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.

Palkhi 2008
A Varkari, carrying an ektari with a saffron flag attached and Chiplya cymbals tied to strings in his hands, journeying from Alandi to Pandharpur


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.[1]

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.[2][3]

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.[4] 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.[5]


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.[6]


  1. ^ Schomer, Karine; McLeod, W. H., eds. (1987). The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 3–4. ISBN 9788120802773.
  2. ^ "The wari tradition". Wari Santanchi. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  3. ^ Mokashi, Digambar Balkrishna; Engblom, Philip C (Translator) (1987). Palkhi: An Indian Pilgrimage. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 18. ISBN 0-88706-461-2.
  4. ^ and page 21 of
  5. ^ Mokashi, Digambar Balkrishna; Engblom, Philip C (Translator) (1987). Palkhi: An Indian Pilgrimage. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 264. ISBN 0-88706-461-2.
  6. ^ Dikshit, S H (1971). Varkari. Wai Maharashtra: Marathi Vishwakosh. Retrieved 3 April 2015.

Further reading


Abhang or abhanga (Marathi: अभंग) is a form of devotional poetry sung in praise of the Hindu god Vitthala, also known as Vithoba. The word "abhang" comes from a for "non-" and bhang for "ending" or "interrupting", in other words, a flawless, continuous process, in this case referring to a poem. By contrast, the devotional songs known as Bhajans focus on the inward journey. Abhangs are more exuberant expressions of the communitarian experience. Abhanga is considered a form of the ovi. Abhangs are sung during pilgrimage to the temples of Pandharpur, by the devotees.


Amrutanubhav or Amritanubhav is a composition by the Marathi saint and poet Jñāneśvar during the 13th century. It is considered to be a milestone in Marathi literature.


Bahinabai (1628–1700 AD) or Bahina or Bahini is a Varkari female-saint from Maharashtra, India. She is considered as a disciple of another Varkari poet-saint Tukaram. Having been born in a brahmin family, Bahinabai was married to a widower at a young age and spent most of her childhood wandering around Maharashtra along with her family. She describes, in her autobiography Atmamanivedana, her spiritual experiences with a calf and visions of the Varkari's patron deity Vithoba and Tukaram. She reports being subjected to verbal and physical abuse by her husband, who despised her spiritual inclination but who finally accepted her chosen path of devotion (bhakti). Unlike most female-saints who never married or renounced their married life for God, Bahinabai remained married her entire life.

Bahinabai's abhanga compositions, written in Marathi, focus on her troubled marital life and the regret being born a woman. Bahinabai was always torn between her duties to her husband and her devotion to Vithoba. Her poetry mirrors her compromise between her devotion to her husband and God.


Chokhamela was a saint in Maharashtra, India in the 14th century. He belonged to the Mahar caste, considered "untouchable" in India in that era. He was born at Mehuna Raja, a village in Deulgaon Raja Taluka of Buldhana district. He lived at Mangalvedha in Maharashtra. He wrote many Abhangas. He was one of the first Dalit poets in India.

Chokhamela lived with his wife Soyarabai and son Karmamela in Mangalvedha. Chokhamela's task was to guard and work in farms of uppercast people . As a lower-caste person, Chokha was forced to live outside the town in a separate settlement for members of the untouchable caste.

His family also followed varkari sect.

Soyarabai - Wife

Nirmala - Sister and her husband Banka (who is brother of Soyarabai)

Karmamela - SonHe was initiated into bhakti spirituality by the poet-saint Namdev (1270-1350). Once when he visited Pandharpur, he listened to Sant Namdev's kirtan. Already a devotee of Vitthal alias Vithoba, Chokha was moved by Namdev's teachings.

Later, he moved to Pandharpur. The traditional story is that the upper castes here did not allow him to enter the temple, nor did they allow him to stand in the door of the temple, so he instead built a hut on the other side of the river Chandrabhaga.

While working on construction of a wall in Mangalvedha, near Pandharpur, the wall fell down, crushing some workers. Chokha was one of them. His tomb is in front of the Vitthal temple, Pandharpur, where it can be seen to this day. According to a legend the bones of the dead Chokhamela were still chanting Vitthal, Vitthal, apparently yearning to visit the Vitthal temple. The bones were buried at the footsteps of the Vitthal temple. In early 20th century, the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar attempted to visit the temple, but was stopped at the burial site of Chokhamela and denied entry beyond that point for being a Mahar.Sant Chokhamela information in Marathi - he is a great sant from Maharashtra.


