How Volunteers made Waari at Pandharpur a “Clean” Success!

Waari is a holy pilgrimage in Maharashtra that consists of lakhs of devotees walking about 250 km over several days. Waari is undertaken in the Hindu month of Aashaadh (around June-July) and devotees walk with Sant Tukaram Maharaj Palkhi (palanquin) from Dehu and Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Palkhi from Alandi to Pandharpur, where they offer their respects to Bhagwan Vitthala (also known as Vithoba or Panduranga, an avatar of Bhagwan Vishnu).

The participants in the Waari are called ‘Waarakaris’. In over 700 years of waari tradition, no stampede or chaos has ever taken place. Other groups also walk from southern states like Karnataka, Andhara Pradesh etc. The waarkaris are mainly agriculturists and many of them are poor. A chain of lakhs of men, women and children walking for miles with non-stop chants of Gyaanbaa-Tukaaraam on their lips, is an incredible spectacle.

waari Vitthala

This year’s waari, which concluded today with a MahaPuja at Shri Vitthal-Rukmini Mandir, Pandharpur, was unique because for the first time in it’s history, efforts of volunteers, social organizations, State Government and local administration ensured a ‘Nirmal’ (clean) Waari. The story of how this was made possible has been provided by Hetal Rach (twitter id @heytal), a Pune based IT entrepreneur associated with Seva Sahayog Foundation, the key organization behind the ‘Nirmal Waari’ drive.

“The waari consists of two different routes, meeting together at a couple of places, and finally at the destination. The waari schedule is fixed and so are night halts. The locations of night halts vary from big cities like Pune to small villages. While the waari is seen as very holy, the after-effects are not pleasant. Imagine a small village, lots of people turn up for an overnight stay, and leave in the morning. What could happen? The village doesn’t have appropriate facilities for waste and sewage disposal. The aftermath is to be borne by the villagers.

But there had to be a solution to this. The waarkari numbers are increasing every year, the scheduled halt places are the same, and sanitation expectations increasing. Last year, @sevasahayog did a pilot. They chose two locations and provided 200 portable toilets at each location. It was an awesome success! This year, they’ve been planning this for about 6 months – all volunteers – spent time meeting govt officials, sponsors etc.

The Govt of Maharashtra agreed to put up toilets at all locations for the entire Waari due to these efforts. 500 Toilets on Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Palkhi Route, and 300 on Tukaram Maharaj Palkhi Route. These toilets are being put up in 2 sets. One in use, and other being dismantled, transported and set up. The destination, Pandharpur, will have 1500+ toilets in total, as both sets reach there.

For the first time in history, portable toilets were provided at all the scheduled halts for the waari


But is putting up toilets sufficient? Just put up toilets and people will go there? The pilot results gave different results. People needed to be prodded to go into the toilets. Lights, water, cleanliness needed! The folks planning this out, involved the locals, the elected reps, administrators, social orgs etc. Water arrangements were planned for, and lights were arranged at each location.

The toilet company provided cleaning staff. But the biggest challenge? Volunteers! Thousands of volunteers were needed – to persuade, prod, urge folks to use toilets. Every location needed 250+ per night. Ah yes, the real work would be in the nights. The toilets were used max between 7-10 pm and 1:30-7 AM. While volunteers came in from different organizations, a large chunk came from .

Volunteers from RSS, Seva Sahyog and other social organizations ensured the success of ‘Nirmal Waari’

Waari9 Waari10

Water, Light etc. is ok, but what do you do of the slurry? The answer was transfer to Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) where available, and where the STP wasn’t available, took it up as a challenge. A pilot was done about a month before the waari. The solution was to dump it into a pit. The challenge – quick decomposition, without affecting groundwater or surroundings. Shallow pits are being used, with some bio-chemical additives to accelerate decomposition.The pits are away from the village.

A Rangoli group joined in, and decided to make Rangolis all over the route. These asked people for a Nirmal Waari. The result – the grounds which were earlier full of human excreta, now have toilets. Once the toilets have moved out, the ground is clean. Regular reporting and backoffice support was being provided. Learnings from one location were carried over and rectified later.

Another thing – Once the waari and toilets moved out, the village was disinfected. This disinfection drive helped bring things back to normal very quickly. The villagers were very happy !

Disinfection in progress at Waari night halt location
Disinfection in progress at Waari night halt location

Now some statistics – total slurry collection from portable toilets, for all locations excluding Pune and Pandharpur, was 42.86 Lakh Litres. The toilets have been used about 25 Lakh times over the last 17-18 days. Just imagine! There was no large scale temporary toilet deployment for Waarkari’s last year (except pilot study) and none 2 years ago.

In case you want to contribute, donate here – – Nirmal Waari needs help.”

The spirit shown by Seva Sahyog, RSS and other volunteers, backed by a responsive State Government, should act as an inspiration for all Hindus. The challenges we face are not insurmountable, provided we apply our minds, collaborate and persevere.

(HinduPost expresses its sincere gratitude to Hetal Rach for sharing this uplifting story on how a small group of people can get more folks to join them and achieve the unimaginable. All images credit goes to Hetal Rach )

  • Shrinivas Tilak, PhD

    This is a very informative write up about a ‘nirmal’ wari’ to Pandharpur in 2016, which was made possible through commendable collaboration of Seva Sahyog, volunteers provided by the RSS and other organizations, and a very responsive State Government of Maharashtra. Here are my responses concerning the efforts made to make the wari to Pandharpur ‘nirmal’:

    (1) The biggest challenge to a successful ‘nirmal’ wari was volunteers. At every stop en route 250+ volunteers were needed per night ‘to persuade, prod, and urge varkaris to use toilets.’ Unawareness of collective or social hygiene is an ongoing major weakness in Indian civilization. Varkaris should not get the impression that sanitation service (or any service for that matter) is offered to them free of charge. They must not develop a sense of entitlement to it. Every varkari should be charged one rupee per day for it (During Acharya Vinobaji Bhave’s Bhudan yajna campaign, all recipients were required to contribute in cash, kind, or labor for land or other services received by landless farm workers). Varkaris themselves must become willing and active partners and participants in the enterprise of making their wari ‘nirmal.’ Hopefully, then, volunteers won’t be needed in future years.

    (2) Another major challenge was disposal of ‘slurry.’ The article says (somewhat half-heartedly) that slurry was transferred to Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) where available. Where the STP was not available, slurry was dumped into shallow pits. To assure quick decomposition (without affecting groundwater or surroundings), bio-chemical additives were used.

    I have a nagging suspicion that ‘slurry’ was not disposed of efficiently. Hopefully (again), a more eco-friendly and more effective solution will be made available in future years. Use of bio-chemical additives will be discouraged.

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