Friday, August 31, 2007

Ashadhi Ekadashi

Type : Religious Procession Festival
Celebrated at : Pandharpur
In the month of : June - July

Ashadhi Ekadashi is more of a religious procession festival and is celebrated during the months of June- July (Aashaadh Shukla paksha). People consider the two eleventh days, "Ekadashi", of every month to be of special importance. But the eleventh day (bright) of Ashadh is known as the great Ekadashi or Mahaekadashi. This Mahaekadashi is also known as Shayani Ekadashi, because on this day Vishnu falls asleep to wake up four months later on Prabodhini Ekadashi in the Kartik month. This period is known as Chaturmas and coincides with the rainy season.

Ashadhi Ekadashi is the day of fast and on this day people go walking in huge processions to Pandharpur singing the Abhangas (chanting hymns) of Saint Tukaram and Saint Dnyaneshwar to see their God Vitthal. The yatra starts in Allandi and ends on Guru Poornima day at Pandharpur.

The Feast

The feast of Ashadhi Ekadashi is celebrated with great solemnity at Pandharpur. Hundreds of thousands go in procession from different parts of Maharashtra, some carrying palanquins with the images of the great saints of Maharashtra. Dnaneshwar's image is carried from Alandi, Tukaram's from Dehu, Eknath's from Paithan, Nivruttinath's from Trimbakeshwar, Muktabai's from Edlabad, and Sopan's from Sasvad.

Vitthalas (Varkari Panth)

The cult of Vitthala is part of the bhakti devotional movement. Its deity, Vitthala or Vithoba, was originally a Kannada hero in the south of Maharashtra around whom a cult developed. The cult was pastoral and so was assimilated with Krishna. Therefore the Vitthalas are a Vaishnavite bhakti cult.
The bhakti devotional doctrine of the Vitthalas is based on a succession of writers and poets. First is Jnanesvara with many devotional hymns and a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. He is followed by poets that wrote in Marathi. Namdev's poetry tells of a deity who is everywhere and accessible to everyone. All that is needed is to love him and sing his name. You do not have to practise austerities and renunciation, meditate on the absolute, or go on pilgrimages. Vitthala is a transcendent god of such breadth he is identified with Brahman. The ascetic life of Eknath while still living with his family emphasised the belief of the sect that sanctity could be attained by anyone in daily life. You did not need to live in the forest as an ascetic. The most important poet was Tukaram, who claimed that devotion to Vitthala alone sanctifies. Love of God is above everything and without this love there can be no real spiritual growth. Such love of God would not be possible without duality (dvaita).
There was a political content to the doctrine of the Vitthalas, for the Marathi poets started a nationalist movement of resistance to the Mughals.
Though Namdev wrote that pilgrimage is not necessary, an annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur is a central part of the practice of the cult, with devotional singing of hymns and prayers on behalf of Tukaram to Vitthala. The importance of pilgrimage is reflected in the cult also being called Vakari Panth, 'pilgrim's path.'

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