Dnyaneshwar (IAST: Jñāneśvar), also referred to as Jnaneshwar, Jnanadeva, Dnyandev or Mauli (1275–1296) was a 13th-century Marathi saint, poet, philosopher and yogi of the Nath tradition. In his short life of 21 years, he authored Dnyaneshwari (a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita) and Amrutanubhav. These are the oldest surviving literary works in the Marathi language, under the patronage of the Yadava dynasty of Devagiri, and these are considered to be milestones in Marathi literature. Dnyaneshwar's ideas reflect the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta philosophy and an emphasis on Yoga and oneness of Vishnu and Shiva. His legacy inspired saint-poets such as Eknath and Tukaram, and he has been one of the foundations of the Varkari (Vithoba-Krishna) Bhakti movement tradition of Hinduism in Maharashtra.


Eknath (1533–1599) was a prominent Marathi sant, scholar and religious poet of the Varkari sampradaya. In the development of Marathi literature, Eknath is seen as a bridge between his predecessors—Dnyaneshwar and Namdev—and the later Tukaram and Ramdas.

Gora Kumbhar

Sant Gora Kumbhar (also known as Goroba) was a Hindu sant associated with the Bhakti movement and the Varkari sect of Maharashtra. He was a potter by trade and devotee of Vithal.Gora Kumbhar and other saints also wrote and sung hundreds of Abhangs (Shabads which can not be destroyed). The central tenet of the Varkari sect was the daily chanting of Kirtan. This sect attached least importance to the position/status of person in society.

Janardan Swami

Janardan Swami (or Janardana) (1504 -1575) was an Indian scholar, statesman, a prominent Marathi sant, religious poet of the Varkari sampradaya and a devotee of Dattatreya. He was the guru of Eknath.In addition to Marathi, he also composed some verses in Hindi.


Kanhopatra (or Kanhupatra) was a 15th-century Marathi saint-poet, venerated by the Varkari sect of Hinduism.

Little is known about Kanhopatra. According to most traditional accounts, Kanhopatra was a courtesan and dancing-girl. These accounts typically concentrate on her death when she chose to surrender to the Hindu god Vithoba—the patron god of the Varkaris—rather than becoming a concubine of the Badshah (king) of Bidar. She died in the central shrine of Vithoba in Pandharpur. She is the only person whose samadhi (mausoleum) is within the precincts of the temple.

Kanhopatra wrote Marathi ovi and abhanga poetry telling of her devotion to Vithoba and her struggle to balance her piety with her profession. In her poetry, she implores Vithoba to be her saviour and release her from the clutches of her profession. About thirty of her abhangas have survived, and continue to be sung today. She is the only female Varkari saint to have attained sainthood based solely on her devotion, without the support of any guru, male Varkari saint, or parampara (tradition or lineage).


Muktabai or Mukta was a saint in the Varkari tradition. She was born in a Deshastha Brahmin family and was the younger sister of Dnyaneshwar, the first Varkari saint. Muktabai wrote forty-one abhangs throughout her life span.


Namdev, also transliterated as Nam Dayv, Namdeo, Namadeva, (traditionally, c. 1270 – c. 1350) was an Indian poet and saint from Maharashtra, India who is significant to the Varkari sect of Hinduism. Bhagat Namdev's writings were also recognized by the "Gurus" of Sikhism and are included in the holy book of Sikhism, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Namdev worship lord Vitthal that is one of the name of lord Vishnu. Also other Hindu warrior-ascetic traditions such as the Dadupanthis and the Niranjani Sampraday that emerged in north India during the Islamic rule.

The details of Namdev's life are unclear. He is the subject of many miracle-filled hagiographies composed centuries after he died. Scholars find these biographies to be inconsistent and contradictory.Namdev was influenced by Vaishnavism, and became widely known in India for his devotional songs set to music (bhajan-kirtans). His philosophy contains both nirguna and saguna Brahman elements, with monistic themes. Namdev's legacy is remembered in modern times in the Varkari tradition, along with those of other gurus, with masses of people walking together in biannual pilgrimages to Pandharpur in south Maharashtra.


Nivruttinath (c. 1273 – 1297) was a 13th-century Marathi Bhakti saint, poet, philosopher and yogi of the Nath tradition. He was the elder brother and the teacher (guru) of Dnyaneshwar, the first Varkari saint.

Ovi (poetry)

Ovee (ovee, literally "strung together"), also spelled as owi or owee, is a poetic metre used in Marathi poems for "rhythmic prose", generally used in narrative poems. A poem using this metre is also called an ovee. Ovee is one of the "oldest Marathi song genres still performed today". It has been in use since the 13th century in written poetry; however, oral traditions of women's ovee pre-date the literary ovee. While literary ovee is used by the Varkari saints in bhakti (devotional) literature, women's ovee is passed via the oral tradition through generations of women, who sing them while working or for pleasure.


Pundalik (Marathi: पुंडलिक) or Pundarik is a central figure in the legends of the Hindu God Vithoba, generally considered a Vaishnava deity identified with the deities Vishnu and Krishna. He is credited to have brought Vithoba to Pandharpur, where Vithoba's central shrine stands today. Pundalik is also perceived to be the historical founder of the Varkari sect, which is centered on the worship of Lord Vithoba.

