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Varkari or Warkari (meaning "a pilgrim") is a sampradaya (religious movement) within the bhakti spiritual tradition of Vaishnavite Hinduism, geographically associated with the Indian state of Maharashtra. Varkaris worship Vitthal (also known as Vithoba), the presiding deity of Pandharpur, regarded as a form of Krishna. Saints and gurus of the bhakti movement associated with the Varkaris include Jñāneśvar, Namdev, Chokhamela, Eknath, and Tukaram, Gadge Maharaj all of whom are accorded the title of Sant.
The Varkari movement includes the worship Vithoba and a duty-based approach towards life emphasising moral behavior and strict avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, the adoption of a strict lacto-vegetarian diet and fasting on Ekadashi day (twice a month), self-restraint (brahmacharya) during student life, equality and humanity for all rejecting discrimination based on the caste system or wealth, the reading of Hindu texts, the recitation of the Haripath every day and the regular practice of bhajan and kirtan.
The Varkari tradition has been part of Hindu culture in Maharashtra since the thirteenth-century CE, when it formed as a panth (community of people with shared spiritual beliefs and practices) during the Bhakti movement. Varkaris recognise around fifty poet-saints (sants) whose works over a period of 500 years were documented in an eighteenth-century hagiography by Mahipati. The Varkari tradition regards these sants to have a common spiritual line of descent.
Varkaris look upon God as the Ultimate Truth and ascertained grades of values in social life but accepted ultimate equality among men. Varkaris bow in front of each other because "everybody is Brahma" and stressed individual sacrifice, forgiveness, simplicity, peaceful co-existence, compassion, non-violence, love and humility in social life.
The Varkari poets put God-realisation (haripath) in simple terms in small booklets of verse. Each saint extolled japa, chanting the Lord's name. Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Eknath, Tukaram, Santaji Jagnade, and other Marathi Bhakti saints of the sect tried to mould the attitude of the common people, which included low castes and women, to have a kind of detachment and the courage of one's convictions in the face of evil forces.
Varkari people undertake an annual pilgrimage (vari) to Pandharpur, gathering there on Ekadashi (the 11th day) of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Ashadha, corresponding to a date falling sometime between late June to July in the Gregorian calendar. Pilgrims carry Palkhi of the saints from their places of Samadhi (Enlightenment or "spiritual birth"). The tradition of carrying the paduka (sandals) of the sants in a Palkhi was started by the youngest son of Tukaram, Narayan Maharaj, in 1685. Further changes were brought to the pilgrimage by descendants of Tukaram in the 1820s and by Haibatravbaba, a courtier of the Scindias and devotee of Dnyaneshwar.
Devotees of Vitthal were holding pilgrimages prior to the 14th century.In the present day, about 40 palkhis and their devotees from all over Maharashtra do so. Another pilgrimage is celebrated on the Ekadashi of the month of Kartika, which falls in November of the Gregorian Calendar.
Events such as Ringan and Dhava are held during the pilgrimage. During the Ringan, an unmounted sacred horse called Maulincha Ashva, who is believed to be the soul of the saint whose idol is being carried in the litter, runs through the rows of pilgrims, who try catching the dust particles kicked off and smear their head with the same. Dhava is another kind of race where everyone wins and it is held to commemorate the manner in which Tukaram first saw the temple at Pandharpur and started running in sheer exhilaration.
Varkari wear tulasi-mala, a rosary made from Ocimum tenuiflorum. They are lacto-vegetarians and follow a sattvic diet. Furthermore, like many other Vaishnava sects, they refrain from using onion and garlic in their cooking. Sect members also refrain from intoxicating substances such as alcohol.
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