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Sacredscapes: Study of Pandharpur and its Pilgrimage 

A pilgrimage is a holy act of journeying to the sacred landscapes primarily for religious reasons and spiritual benefits but is not limited to them. Sacred landscapes in India plays a pivotal role in the celebration of religious traditions and the mythological stories associated with them. Pilgrimage as a meritorious religious activity to the holy sites has been happening in almost all of the world religions for ages influencing a huge cross-section of society to come together and move masses towards religious centres.

The phenomenon of pilgrimage is central to the public realm. Its study involves an intricate layering of beliefs, customs, traditions, and religion which collectively govern the people-space relationship. Thus, My research deals with the idea and study of religious town and the pilgrimage of Pandharpur.

It allowed me to study the rituals, as both, an architect and as a pilgrim. Pandharpur has been emerged out as a cultural landscape and pilgrimage center since it is associated with Lord Vitthal a deity worshiped by the millions of people from all over the country. Reaching Pandharpur was an ultimate aim of pilgrims who affectionately called it as Bhu-Vaikuntha. Last few decades, Pandharpur has witnessed remarkable changes in environmental aspects, occupational structure, business structure, urban land use pattern, and infrastructural infusions.

The lack of basic facilities for the pilgrims and the environmental disturbance is immeasurable. The method of study adopted by me was to document the town extensively, through site visits, mapping, and a thorough literature review to identify and justify the issues and to showcase the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the town.

Figure 1-Location Map of Pandharpur-Source-Author

Hence, my study focuses on understanding, documenting and preserving the cultural heritage and complex issues faced by the pilgrimage town of Pandharpur. The outcome of this research supports in sensitively understanding religious and pilgrimage site and creating a design guideline, an architectural program for new development. and revitalize the current scenario of the pilgrimage town.


A sacred site has an existing important value for a religious man. The sacred landscape combines the absoluteness of space, relativeness of places, and comprehensiveness of landscape, thus altogether result in a ‘wholeness’ carrying the inherent and imposed spirit of ‘holiness’, which is to be called ‘sacredscapes’. (Singh, Sacredscapes of Banaras (Kashi/ Varanasi): Cultural Landscape and Cosmic Geometry, 2017).

Figure 2 – Pandharpur on the day of Ashadhi Ekadashi-Source-Solapur.Gov

It can also be referred to as religious and cultural landscape associated with mythology, history, and maintained by pilgrimage tradition, symbolizing natural, cultural and heritage value having a divine order with the human faith transforming the materialistic to the cosmic world.

By the realisation of the clear sacrality in the place and the landscape, the associated territory converges to frame the greater unity of cosmic reality commonly envisioned as ‘sacredscape’ also known as ‘tīrtha- kshetra’ in Indian context.

The connection between the human and nature results in a divine connection which crosses the boundary of space and time, and generates the world of meaning, feeling and revelation ― a cosmic field of divine manifestation where man, nature, and divine intersect, can be called as ‘faithscape’ known as ‘āsthā-kshetra’. Faithscape encompasses sacred place, sacred time, sacred meanings and sacred rituals, and embodies both symbolic and tangible psyche elements in an attempt to realise man’s identity in the cosmos.

Also, the mythological stories assemble the divinity’s acts and life into a divine environment making a spiritual sphere of faithscape more meaningful. The Sacredscapes (existential) and Faithscape (experiential) have their roots in the cosmic order of sacred territory, which are constantly repeated, revived, regulated, and rejuvenated by rituals and rites and thus evolved a unique way of life. (Singh, Sacredscapes of Banaras (Kashi/ Varanasi): Cultural Landscape and Cosmic Geometry, 2017) A pilgrimage site, in theory and practice, is a cultural landscape.

The idea of ‘landscape’ is central in understanding pilgrimage sites because it helps to think about these places in terms of territories that are created, appropriated, organised and represented by human agency. Such an explanation originates in the concept of landscape as something that is modified through cultural processes. (Shinde, 2010)

In India, the sacred centers have exerted a powerful pull on believers beginning from the most ancient civilization to the present time. The pilgrim centers of India patronized by different sects and religions are Puri, Dwarka, Prayag, Kashi, Kanchi, Ayodhya, Mathura, Ujjain, Nasik, Kamakhya, etc, which are well-known by almost all sections of the Hindu society.

Among which Pandharpur is a holy town in Maharashtra, which has been emerged out as a pilgrimage center, since it is associated with Lord Vitthal also known as Pandurang a deity worshiped by the millions of people from all over the state and outside the state as well. Pandharpur is a pilgrimage town in Solapur district, in the Maharashtra state of India.