Pundalik was one of the earliest Kundalini Yoga practitioners. As He was the master of Kundalini Yoga, people used to call him "Kundalik".

Later, after several years, Kundalik become Pundalik. He symbolised Kundalini energy in the form of Lord Vitthal also known as Lord Pandurang after his name Pundalik.

Pandharpur's Vitthal was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna. According to legends it also depicts the symbol of the Kundalini Energy, although spiritually, the same energy dwells in all.

The brick on which Lord Vitthal is standing is the basic chakra of Kundalini energy known as Muladhara Chakra. Both hands, like bows, represents Ida and Pingla nadis which cross over at the central body of Sushumna or Brahma nadi. Body represents purusha means Vishnu or Krishna and the tilaka or the mark on the head represents Ajna Chakra or guru chakra or third-eye chakra is the subtle center of energy, believed to be located between the eyebrows, located behind it along the subtle (non-physical) spinal column, as said by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita.

Many Kings and other noblemen were devotees of Pundalik and they built the famous Vitthal temple at Pandharpur. The age old practice of the Kundalini Yoga converted the shrine into a holy place and truth seekers from all over the world were directed here by the divine to activate and raise their Kundalini energy by the very natural process of Bhakti, the highest form of Love anyone can express.

Shayani Ekadashi

Shayani Ekadashi (lit. "sleeping eleventh") or Maha-ekadashi (lit. "The great eleventh") or Prathama-ekadashi (lit. "The first eleventh") or Padma Ekadashi or Devshayani Ekadashi or Devpodhi Ekadashi is the eleventh lunar day (Ekadashi) of the bright fortnight (Shukla paksha) of the Hindu month of Ashadha (June - July). Thus it is also known as Ashadhi Ekadashi or Ashadhi.It is known as Toli Ekadashi in Telugu.This holy day is of special significance to Vaishnavas, followers of the Hindu protector God, Lord Vishnu.


Sant Sopandeo was a sant of the Varkari and also the younger brother of Dnyaneshwar.

Sopan(1277 A.D- 1296 A.D), attained samadhi at Saswad near Pune. He wrote a book, the Sopandevi based on the Marathi translation of the Bhagavad Gita along with 50 or so abhangs.


Tukaram, also referred to as Sant Tukaram, Bhakta Tukaram, Tukaram Maharaj, Tukoba and Tukobaraya, was a 17th-century Hindu poet and sant of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra, India. He was part of the egalitarian, personalized Varkari devotionalism tradition. Tukaram is best known for his devotional poetry called Abhanga and community-oriented worship with spiritual songs known as kirtans. His poetry was devoted to Vitthala or Vithoba, an avatar of Hindu god Vishnu.

Visoba Khechara

Visoba Khechara (unknown - 1309 CE), spelled also as Visoba Khechar or Visoba Khecar, was the yogi-guru of the Varkari poet-saint Namdev (c.1270-1350) of Maharashtra, India. Visoba was a disciple of the Varkari poet-saint Jñāneśvar (c. 1275-1296). He had linkages with the Varkari tradition as well as the Nath tradition of Maharashtra. He preached the omnipresence of God and thus denounced idol-worship. Though a staunch Shaiva, Visoba has composed verses in praise of the god Vithoba, the patron deity of the Varkari faith. He has also composed a metaphysical treatisecalled the Shatsthala.


Vithoba, also known as Vitthal, Vitthala and Panduranga, is a Hindu deity predominantly worshipped in the Indian state of Maharashtra. He is generally considered a manifestation of the god Vishnu or his avatar, Krishna. Vithoba is often depicted as a dark young boy, standing arms akimbo on a brick, sometimes accompanied by his main consort Rakhumai.

Vithoba is the focus of an essentially monotheistic, non-ritualistic bhakti-driven Varkari faith of Maharashtra and the Haridasa faith.Vitthal Temple, Pandharpur is his main temple. Vithoba legends revolve around his devotee Pundalik, who is credited with bringing the deity to Pandharpur, and around Vithoba's role as a saviour to the poet-saints of the Varkari faith. The Varkari poet-saints are known for their unique genre of devotional lyric, the abhang, dedicated to Vithoba and composed in Marathi. Other devotional literature dedicated to Vithoba includes the hymns of the Haridasa and the Marathi versions of the generic aarti songs associated with rituals of offering light to the deity. The most important festivals of Vithoba are held on Shayani Ekadashi in the month of Ashadha, and Prabodhini Ekadashi in the month of Kartik.

The historiography of Vithoba and his cult is an area of continuing debate, even regarding his name. Various Indologists have proposed a prehistory for Vithoba worship where he was previously: a hero stone, a pastoral deity, a manifestation of Shiva, a Jain saint, or even all of these at various times for various devotees. Though the origins of both his cult and his main temple are likewise debated, there is clear evidence that they already existed by the 13th century.

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