In the rhythmic movements of the warkari-kirtan, Vithoba's devotees seek a way to commune with the divine

Over time, and from the unwavering faith of the warkari cult, has emerged the folk dance of the wari — the dindi, or warkari-kirtan.

Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe November 08, 2019 09:26:36 IST
In the rhythmic movements of the warkari-kirtan, Vithoba's devotees seek a way to commune with the divine
  • Many believe it was the prolific saint-poet of the warkari cult, Dnyaneshwar, who first undertook the wari in the 13th century.

  • A belief in the eternal, that inspires warkaris to go on this march, has been for ages inextricably entwined with the tradition of kirtan (storytelling through music and dance).

  • Over time, and from the unwavering faith of the Bhagwat Sampradaya (or the warkari cult), has emerged the folk dance of the wari: the dindi, or warkari-kirtan.

Editor's note: This article is the second in a five-part series documenting the folk dances of Maharashtra. Read more from the series here.

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Many cultural paradigms in Maharashtra are closely aligned with prayer and devotion, yet the overwhelming fervour with which the annual pilgrimage to Lord Vithoba’s seat in Pandharpur is conducted, is an expression of faith beyond compare.

Although accounts vary as to the maiden journey of this pilgrimage, many believe it was the prolific saint-poet of the warkari cult, Dnyaneshwar, who first undertook the wari in the 13th century. A belief in the eternal, that inspires warkaris to go on this march, has been for ages inextricably entwined with the tradition of kirtan — storytelling through music and dance. Over time, and from the unwavering faith of the Bhagwat Sampradaya (or the warkari cult), has emerged the folk dance of the wari — the dindi, or warkari-kirtan.

It is believed that the ‘efficacy of the dance lies in opening the gates of heaven’, AJ Agarkar writes in Folk Dances of Maharashta.

In the first weeks of Ashadh (the fourth month of the Marathi calendar), the wari takes off from the temple of Lord Vithoba (a manifestation of Vishnu) in Alandi. Over a period of 21 days, warkaris traverse a 250-km-long path on foot to reach the Pandharpur shrine on the day of Ashadhi Ekadashi.

The dindi dance performed en route the abode of Vithoba-Rakhumai is a blend of stories narrated through abhangas or kirtan and bodily movements that are well-executed but mostly extempore.

Dindi stands for a wicket-gate, the dance deriving its name from a similar interlocked, row-like formation observed in the performance. However, colloquially, dindi has also come to mean a group of warkaris travelling together.

One of the more cumbersome stretches of their walk is through Dive Ghat, some 20 km from Pune. Warkaris trudge along the winding road in late June as intermittent showers quell the scorching heat. Here, the warkari-kirtan comes alive.

The bulls carrying the palkhi with the paduka (footwear) of the saints Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram are changed halfway through Dive Ghat and sturdy, fresh animals are harnessed and readied for the next leg of the journey.

When the palkhi halts, the warkaris are set to the task of drawing a rangoli from end to end on the narrow roads in bright colours like pink, green and red.

In the rhythmic movements of the warkarikirtan Vithobas devotees seek a way to commune with the divine

Illustration by Rini Joseph/ Firstpost

Chanting the Lord’s name — ‘Dnyaneshwara Mauli, Dnyanaraja Mauli Tukaram’ — hundreds of devotees from every dindi accompanying the saints’ palanquin then form two rows within their own groups, with a veena or mridangam player in their midst. Agarkar points out in his book, that in warkari cults, dindi also means the group that follows a veena or mridangam player on the instrument.

Some pilgrims also converge in a circle around the palkhi which is bedecked in garlands of blooming roses and marigolds, each with a tal (a pair of cymbals) in their hands.

As the dindi is danced whilst journeying to the temple, Agarkar explains that the movements tend to progress in a line as devotees sway to the tune of the abhangas. The upbeat, quick rhythm of the mridangam floats in the air and the dancers (men and women) face each other.