It is an old town and located on the right bank of meandering Bhīma river popularly known as Chandrabhaga in Pandharpur due to its crescent moon shape in Pandharpur. Pandharpur pilgrimage of Maharashtra is one of the most popular festivals in India. The annual pilgrimage to the Lord Vitthal temple at Pandharpur is held every in the Hindu calendar of Aashad month every year during the month of June-July.

Thus, Pandharpur can be termed as an associated cultural landscape with its association with the Lord Vitthal. The architecture and the environment of the Pandharpur town is related to the study of cause-effect- relationships of various phenomena in the context of space and time.

The present study aims at analyzing various aspects of Pandharpur as a pilgrimage center along with its pilgrimage. The Pandharpur pilgrimage is commonly known as wari in Marathi language or yātrā. Even in today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced, and consumerist society, the popularity of the Pandharpur pilgrimage continues to grow.

The quest to achieve spiritual enlightenment through journeying to sacred centers forms the basis of the global practice of pilgrimage. In its most common form, it triggers a huge cross-section of the society to come together and travel collectively towards a common goal. (Sane, March 2007)Typically, pilgrimage is a journey to a holy/religious or some location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs for the search of spiritual solace.

“Pilgrimage is also defined as a spiritual odyssey. Its chief purpose is to gather religious merits (Punya) and absolve one sin (Papa) as well as to invoke the blessings of the particular deity enshrined in the religious place and achieve spiritual enlightenment.”

(Sinha, 1994) Pilgrimage is a branch of tourism were in Sanskrit literature there are three terms for tourism, ‘Paryatana’ ‘Deshatana’ and ‘Tirthatana’ derived from the root ‘atana’, that is going out or leaving home for some other place. But each of these words has a different connotation. Thus, Paryatana means going out for pleasure, leisure or knowledge, Deshatana means travelling primarily for economic gain and Tirthatana means going out to places of religious merits.

This research document seeks to understand various factors that look in the order of a religious settlement for which purpose the study of Pandharpur Maharashtra is carried out. On visiting Pandharpur the principle outline of the study was laid out and clarified with general experience of the town in the point of view of the stakeholder i.e. Pilgrims, Tourist, and Locals.

The study is directed towards the raw nature of growth and spontaneity in built form. Firstly, it is important to understand the various components and parts of the town and its relationship to the sacred centre of Vitthal- Rukhmini temple. Secondly, the study seeks to understanding the relationship of built form with the geography of the region.

Thirdly, study tried to look at the relationship between land and water of Chandrabhaga seen in the light of the various rituals performed along the banks. Lastly it also aims to understand the tangible and intangible culture related to Pandharpur and the pilgrimage.

The research aims to carry forward the idea of architecture being just beyond buildings to highlight the deep connection the architecture has with the cultural heritage of the town. Public spaces and buildings have an intimate relationship with the shaping of the cultural identity of place along with the stakeholders. This research explores the dimension of spatial complexity through the public ritual of pilgrimage. The profound and deeply significant human activities connecting the individuals to places form an integrated sacred network.

The idea of a sacred centre which constitutes the temple and its supporting institutions remains persistent in most religious settlements. These centres can in turn be seen to influence the form and character of the built environment and various activities that occupy these spaces. This research studies the case of Pandharpur Town and its Pilgrimage/Wari, in Maharashtra.

Culture of Maharashtra state is incomplete without Pandharpur. An unprecedented growth of pilgrims has led to considerable strain on existing facilities available in the town. This has also given rise to many issues like economic, socio-cultural and environmental along with infrastructure with respect to its user i.e. pilgrim’s tourist and locals.

There has been various proposal for the development of other pilgrim towns in India. But Pandharpur lack even basic pilgrim facilitates hence it is the need for the study and hence proposing a development model in tune with the changing times. The study has been undertaken presently from an architectural point of view. The changing face of such pilgrimage centres has been studied in the present text.


Pandharpur is a pilgrimage town on the banks of Bhima river in Solapur district of the Maharashtra state of India. The town has area of 25 Sq Km (10 sq mi), 12.07 Sq.Kms area is of old town and located on right bank of meandering Bhima river a tributary of Krishna River. The temple of Lord Vitthal and his consort Rukhmini is at the centre of the town.

The main object or worship at this place is a Lord Vitthal who is consider to be the form of Lord Vishnu or Shri Krishna and his Consort Goddess Rukhmini as Goddess Lakshmi.

