Vithoba Temple, Pandharpur

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Vithoba Temple, Pandharpur
Chief (eastern) entrance of the temple, with houses the "Namdeva chi Payari". The small blue temple in front of the gate is saint Chokhamela's memorial.
Chief (eastern) entrance of the temple, with houses the "Namdeva chi Payari". The small blue temple in front of the gate is saint Chokhamela's memorial.
Vithoba Temple, Pandharpur is located in Maharashtra
Vithoba Temple, Pandharpur
Vithoba Temple, Pandharpur
Location in Maharashtra
Coordinates: 17°40′N 75°20′E / 17.67°N 75.33°E / 17.67; 75.33Coordinates: 17°40′N 75°20′E / 17.67°N 75.33°E / 17.67; 75.33
Name
Proper name: Shri Vitthala-Rukmini Mandir
Location
Country: India
State: Maharashtra
Location: Pandharpur
Architecture and culture
Primary deity: Vithoba alias Vitthala
Architectural styles: Hemadpanthi
History
Date built:
(Current structure)
unknown, before 13th century
Creator: The Pandharpur temple was built in the middle of the thirteenth century by King Visnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty.

Vithoba temple, Pandharpur is the main centre of worship for the Hindu deity Vithoba, believed to be a local form of god Krishna or Vishnu and his consort Rakhumai. It is the most visited temple in Maharastra. The Warkaris start marching from their homes to the temple of Pandharpur in groups called Dindi to reach on Aashadhi ekadashi and Kartiki ekadashi. A dip in the holy river Chandrabhaga on whose banks Pandharpur resides, is believed to have power to wash all sins.All the devotees are allowed to touch the feet of the idol of Vithoba.In May 2014, the temple became first in India to invite women and people from backward classes as priests.[1]

Legend of Pundalik[edit]

The central image of Vithoba

The saga of Pundalik is one of the most important Mahima legends about Vithoba. How Vithoba came to Pandharpur is a story in which Pundalik is vital. Pundalik is a devoted son to his parents Janudev and Satyavati, who lived in a forest called Dandirvan. But after his wedding, Pundalik begins ill-treating his parents. Tired with their son’s misbehavior and ill treatment, the elderly couple decide to leave for Kashi. Legend holds that people who die in the city of Kashi attain salvation and emancipation from the cycle of birth and death; so, many pious Hindus in the bygone era would relocate to Kashi as their end drew near.

However, the elderly couple are not destined to escape their suffering so easily. Upon hearing his parents' plans, Pundalik and his wife decide to join them on pilgrimage. The ill treatment continues. While the youthful son and his wife ride on horseback, the frail old couple walk in bad weather. Pundalik even makes his old parents work to make his own journey comfortable. Every evening, when the party camps for the night, the son forces his parents to groom the horses and do other jobs.

On the way to Kashi, the group reaches the ashram (hermitage) of a pious and venerable sage, Kukkutswami. Exhausted, the family decides to spend a few days there. That night, when all were asleep, Pundalik by chance is awake and sees a remarkable vision. Just before dawn, a group of beautiful young women, dressed in soiled clothes, enter the ashram; they clean the floor, fetch water and wash the venerable sage’s clothes. After finishing their chores, they go to the prayer-room. When they reappear after prayer, their clothes are spotlessly clean. Then, they vanish as inexplicably as they had appeared.

Pundalik is not moved to raise an alarm, but feels a deep sense of peace witnessing the scene. It remains on his mind the whole day and he resolves to remain awake the next night, and confirm it was not merely a dream. This time, however, Pundalik is very curious. He approaches the beautiful women and asks details.

They reply, they are the Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna and other holy rivers of India—revered for their holiness. Pilgrims wish to take a dip in their holy waters to wash away their sins, which in fact are soiling their clothes.

Then, the women say: "But O Pundalik, you, with your ill-treatment of your parents, are the greatest sinner of them all!"[citation needed]

Pundalik is utterly shocked and his consciousness transforms. He realizes his misdeeds, becomes entirely devoted to his parents and ensures their comfort, even risking his own.

