ashadi Ekadashi , for the first time during those formative years, i saw that sea of humanity. A totally different sect, where people from all walks of life came together, back home, they were ordinary workers, farmers, small traders, here they were all the followers of Lord Vitthala. No there was no discrimination of any kind that we usually see in our caste based country. No discrimination in lines with caste, creed, colour, sex, occupation, education. All mingled into unison. Each one would touch others feet and call him or her mauli (which meant mother, yes, the difference between men and women were left miles away and all were one in this melee). Yes, perhaps, this is the only god, which successfully breaks the barriers and preaches oneness to its followers. Hundreds and thousands of people both men and women bath together at the banks of Chandrabhaga River and no eyebrows are raised, such is the camaraderie, which i have never witnessed earlier. Yes one may try very vaguely to compare this with the Kumbha Mela, but, no this Pilgrimmage is totally different, for we see so many rivalries between Akhadas at Kumbha and the super sized egos of the Naga Sadhus. Here we see people bereft of personal pride or ego.
If one carefully studies the profile of the warkaris we find that a very huge chunk of them are illiterates or semi-literates, and yet the very systematic manner in which around this congregation of one million people maintains and manages itself is a lesson to be learnt by authorities. They dont require any assistance from government. They get even lesser support from the government anyways. But the masses that come together here don’t really bother.
We used to stay in Sant Tukaram Mandir and day in and day out one could only hear abhanga and devotional songs, the road down which led to the Vitthal Temple was abuzz with activity whole day and night. And really the stay of seven days there was memorable one.
Why is this god so unique, and why do i call it god of poor after all. Well i can say that this god makes you forget the differences between human beings and people propagate real human values of loving and respecting others. No, there are no rituals attached with this god, no long mantras or other rigid rituals, which one have to perform while praying other deities. This is the only god, perhaps, where you do not have to take any kind of offering, no, other gods too don’t ask for, but traditions have attached a ritual around their names, for example you have to carry leaves of Bel while visiting Shiv Temple, or crack a coconut while visiting Hanumanji. Here you do not have to carry anything. If only you have to carry, is your true feelings and devotion. The other thing which attracts me to this god is that though his followers are less educated, it never spreads orthodoxy or superstitious beliefs. So you wont find any kind of animal sacrifice or black magic over here, no followers pass on the wishlist to god with a promise something on fulfillment of his wish. Here, the relationship between the follower and god is like that of a mother and a kid. The warkari fathom all kinds of difficulties to get a gaze of his god or touch the feets of his god for duration which ranges to less than a second. But, when the warkari comes out of the temple, one can see the shine in his or her eyes, that shine is of contentment.
My mother is on her wrong side of 70s and finds it difficult to walk even few hundred meters without getting breathless now. But come this season, she exhibits, same kind of exuberance of a child. My mom and her temple friends, all old ladies, travel a good 600 kms and reach the temple, neither their trains are reserved nor their buses, do they care anyway. The power of “vithal vithal” which they chant continuously ensure that they reach their destination and come back hale and hearty. Back home, every year i fight with my mom and insist her not going to Pandharpur, owing her frail health, and everytime she wins the argument saying “maza vitthal mala sukhrup neil ani anel” (my god will take care of me). The devotion of this supreme kind provides motivation in my mother to travel a distance of around 1200 kms and return back safe every time.
And this is not the case with my mother alone, the magic and power of Vitthal has been spelling its magic for the last 700 years continuously.
Almost all the religions are uni-dimensional in their vision of God. The followers of these religions pray and worship only one God. Hinduism perhaps is the only religion, which allows idol worship and offers the luxury to the followers of this religion to worship the God he likes. The followers have the choice to pray according to his liking, like a very big super specialty hospital, we have defined our gods specializing in various areas. If you wish to be rich and affluent, pray to the Goddess of Wealth, Ma Laxmi Mata, If you wish to be physically and mentally strong and brave and courageous, Lord Hanuman, will bless you, If you wish to excel in your studies we seek Goddess Saraswati‘s blessings and likewise. Then you have Vastu Purush, the God which guards every household, the Sthal Purush, the deity of a particular area, Gram Devata, Kul Devata and et all. All this maze is amazing, but, a curious look into defining the roles of various Gods, was deliberate, it aimed at involving as many kind of believers into its fold, Hinduism after all is like the streams and rivulets that ultimately merges to form a very big river.
Many a times, in our clamour to showcase our modernity, we almost blindly discard the older traditions and practices, take for example the practice of observing 15 days “sutaka” after death in a family. The main reason why the family of the departed had to stay inbound for the period of 12-13 days, those days, was to quarantine that family, as those days many deaths took place due to contagious diseases. The god fearing people of that age only followed traditions, when it were associated with God.
No, i am not casting my atheist skin as yet, but yes, i admire, this god of common people, the God of the Poor.