Figure 3-Map of Pandharpur Town Source-Author

Solapur due to the advantage of its location, is somewhat equidistant to many of the major pilgrimage places of Maharashtra, namely Pandharpur, Akkalkot and Tuljapur. Pandharpur is 73Kms away from Solapur, Akkalkot is situated 113Kms away from Pandharpur and Tuljapur is 108Kms away. Hence Pandharpur have visitors throughout the year and hence the footfall is high. Therefore, it forms a tourist and religious circuit in the Solapur region.

Figure 4-Regional Map of Solapur region-Source-Author

Pandharpur, also known as part of Dakshin Kashi or Dakshin Dwarka and thus one of the chief seat’s of warkari and vaishnava sect. The other well-known religious places in Solapur district are: Shree Bhagvanta’s temple at Barshi, Naganath Temple at Vadval in Mohol taluka, Mangalvedha town where Saint Damaji, Saint Chokhoba and Saint Kanhopatra used to reside, the ancient temple of Shiva at Machnoor and the Siddheshwar Temple in Solapur City.

Pandharpur Dakshin Dwarka

Pandharpur was also known as Phaganpur, Paundarikpur, Paundarikshetra, Pandurangpalle, Pandarange. Vithoba, also known as Vi(t)thal(a) and Panduranga, is a Hindu God predominantly worshipped in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

He is generally considered a manifestation of the God Vishnu or his manifestation as Lord Krishna. Vithoba is often depicted as a dark young boy, standing arms akimbo on a brick, accompanied by his main consort Rakhumai/Rukhmini with a separate altar. Vithoba is the focus of the monotheistic, Semi-Brahamanical Warkari faith of Maharashtra and the Haridas faith of Karnataka.

Vitthal Temple of Pandharpur is his main temple. Vithoba legends revolve around his devotee Pundalik, who is credited with bringing the deity to Pandharpur, and around Lord Vitthal’s role as a savior to the poet-saints of the Warkari faith.

The legend states that Pundalik was a greedy man who did not take care of his old and ailing parents. He drove them out after his marriage, his parents set out on a pilgrimage to Varanasi on foot with other groups of devotees. Pundalik also eventually decided to go to Varanasi and on his way, stopped for rest on the banks of River Ganga.

He observed that three ugly women: Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswathi went to the hermitage of a Kukuta Rishimuni. On asking their credentials, they informed that they have to bear the sins of people which makes them, the river impure and to cleansed themselves they visit the Kukuta Rishimuni hermitage whose merits and blessing help the rivers to become pure and beautiful again. This is because Kukuta Rishimuni treated everyone especially his parents with love and respect and due to his good deeds, he gained a lot of merits.

Realization dawned on Pundalik and he immediately asked for forgiveness from his parents and started treating them well. Impressed by his devotion, Lord Krishna visited him at Pandharpur on the banks of river Bhima and lived there in akimbo position for his devotees on Pudalik’s request. Meanwhile, Radha who loved Lord Krishna visited Dwarka, his kingdom, and sat on his lap. Radha ignored Rukmini, Lord Krishna’s consort. Angered by the incident, Rukmini left Lord Krishna and left to Dindirvana near Pandharpur on the banks of river Bhima.

Lord Krishna searched for her and eventually landed in Pandharpur where he came across Pundalik’s home. Lord Krishna was impressed with his devotion to the parents and called on Pundalik. But Pundalik asked him to wait as he was busy massaging his sleeping parents’ feet and threw a brick outside for the Lord Krishna to stand and wait.

After finishing his work, Pundalik came out and on seeing Lord Krishna, asked for forgiveness, impressed by his devotion to the parents Lord Krishna granted him a boon, Pundalik asked him to settle here with Goddess Rukmini and bless him and the people forever in the kali yuga.


The oldest mention of Pandharpur is in inscription dating as far back as 516 A.D. It was carved by the Rastrakutas King Avideya and the town was called as Pandarange or Pandare. It remained a part of Rastrakutas domain for over a century. Lord Vitthal was first worshipped as a pastoral god as early as the 6th century. Lord Vitthal’s arms-akimbo iconography is similar to Bir Kuar, the cattle-god of the Ahirs of Bihar, who is now also associated with Lord Krishna. In 615 A.D.

Pandharpur came under the control of Chalukyas and it remained up to 1180 A.D. The Pandurangashtakam Stotra, a hymn composed by Shri Adi Shankaracharya of the 8th century, indicates that Lord Vitthal worship might have already existed at an early date. He also talks about the river Bhima and the holy town of Pandharpur. The temple may have further built in the 12th century by the Yadava dynasty in the hemandpanthi style architecture and received grants from the dynasty to the town.

