Boat Festival going on

By Acarya Dasa – All India Padayatra leader


Pandharpur is a one of the major holy places in Maharashtra. It is famous for the temple of Lord Vitthala situated on the bank of the Bhima River, which is also known as Chandrabhaga as it takes the shape of a crescent moon near the town. The Chandrabhaga River is the dear sister to all the pilgrims and varkaris (varkaris are the devotees belonging to the varkari sampradaya within the bhakti tradition of Hinduism, geographically associated with the Indian state of Maharashtra). Just like an elder sister, she carries her younger brothers and sisters to take the Lord’s darsana. Before having darsana of Lord Vitthala everyone first takes her blessings. There are two major yatras/waris (gathering of pilgrims/devotees) per year, Ashadhi and Kartiki. On the auspicious day of Ashadhi Ekadasi Chandrabhaga’s bosom is filled with innumerable pilgrims. About 12 to 15 lakhs (1.2 to 1.5 millions)varkaris visit Sri Pandharpur Dhama during Ashadhi Ekadasi. These pilgrims take a sanctifying holy bath in the river to become purified. Lord Vitthala is also known as Panduranga and Pandharinatha. By the causeless mercy of Srila Prabhupada, under the direction of Lokanath Maharaja, ISKCON has built the beautiful temple of Sri Sri Radha Pandharinatha on the east bank of the Chandrabhaga.


By the Lord’s arrangement Lokanath Maharaja’s birthday falls on Ashadhi Ekadasi, so at that time many disciples from all over the world visit Pandharpur Dhama. We all get triple benefit on this occasion: attending the Vyasa-puja, having darsana of Lord Panduranga and taking a holy dip in Chandrabhaga.While we were in Karnataka, one day I had a talk with Lokanath Maharaja. He asked me, “Can you reach Pandharpur by Ashadhi Ekadasi? All the pilgrims will then have darsana of Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara.” I replied, “Yes, we can plan it. “Maharaja added, “If you can make it, this year will be very special: Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara will be coming for both the Ashadhi Ekadasi festival and my Vyasa-puja.” So all the padayatris decided to take the route to Pandharpur and reach it on time for the festivities. We entered Maharashtra on June 20th and reached Pandharpur on July 22nd. Last time Padayatra India visited Pandharpur was in 2009, nine years ago.

To our surprise two ISKCON dindis arrived at the same time after us, one from Dehu (birthplace of Tukaram Maharaja) and another one from Alandi.  A dindi is a group of devotees walking from their town or village to Pandharpur; it’s also a padayatra but it specifically refers to the varkaris walking to Pandharpur. A powerful kirtana welcomed all of us. As all the three carts were being parked Lokanath Maharaja took the mike, started singing and practically all the devotees present began dancing and singing with great joy. Maharaja offered arati to Their Lordships and welcomed all the padayatris, and then everyone took darsana of Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara. Every day there were two mangala aratis, one of Sri Sri Radha Pandharinatha and the other of our Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara.  Many varkaris also attended these aratis. Maharaja commented, “There are three carts, three Gaura Nitai deities and three groups of people. It is quite a conference, a big sammelan (gathering). Some more padayatras need to be organized, which means bringing the holy name to more towns and more villages.”

On July 23rdduring the   Vyasa-puja, I shared few experiences of padayatra and how Maharaja always inspires us. There was a boat festival and we padayatris were called for sankirtana.  Sri Krishnadev Dasa was in charge of the 24 hour kirtana in temple for three days. Many varkaris came and took darsana of the Deities and our oxen with their big horns were a great attraction for all of them. Every person passing by would come to see them closer, and many of them took selfies with them.

After the festival we did kirtana in the nearby villages and distributed more than 3000 books. August 2nd was our last day in Pandharpur Dhama. We painted Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara and installed a new Deity of Srila Prabhupada on the cart. For the first time of our stay in Pandharpur we took the cart to the other side of the river and had sandhya arati in front of Sri Vitthala Rukmini’s temple. Local devotees danced and relished the kirtana. Rupa Raghunath Maharaja was with us during the evening sankirtana. We took the small Nitai Gaurasundara deities inside the temple, so that they could meet Lord Panduranga and Rukmini Maharani.


We left our senior ox Narasimha at the Pandharpur gosala as he was old and could not walk much. He had been with padayatra for more than 13 years and had completed one and a half tour of India: Tirupati to Tirupati, and thenTirupati to Pandharpur. The next senior ox Nandakishor was Narasimha’s best companion, and we are sure he must be feeling bad and sad in his absence. We got 2 new oxen from Gujarat, whom Lokanath Maharaja named Panduranga and Vitthala as they have joined us in Pandharpur dhama. Maharaja gifted new shoulder bags to all the members of our padayatra team. Everyone thanked him for the nice gifts and asked for his blessings for our the rest of our journey.

On August 3rd we started walking again in the direction of Solapur.