The first tap of the tal signifies the dance has begun. Warkaris put their right foot forward, stamping it lightly on the ground, while simultaneously bending at the waist. A short sideways step with the left foot follows. Then, as the right foot leaves the ground and settles at the rear, the dancers stand up straight, the tal now clicking near their waist.

Thousands of warkaris singing the kirtan describing the feats of the God thus dance to the mridangam. The verses are soulful and quick; not so much that they would wear the warkaris out but enough to motivate them to keep walking.

Warkaris showcase Dnyaneshwar’s faith that moved a wall of stone, and of Tukaram departing for heaven by flying on Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s vehicle.

They narrate the story of young Namdeo who once went to the temple with offerings for Lord Vithoba and upon finding the food untouched, beat his head against the wall until the lord himself appeared to reassure the distraught lad and eat the food presented to him.

It is mainly devotees from the Vidarbha and Marathwada provinces, situated in close proximity to Pandharpur, whose melodies flavour the abhangas of the wari.

Dnyaboa mauli, tukaram

Dnyaoba mauli, tukaram

Tukaram, tukaram, 

Tukaram, tukaram

The bhakti saints have left behind volumes of devotional and didactic poetry in the form of these abhangas, but more often than not, the devotee is content with simply chanting their names. The purpose of repetition in this devotional folk dance is indeed prayer but more than that, chanting the same verse over and over again also generates a rhythm for the devotees to march to.

As well, some warkaris render soliloquies such as in a traditional kirtan, alternating between songs and poetry. They enact the events in these stories using simple gestures of the hands and feet, voice modulation and facial expressions.

Many also carry a saffron flag or the dwaj, and during the performance fling it high up in the air, moving forward and backward in between the two rows.

Up until the last few decades, the warkari-kirtan was among the few folk dances exclusively performed by men. There is no one prescribed costume for the performance but warkaris generally prefer to wear light, quick-drying travel-wear. Some occasionally flaunt an ochre-coloured ensemble, others opt for a simple white-coloured dhoti and kurta with a Gandhi-topi.

The devotees also draw a small circle of sandalwood paste on either side of the forehead and in the centre, signifying their belief in the body’s chakras (the spiritual energy within the body).

Now-a-days, women who walk the wari opt for a five-yard sari or salwar-kameez, yet there are hundreds who can be seen sporting the traditional nine-yard, walking swiftly with a tulsi vrindavan atop their heads.

Locking hands, those in the cluster around the palkhi play phugdi, swiftly turning round and round. Singing rhymed couplets, women play zimma in pairs, tossing their palms in the air, alternately clapping their hands and those of their partner’s, or step side to side as they partake in the atya-patya.

Dindi, dwaj, phugdi and zimma are performed simultaneously, the strains of hundreds of musical instruments come together along the winding path, the air is charged with devotion, words of the abhangas echo off the hills, the hues of red and pink from the rangoli swirl up in the air and thousands chant the name of the God, producing a spectacular feast for the eyes.

The cylindrical mridangam keeps time during the dance and the tambora or veena provides the bass. But more importantly, the very essence of the kirtan, the oldest of forms of storytelling, lies in playing the tal. The dindi dance is incomplete without this cymbal-like cup-shaped brass instrument that produces a high-pitched sound. Of the tal, they sing:

Tal bole chipali la nach mazhya sange, Devaji chya daari aaj rangala abhanga…

(The tal asks the chipali to dance with it, for an abhanga is being sung at the gates of Lord’s abode…)

It is possible to catch snatches of this very old and well-known couplet while on the march. The warkaris are pantheists in their worship of the Lord, they believe He resides in every object that accompanies them on the wari.

He is in the tal, that produces the strains accompanying the chipali, in the music engulfing them, in the words of the abhanga that put them in a trance and in the involuntary movement of their feet as they dance to the rhythm created by the coming together of all these elements.

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