The emergence 13th century of warkari cult along with Bhakti Movement and arrival of Saint Dnyaneshwar to Pandharpur were the great achievements in this period which made Pandharpur a centre of culture as well as of spiritual learning. The 13th Century was the milestone for the growth of the towns as due to Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra Saint Dnyaneshwar, Sant Namdeo, glorified Lord Vitthal and his presence in Pandharpur.

The bhakti movement led to overall development in the landscape of the town and the structure of the temple, some saints took Samadhi in the complex of the temple and town. Krishnadevaraya, king of the Vijayanagara Empire safely took away the idol of Lord Vitthal during the invasion of Muslim rulers. The Pandharpur Vitthal temple remained closed for worship for a few years. The idol was then restored by Bhanudas Maharaj in the 14th century and worship restarted.

During the second half of the 14th century, the Bahamani kingdom ruled over the Deccan and Pandharpur belonged to Gulbarga province of this kingdom. The 16th century was an unfortunate period for Pandharpur because it was attacked frequently by the various Muslim armies. Pandharpur during the 17th century had better days. A new temple of Lord Vitthal was built, Saint Tukaram and his disciples had enriched the previous greatness and fame to Pandharpur. The Warkari Sampradaya got a new impetus under the guidance of Saint Tukaram.

He also infused a great enthusiasm in the pilgrimages of Ashadha and Kartika, and hence Pandharpur became a great center of pilgrimage and culture. The pilgrimage was further revived by in the 1820s by descendants of Saint Tukaram and a devotee of Saint Dnyaneshwar named Haibatravbaba Arphalkar, who was a courtier of Scindias, the Maratha rulers of Gwalior. Haibatravbaba is credited with the organization of the wari in use today.

This involved carrying the paduka in a palkhi, having horses involved in the procession, and organizing the devotees or warkaris in Dindis. The town began to flourish as a pilgrim center in the state of Maharashtra receiving patrons from Maratha Kingdom. Various Dynasties build temples and mansions for the pilgrims and the temple. The pilgrimages again restarted with the help of saints and the Maratha rulers. In the period of the British empire between 1818 to 1947 the Pandharpur remained peaceful.

The town was steadily developed and connected to other areas of country by rail and road transport. It also developed as an important administrative and commercial centre of the taluka.

Pandharpur Town A Heritage town of Maharashtra

The Pandharpur was walled town (the border of town is called as Ves or Gaonkus in Marathi). This wall had two main entrances to the east the Mahadwar ves and to the north is the Haridasves.

Figure 5-Pandharpur Town and River Chandrabhaga-Source-Author

The old town is entirely within the entrance limits. The temple of Lord Vitthal is at the centre of the town, with reference to Lord Vitthal temple the limits of the town are as follows- towards east upto the Mahadwar Ghat towards south-east up to the Bhuleshwar Mahadeo temple. To the south upto Vishnupad temple and south-west up to the Kala Maruti temple. To the west upto Padmavati temple (1778) and in the north up to Lakhubai Rukmini temple. Pandharpur was gradually expanded during 1740-1855.

The priests of Pundlika temple Mahadeo Kolis, built their houses in the northern area known as Govindpura. Later on, it was extended up to the Dindirwan. Towards east, outside the Mahadwar ves, the Maratha rulers like Scindias of Gwalior and Holkar’s of Indore built spacious mansions (wada’s) for their temporary residence at Pandharpur. Holkar built the temple of Ram in his Wada and Shinde’s built the temple of Lord Krishna known as Dwarkadhish in his Gaddhi in 1849 A.D. The temple of Padmavati was built in 1778 A.D.

This area marks the western limits of the town, the present railway station is situated in this area. Thus, the town was expanded in all sides and a new road was formed around the temple named as Nagar Pradakshina road. All-important temples, mathas and dharmashalas are located on this road. The village Pandharpur was converted into town in the year 1855.

Figure 6-Map of Pandharpur Old Town-Source-Author

The causeway joining the Solapur road and west bank of river was constructed in 1925. The Barshi Light Narrow Gauge Railwaystarted in 1951, and the town began to expand towards the west along and on the other side of the railway line. The area between the Chowpala and railway line was slowly inhabited, and now it is known as Navi peth and the area around the temples was known as Juni Peth. Peth is a traditional town planning system of Maharashtra’s which is ward wise or area wise planning in a geometric form is called Peth, in Pandharpur we can see similar planning system of town know as Peth.

Pandharpur Lord Vitthal and Rukhmini Temple

he Lord Vitthal temple is located at the centre of Pandharpur town. The temple is built on the top of hillock surrounded by a circular path called pradakshina road. The temple as its stand today or most probably since medieval period is situated toward the east of Bhima River at a distance of 300 Mts. Around the temple is the Pradakshina Path.

