Pune is famously known as the cultural capital of Maharashtra. There are unique ways in which the city celebrates certain festivals and events. The city and its people define their character and they in turn define the character of the city.
These cultural events in Pune are some of the best times to visit this city.
1. Pandharpur Wari
This is the procession that starts from Pune and culminates at the Vithoba temple in Pandharpur. People of the warkari sect undertake this almost 200 km pilgrimage every year. The date is not fixed as it depends on the lunar calendar; the warkaris reach the temple at Pandharpur on the occasion of Ashadhi Ekadashi.
Two main waris (religious processions), belonging to the great saints Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram leave from Pune district. Devotees carry a palkhi (palanquin) with the saints’ padukas (footprints). They leave from Alandi and Dehu respectively. The city of Pune is their first night halt.
We witnessed this wari from the Sambhaji bridge, over the Mutha river in Pune. The warkaris had walked around 30 km from Alandi to Pune. It hadn’t rained much that day, the sun hadn’t been mellow. But the energy of these pilgrims defied the day-long tiring walk.
Over the next 18 days, the warkaris carry this palkhi all the way to Pandharpur, singing and dancing to the devotional songs and chants.
It’s a mega logistical exercise for the city administration. But it is one of those events which defines the character of a city. It is important to embrace these events and appreciate the life that unfolds. Such occasions give a far better understanding of a city than any “things to do or see” list.
2. Ganpati festival and the visarjan day
Rio has its carnival, Pune has the visarjan day. Pune is where the public celebration of the Ganpati festival began. It was started with the intention of bringing people together during India’s freedom struggle. With pride and reverence, Pune, and the people of Pune have preserved the tradition that started over a century ago.
It is recommended to experience the Ganesh festival in two stages. First, on one of the nights, doing the rounds of the pandals. And then, on the visarjan/immersion day (Anant Chaturdashi).
You must leave home early, before the roads are blocked for the visarjan miravnuk (immersion parade). Get yourself on Laxmi road, and grab a spot on higher ground. It is best to find a local friend to take you there. Or befriend yourself with some family that lives along the Laxmi road. You will see the crowds increase and in no time, the scenes are nothing short of a carnival.
Starting with Kasba Ganpati, the five “manache Ganpati” (revered Ganpatis) follow in a fixed order. No other pandals are allowed to take their idols out before these five are immersed. Young guys and girls, as part of the “dhol-tasha pathaks” play the drums to traditional beats. School children perform the traditional “lejhim” dance. Massive rangolis are drawn outside each pandal. Photography enthusiasts make a beeline for this procession. Volunteer groups are busy keeping the crowds in order. This radiating energy is balanced by the calm demeanour of the Ganesh idols following these groups in carts decorated mesmerisingly with flowers.
By late afternoon the fifth idol has made its way to the river bank for immersion. The crowds quickly dissipate before the other idols come out on the street for a not-so-traditional version of Ganpati visarjan.
While the shops and restaurants on Laxmi road are all shut on visarjan day, you can grab a quick bite in one of the age old eateries on the adjoining roads.
3. Tripura Purnima
This is officially the last day of the Diwali festival, also known as Kartiki Purnima or Tulsi vivaha. Just like on Diwali day, people light lamps in their homes.
The city of Pune has a special display of these lit lamps, in a pretty special place! The oldest structure in Pune, called Pataleshwar caves are rock-cut caves and temple, around 1300 years old, situated on one of the arterial roads of Pune, the Jungli Maharaj Road. We were told that they light several lamps here for Tripura Purnima.
I hadn’t imagined this sight of “lit lamps” to be a magical glittering world of thousands of pantya (earthen lamps made from the locally sourced mud – for those who like fancy). Along all the pathways and passages, around the giant trees, and on the massive rangolis, everywhere you look, you’ll see a field of these shimmering lights. They are also placed in the forms of Swastik, stars, OM.
From the Pataleshwar Caves, you can enter another historic temple, the Jungli Maharaj temple, which also is a glittering sight.
Being in the midst of these ancient structures, all dressed up, right in the city, is an experience like no other!
If you are planning to visit from Mumbai, drive down a day earlier, preferably in a good light. Make use of Pune to Bangalore flight, and combine these events as a long-weekend-holiday from Bangalore. After these cultural experiences, you can also go for some natural outings around Pune.
These experiences are ingrained in the life of the people of Pune. To an outsider, they are not short of a spectacle.