Popular Pandharpur Padayatra to the Vitthal temple, Maharastra -a strenuous religious undertaking!!

Ashadhi Ekadashi, Pandharpur, MH resultshub.net
Pandharpur Padyatra, MH .padayatra.com
Padyatra (Sanskrit, lit. journey by foot) is of two types. The journey (may be long or short) on foot with sandals on  is  undertaken by  politicians or prominent citizens to  a specified place. The purpose is interaction with different communities to expose a cause  and educate people about certain social issues and gather their support. Nowadays invariably politicians across the country, with exceptions, undertake this padayatra for publicity bonanza to hog the limelight. Nowadays they go for padayartra to create misvhief to the ruling parties by creating law and order problems. Among  power-hundry Indian politicians, unfortunately Padayatra that was made popular by freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhiji, it has become  a wrong tool in the past decade or so. 

On the other hand Pada Yatras or 'Foot pilgrimages' are  mostly Hindu religious pilgrimages undertaken to certain sacred/ sanctified  temples during  certain  holy periods of the year. The pilgrims walk barefoot to far off places, some times covering more than 100 kms  from their home. This religious undertaking is done by them with intense devotion and bhakti  to  have their wish fulfilled  by the almighty and before that they have to strictly follow certain austerity measures.
padayatra to Vitthal temple  punebuzz.com

The well known padayatras  by the Hindu pilgrims are: In the western  Maharashtra state of  India Varkaris / pilgrims practice a regular walk to religious places like Dehu, Alandi and Pandharpur. Ashadhi Ekadashi, Kartiki Ekadashi, Maghi Ekadashi and Chaitra Ekadashi are some of the popular days when pilgrims reach Pandharpur to worship Vithoba.  Mantralaya Paadayatra - to worship saint shri Raghavendra Swamy, Shri Datta Paadayatra to worship lord Dattatreya,  Murgod Paadayatra to shri Shiva Chidambar swamy from Dharwad city of Karnataka state.
In Tamil Nadui the padayatra to the Palani Muruga (Dandayudhapani; Subramanya and Karthkaya) temple during Thaipusam (Jan-February) is a famous one as the idol in the temple on the holy Palani hill was consecrated by a great Siddhar Bhogar (one of the Eighteen ''Siddha Purushas' who had mystic powers').
As for Padayatras to Pandharpur Lord Vitthal temple,  over a million pilgrims  a year  walk barefoot for  several days and it is said to be  one of the world’s biggest pilgrimages
or varies, This  800- year-old tradition has been around since the time of saint Dnyaneshwar, founder of  the Bhagvat sect. Subsequently many great saints of Maharastras like  Saint Tukaram and Saint Eknath, et al  popularized this vari/pilgrimage tradition  to inculcate bhakti and religious commitments for good causes.  The unique feature is the pilgrims reverentially carry the  padukas - replica of wooden sandals of holy saints representing the four famous saints who promoted Bhakti tradition to the abode of  Lord Vitthal in Pandharpur and to attain salvation (free from the cycles of birth and death) - the ultimate religious goal of the Hindus. 

Normally such padayatras are a tough religious undertaking and senior citizens above 65  avoid them as they have to walk long distances. Mostly, they walk between 5 am till 10 am and then from 3 or 4 pm till 8 pm. On the way, they get free accommodation at choultries (free lodging) if they are available.   
 There are  many groups or dindis (groups of varkaris) in major  cities in Maharastra and they take care of  food and accommodation of the yatrikas  upon registration. In this state to become a a varkari - pilgrim, there are neither  pre-conditios nor  rituals.  No caste, gender or class barriers. They follow the simple message of saint  Tukaram : “All you need is a heart full of love....” There are women and children in every dindi. Most dindis charge nominal fees.  Towns Alandi and Dehu are  about 25 km from Pune. If you want to join a Dindi to undertake the pilgrimage contact the Saint Dnyaneshwar Samadhi Mandir at Alandi for additional information.
The pilgrims form groups and undertake the long arduous journey from distant places like Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Karnataka, Gujarat, etc waking more than 40 days. Duration  of walks depends on the age of the pilgrims. A sea of humanity will converge  at the

Vitthal temple on Ashadhi Ekadashi (in July), a holy day according to the Hindu calendar. Senior citizens normally undertake this journey in part by walk and in part by motor vehicles. Chanting relevant mantras, pilgrims, as a tradition, follow the routes undertaken by the great saints Dnyaneshwar (from Alandi) and Tukaram Vari (from Dehu). They will have  rendezvous at the Varkari village near Pandharpur, and  from there walk together to the temple, being their final destination.

Wari has gone through many changes  over the past  700 or 800 years since its inception and, today, media reports mention that  it is  a fine  model example of  crowd Management every year.
In the 1820s, the pilgrimage underwent  many changes initiated by the descendants of Tukaram and Haibatrav Baba Arphalkar, a devotee of Dnyaneshwar and a courtier of the Princely state of Gwalior kingdom.  It is said that saint  Dnyaneshwar’s father, Vitthalpant used to visit  Pandharpur in the month of Ashadha and Kartik prior to the 14th century. However, another record says that Saint Dnyaneshwar in the 13th century and Saint Tukaram in the 17th century started long journey  to Pandharpur on foot  to pray at the Vitthal temple. It was Narayan Maharaj, son of Saint Tukaram who promoted  the  the tradition of carrying the padukas of the Saints in 1685.  Tukaram Maharaj (17th century ) was born in Dehu village near Pune and his devotional hymns known as Abhangs were devoted to Lord Vithoba.  His ''Bhakti Movement'' played a vital  role in Maharajah  Shivaji’s rise  and gave him inspiration to courageously  fight against the treacherous foreign invaders.