The central temple is flanked by houses, shops, mathas, small temples, giving a counch like shape to the plan of the town, indicating a sacred geometry. Lord Vitthal is known by many names, including Vitthala, Panduranga, Pandharinath, Hari and Narayan.

Vitthal, predominantly worshiped in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. He is generally considered a manifestation of the God Vishnu or as an avatar of Shri Krishna. Vithoba is often depicted as a dark young boy, standing arms akimbo on a brick. The temple is a rectangular area is enclosed by massive stone walls.

Shri Vitthal Rukhmini Temple, Pandharpur-Source VRMS and Lord Vitthal(l) Goddess Rukhmini(r), Pandharpur- Source VRMS

There is passage that opens to a large paved quadrangle. In the quadrangle there are dipmalas, a vrindavan, a neem tree and two small shrines of Garuda and Maruti. And samadhi of Saint Kanhopatra. The western part of the quadrangle is covered with a high wooden Sabha Mandap used for song services and devotional dances. There are ten entrances to the Temple court, out of which the one in the eastern wall known as Mahadwar is the main gate.

There are two doors to the south, four doors to the north and one is to the southeast which is used especially during great fairs, when others are kept closed except the western gate Paschimdwar. Lord Vitthal is usually depicted with his main consort, Rukhmini, also known as Rakhumai literally means ‘Mother Rukmini’. Rukmini is traditionally viewed as the wife of Lord Krishna.

Hence Hindus generally consider Lord Krishna to be a form of Lord Vishnu, hence his consort as a form of Lakshmi. Goddess Rukhmini is also depicted in the arms-akimbo posture, standing on a brick. She has an independent cell/temple in the Pandharpur temple complex on its left side.

Both the husband wife Gods in Hindu God Pantheon do not have separate shrine. They both are situated in same Garbhagriha, but in Lord Vitthal temple of Pandharpur the husband wife both stand separately and have different shrines respectively. Rukhmini temple has a shrine, a garbhagriha. an antechamber a hall and a wooden outer hall or Sabha Mandapa.

There are two small temples of Radha, Satyabhama and Ganpati, adjacent to the Rukhmini shrine in the same precinct. The temple is managed by the Utpate – the Priests of the Rukhmini temple and Badaves, priest of lord Vitthal.

River Chandrabhaga/Bhima

The ancient association of the Bhima River with the religious, traditional and cultural fabric of the city and the immense influence of the associated activities on the development of economic and social life of the city and related tangible and intangible cultural expressions is unique in the world. Bhima river called as Chandrabhaga river in Pandharpur, because of its meandering course and creates crescent Shape.

Figure 9-River Chandrabhaga and Temples on its banks, Pandharpur-Source Author

It is sacred to the followers of Lord Vitthal and considered is as Ganga River. All the pilgrimages and rituals get initiated at the holy spots along the river, also presenting a specific vision of a magnificent architectural row of temples and shrines. Bhima River, the largest tributary of Krishna river holds a special significance for the state of Maharashtra.

The river is closely woven with the spiritual fabric of the state and is continuously flanked by the pilgrims on its bank. The source of Bhima river is adorned by temple of Bhimashankar in the Pune district, it is one of the “Shiva Jyotrilingas” shrines in India.

From Bhimashankar, the river runs South east to Pune, Ahmednagar, Solapur districts and some parts of Beed, Osmanabad and Satara districts and meets Krishna River in Karnataka state. Some mention in Mahabharata is found in part of Bhishmaparva adhya 9th, also description of Bhima River in Anand Ramayana, where Lord Shri Ram visiting the same shrine on the journey of Lanka for his beloved wife Sita.

