IT was another kind of pilgrimage by a different kind of parivar . There were no trishul -wielding, saffron-clad mobs chanting Jai Sri Ram, nor did they visit any pilgrim spot. Virtually unnoticed by the media, from March 14 to 19, some 70,000 Swadhyayees from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and northern Andhra Pradesh stormed 6,700 villages and 100 cities of Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to seek the 'indwelling God' among their denizens. On March 20, they converged at Kurukshetra where founder and 76-year-old Vedic scholar Pandurang Shastri Athavale, fondly called Dada (elder brother), addressed a lakhstrong gathering.
Founded in 1954, when, along with 19 youths, Athavale went on the first such bhakti pheri (pilgrimage) to Saurashtra, today the Swadhyaya movement has two lakh 'active' adherents from all walks of life—industrialists, businessmen, lawyers, farmers, fisherfolk, beedi workers, harijans and tribals—who have rejected caste and class barriers and meet as equals. Concentrated mainly in the three western states and pockets of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana, the Swadhyayees religiously perform bhakti pheris for a total of 15 days a year and, over the past four decades, have brought about a silent 'social and economic transformation' which has astounded social scientists.
Eminent sociologist J.P.S. Uberoi is 'amazed' that such teamwork is possible in India and believes Swadhyaya offers truly indigenous development solutions. Former director of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Narayan Sheth, describes it as an "exceptional intervention in society". And D.L. Sheth, senior fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, marvels at the 'holistic vision', saying, it addresses a range of dichotomies of the Indian society.
In some 80,000 villages...