Important Temples and Ghats

  1. Temples: Pandharpur is a town of temples. There are 27 important temples in the town. About fourteen of the temples are of Shiva, five temples are of Lord Vishnu and the remaining temples are of other deities. The temples of Pandharpur may be divided into four groups. The temples lying on the way of Pradakshina, the temples lying on the bank of river Chandrabhaga the temples on the Nagar Pradakshina road and the temple of Lord Vitthal.
  2. Pundalik Temple: Bhakt Pundalik Mandir is in the river bed in front of Mahadwar Ghat which was built by Changdev. Brass mask of Pundalik on Shivalinga is established in the sanctum sanctorium. It is crowned and worshipped every day with rituals of kakadarti, mahapuja, mahanaivedya, dhuparti etc. Mahashivaratri festival is celebrated on the large scale in this temple.
  3. The Visnupada Temple: The Vishnupada temple is also an important temple. It was built on a platform of a small island in the middle of the river towards the south-west side of the town. During the monsoon, the temple is completely surrounded by the water. In the middle of this temple, there is a rock with footprints of Lord Krishna and his cow. These footprints are worshipped by the pilgrims, every pilgrim, warkari, visit this temple only then the Pandharpur pilgrimage is complete and the merits are achieved.
  4. Gopalpur Temple: One and half kilometre away and towards the southeast of the Pandharpur there is a Shri Krishna temple this place is called Gopalpura. The temple is the top of the hill which is called Govardhan Parvat (hill). According to Skandh Purana Shri Krishana started his journey of Pandharpur then Gov- ardhan hill also started following him. Scaring that Shri Krishna would scold him he hid himself and stopped and stayed in Gopalpura village where river Chandrabhaga and river Pushavati meets. It is one of the important temples of the town and every pilgrim visit this temple during the pilgrimage period or else the pilgrimage is incomplete.
  5. Ghats: The meandering shape of the Chandrabhaga gives unique feature to the town. Along the bank of the river Chandrabhaga there are fifteen ghats. The visit during the early morning, is an inspiring experience at the time of great Ashadhi and Kartiki fairs. From these ghats one can see the endless crowd of worshippers who are taking ablution in the river Chandrabhaga. There are nine ghats. The oldest ghats such as Kumbhar ghat and Mahadwar Ghat were built in 1770 and the Ghat Vipra Datta, built in 1826. Remaining seven of them were built during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the Maratha power was at its peak. The most important of these ghats is Mahadwar, the Uddhav and Chandrabhaga ghat. The Mahadwar Ghat was built at the end of the street, which leads to the temple of Lord Vitthal. pilgrims who come from the temple of Lord Vitthal use this Ghat to go towards the temple of Pundlika. The Uddhav Ghat owes its importance to the Pradakshina, the pilgrims should reach the river by using this Ghat. The Chandrabhaga Ghat is frequently used by pilgrims to enter the town from the bed of the river during their holy round.

Pandharpur Wari An Annually Anticipated Sacred Pilgrimage:

Pandharpur pilgrimage of Maharashtra is one of the most popular festivals in India. The annual pilgrimage to the Lord Vitthal temple at Pandharpur is held every in the Hindu calendar of Aashad month every year during the month of June-July.

Pandhapur Pilgrimage-Chariot Procession- Source-Wari santanchi

The Pandharpur pilgrimage is known as Wari and the pilgrims of Pandharpur pilgrimage referred to as Warkari’s. Lakhs of pilgrims come to Pandharpur with the images, footprints (padukas), idols on bullock cart chariots of the Saints from the Bhakti movement like Sant Dnyaneshwar from Alandi, Sant Tukaram from Dehu, Sant Eknath from Paithan, and Sant Nivruttinath from Trimbakeshwar, Sant Ramdas from Sanjangadh that is the birthplace or final resting place (Samadhi) of this saint which are also the religious pilgrim sites within themselves in Maharashtra.

Map of the 2 important Chariot Procession-Pandharpur Pilgrimage- Source Author

These saints created a social transformation in the society, fought evil and regressive mindsets and uplifted the ordinary people, and engaged them with the progressive spiritual Hindu belief and ideologies. Hence even after hundreds of years, these saints are alive in the minds of people through there writings and thoughts and are worthy of worship.

These saints worshiped Lord Vitthal that is Shri Krishna and travel the town of Pandharpur in search of spiritual comfort and uplifting the ordinary man. Hence even today this ritual is followed by lakh of devotees of the lord Vitthal and the associated saints.

The whole procession of traveling from the birth place or the resting place of these saints to the Pandharpur town is called as Palkhi procession or the chariot processions where lakh of devotees travel to Pandharpur on foot from different parts of the country. The highly revered of all these palkhi’s is that of Saint Dnyaneshwar Mauli and Sant Tukaram Maharaj.

Amongst all the palkhi processions the Saint Dnyaneshwar palkhi procession and Sant Tukaram Maharaj palkhi procession are oldest, highly disciplined, full of cultural activities and most important palkhi procession in the Pandharpur pilgrimage. At the same time 106 other important palkhi processions from different parts of Maharashtra and country come to Pandharpur town.

The Pandharpur Wari is distinct from all other forms of pilgrimages like the ‘yatra’ in a variety of ways. Wari, is a collective form of bhakti (worship) as a family tradition. It has a predetermined scheduled and route and has no purpose other than sheer worship. The pilgrims (warkaris) belong to the farming community and allied occupations related to farming.

The Wari is a microcosm of the vast sects, sub-sects, castes and trades that go into the making of the state of Maharashtra – as men, women, young and old people from all walks of life, age and socio-economic status walk alongside each other, never for a moment being aware of their differences or status.

The eagerness to meet Lord Vitthal and the repetitive holy chanting of mantra Ram-Krishna-Hari, Dyanoba Tukaram during the walk are unifying bonds among different peoples all termed as warkari’s. Most of the warkari’s accompany the palkhi procession.

Period of Wari:

Every year many pilgrimages take place of which the most important is the Ashadhi Ekadashi pilgrimage attended by more than 12 lakh pilgrims. The warkari sampradaya follows the Hindu calendar and considers all the Ekadashi (the eleventh days after waxing and waning of the moon) as auspicious.

Even among these the most significant month is the Ashadhi (June-July) and Kartiki (November December) Ekadashi. These Ekadashi coincide with the new-moon fortnights. That is when Pandharpur pilgrimage is undertaken in Maharashtra. Besides these, two more pilgrimages the Chaitra (or spring – first lunar month) and Maghi (eleventh month of the Hindu lunar calendar) and its ekadashi are also deemed to be important.

As most of the pilgrims are from farming community the time of pilgrimage is also when most of the farming work is complete and gives time for them to participate in the pilgrimage processions. Hence the period of pilgrimage is also based on the farming activities.

Wari-Intangible Heritage:

The warkari sampradaya has not only has given bhakti or the way of devotion but has contributed a lot in the various performing spiritual art forms. Each and every saint has contributed a lot in terms of literature and also gave rise to different arts forms in the Maharashtra state.

Pandharpur wari witness all the art forms coming from various town of Maharashtra and also pulsates with vibrant cultural traditions which can be described to be its life line. The wari’s intangible heritage is rich in all aspect. Very few efforts are taken to list down the heritage of Maharashtra which is seen in the wari procession. Literature, Music, Dance, Drama, Sports.

Chariot Procession, Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Palkhi, Pune, Source-Alandi Devachi

Literature is one of the important aspects of Warkari Sampradaya and Marathi Literature. Abhanga, Bhajan, Kirtan, Andhaala, Pangala, Vasudev, Gaulani, Prayers, Haripath, Jagar, Ghongadi, Pingala, Aarti, Bhavageet, Nirupan, Bahurupi, Bharud, Pravachan. Jimmaa, Hal, Fugadi, Hammama, Humbari, Adsan, Dalan, Kandan, Palana, Sarvada, Malang, Doifoda, Mundha, Vitidandu, Mridangapatya are few of the performing spiritual art forms which are seen during the pilgrimage.

Religious text composed in Marathi like Dnyaneshwari, Tukaram Gatha, Amrutaanubhav, Nivruttieshwari, Eknathi Bhagawat are some of the master piece in Marathi and spiritual literature. An awareness, archival of all these cultural heritages is very important in order to sustain in the future along with creating of repository and awareness among the countrymen.

Pandharpur as a Cultural Heritage and Landscape:

Cultural heritage is the legacy of tangible and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. The cultural heritage of Pandharpur both tangible and intangible is directly or indirectly associated with Shri Vitthal Rukhmini Temple.

Pandharpur has evolved over a period of time and with its evolution the morphology of the town has developed from the central nucleus i.e. Shri Vitthal Rukhmini Temple in outward direction. The landscape of Pandharpur is said to be evolved even before the formation of Heaven (Vaikutha)the residence of Gods.

The landscape is associated with the activities of Lord Krishna along with his devotees. Hence this religious landscape and the settlement is developed all connections with Lord Krishna and thus landscape elements and people together form the site as an associative cultural landscape. Rivers is always related to human’s life from birth to death sometimes forming the boundaries of town or settlement, considered as lifeline in Indian context. Here the holy river Chandrabhaga is considered as the holy Ganga who came from Lord Shiva to wash away the sins of human being.

Festivals and rituals are held in their honour making it as living landscape, rituals and festivals forming the folk culture of the place. The landscape and dwellings are evolved with respect to these natural features. The cultural landscape reflects the culture of a place it is the human made landscape created by a cultural group occupying an area and make the visual manifestation of the culture and its interaction with the environment.

Cultural landscapes also denote the visual expression of human relationships to natural environment. It reflects the net effect of a groups, technology, values, beliefs, tools and goals on the natural environment. It is created and transformed by human symbolic action.

It is as historical transformation and modification of aspects of nature. The religious landscape shows influence of religion on cultural landscape as religion is vital part of culture. Such landscapes are called as sacred landscapes or holy places. The content of religious landscape is varied ranging from houses of worship to cemeteries, way side shrines and place name, moreover, religion can hap landscape features such as settlement pattern. The landscape of India reflects the Hindu belief system. The UNESCO has broadly classified Indian cultural heritage into five categories:

  • Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage.
  • Performing arts
  • Social practices, rituals and festive events
  • Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe.
  • Traditional craftsmanship

UNESCO While giving due consideration to the UNESCO, in the Indian perspective of the Indian cultural heritage, specially referring to holy-heritage cities like Pandharpur, various attributes of the Indian cultural heritage can be classified into ten broad categories,

  • Oral and Literary Traditions
  • Performance Arts, Sports
  • Films
  • Parikrama/ Yatras, Pilgrimages
  • Rituals and Festivals
  • Traditional Art, Architecture & Craftsmanship
  • Scholastic Traditions
  • Indigenous Knowledge
  • Memorials, icons and Saints’ associated sites and performances
  • Birth places and memorials of Literates

Design Considerations and Objectives:

The research proposes to design guidelines for a cohesive pilgrimage environment integrating the user i.e. pilgrims, tourists, locals. The proposal evolves from the various activities of this user and addressing their issues and the need of the site.

  • The aim is to design a public space enhancing the user experience retaining their activities.
  • The Proposal has to also evolve from the current site study, Mapping of the site, Identifying Issues and Case studies. The Architectural Design Programme Areas has to be derived from appropriate Case Studies, Footfall, Architecture Standards, National Building Code (NBC) and Development control regulations (DCR).
  • Preserve and revitalize the soul of heritage town to reflect the town’s unique character by encouraging the development of an aesthetically appealing, accessible, informative and secured environment.
  • To undertake strategic and planned development for Pandharpur with the aim of improving the overall quality of life with a specific focus on the waterfront, security, tourism, heritage revitalization, livelihoods, and retaining the city’s cultural identity.
  • The development shall be in tune with the nature, culture, history and traditions of the place. Inspiration and learnings shall be taken from natural elements of the site and the traditional designs of the region which improve its sustainability and also creates a sense of identity.
  • To evolve an architecture space that goes beyond its religious intents and pays tribute to the ritualistic events and significance associated with the river, town’s forms and function.
  • To create a canvas for expression of the community’s way of life centred on the river.
  • To establish the primal, connect between water and land, significant in the Indian way of life.

Proposed Guidelines and Framework:

The following guidelines and framework can be taken into consideration for any proposed development. First and foremost, the agenda is to maintain the Indianness and the characteristics of the site.

  • Creating a Religious and Cultural Riverfront along with cultural action plan – To retain and enhance the religious, culture, heritage, and indigenous occupational activities.
  • Ecological and Environmental preservation- Identify and implement environmental protection laws and rules, priorities to protect water quality and other sensitive natural features.
  • Designing development that is in harmony with the natural character of the area.

The religious form integrated with landscape, thereby, creating an enriching experience by responding to the context of water, existing diversity of activities, and forming a visually dominant landmark. Encourage development of appropriate design, scale, and use to improve the utilization of public lands and to improve resident’s quality of life.

  • People from all cross-sections of society and abilities shall be able to enjoy and make the most of the development.
  • A strong network of public transit, shared streets and non-motorised transportation facilities shall be created allowing for safe commute for people of all ages .
  • Responding to the context with an intelligent and sustainable architecture, understanding the implications of a strong historic setting on the emergence of new development.
  • For a sustainable environment, various components of a city that need synergy with each other.
  • Development should consider the current and future demands on them. Emphasis shall be placed on the life cycle costs which will consider the initial capital, maintenance, and renewal costs.
  • Creative ideas come from everywhere and that the collective vision for a project is higher than any individual vision. To ensure that the outcomes meet the project development requirements, stakeholders, government agencies and field experts need to actively collaborate.
  • In order that cultural heritage becomes a sustainable resource for development.
  • To effectively use The Public-Private Partnership for project viability. The Public-Private Partnership is a business model that is funded and operated through a partnership of a government agency and one or more private sector companies.

Concluding Remarks:

Religious sites are thus a multi-layered complex system and the solving of the various issues is based on the understanding of that cultural landscape. As it involves constant human interaction with space along with a past background and the changes proposed should be sustainable and well moderated as the time changes. The proposals should be well balanced considering the various aspects especially that of humanity and that of rootedness, (regional approach) with the identity of the place. This will promote a healthy and sustainable Indian Cultural Landscape.


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(This paper was presented by Ar. Chinar Balsaraf at  Indic Yatra conference)




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