Devotion in any form reaches God swiftly. Impressed by Pundalik's devotion to his parents, Lord Visnu plans to bless Pundalik immediately. So, He leaves Vaikuntha (His abode) for Pundalik’s ashram.

Vishnu knocks at Pundalik’s door, when he is busy serving his parents food. Pundalik does realize God is at his door. But such was his devotion to his parents, he wants to complete his duties and only then attend the visitor. Then, Pundalik does something strange but out of real devotion. He throws a brick outside for God to stand on and wait for him until he finishes attending to his parents.

Seeing this act, Visnu is extremely impressed and the ever-loving God waits for his devotee. When Pundalik comes out, he begs for pardon but far from being displeased, Visnu is taken over by Pundalik's love for his parents and grants a boon. Pundalik requests Visnu to stay back on Earth and bless all his true devotees. He agrees to take the form of Vithoba, or God who stood upon a brick, and a temple comes up there. Along with Vithoba, Rakhumai (Mother Rukmini, the consort of Krishna, one of avatars of Visnu) is also worshipped here.

Namdeva Chi Payari[edit]

The Western gate and shikhara of Vithoba's shrine
The shikhara of Rakhumai's cella

An interesting tale is that of the temple's first step called “Namdev Chi Payari” (step of Namdev). The child and future saint, Namdev was an ardent devotee of Vithoba. One day his mother asks him to complete the ritual of “naivedya” (any food made in the house is first offered to God, the ritual comprises placing the offering plate before the deity and sprinkling water around the plate and with a prayer to God). Namdev faithfully does “naivedya” and waits for God to appear and take the offering. But he is disheartened. He keeps praying and requests God to come in person and accept the offering. With no answer, the child starts banging his head at the feet of God. Seeing this utmost devotion and innocence of a child, God appears, eats the offering and blesses Namdev. Namdev asks for being present in the "first step" at His temple, so that he could innumerable devotees will touch him before having the “darshan” (view). So, this first step is called “Namdev Chi Payari”.

Movement against Untouchability[edit]

In the pre-1947 period untouchables were not allowed to enter the temples, against this communal attitude Gandhian freedom fighter Sane Guruji went on to fast-unto-death, supported by others of the Gandhian movement. He succeeded in getting temple doors opened for all worshiping communities.

Dindi Yatra[edit]

Ashadi Ekadasi is a religious procession and is celebrated during the months of June- July (Aashaadh Shukla paksha). It consists of a beautifully decorated Palkhi having the “padukas” of the lord and the Palkhi procession consists of people collectively walking, singing and dancing the glory of the Lord in what are called as ‘Dindis’. This custom of taking out a holy procession is said to have started in 1810.

Tradition has it that two of the greatest devotees of Lord from the Maharashtra state, Sant Jnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram had set out on a pilgrimage to Lord Vittala from their respective places and reached the Divine Abode in fifteen days time on the auspicious day of Ashadi Ekadasi. Following this set tradition by these great souls, even after their merger with the Divine, devotees from the entire length and breadth of the state and even from outside the state set out for Pandharpur, wearing basil beads and singing His glory on a pilgrimage to reach on this auspicious day to have Divine Darshan. This pilgrimage is traditionally called Dindi Yatra. Commemorating this maiden Dindi Yatra undertaken by these great saints even today people from the state traditionally carry Padukas (divine sandals) of these great souls in palanquins on their procession to Pandharpur. Upon reaching Pandharpur on Ashadi, these devotees take a holy dip in the sacred River Chandrabhaga before proceeding for the Darshan of Lord Vittala.

Legend has it that Pundalik, an earnest devotee of Vithoba, placed the service of his parents higher than to that of God. He commanded the violent Bhima River not to disturb his sleeping parents. Pleased by his devotion, Lord Vishnu blessed him with a boon, and the river mellowed and now flows silently as the Chandrabhaga in Pandharpur. On appearing at Pundalik's doorstep, Vithoba found Pundalik with his parents sleeping with their heads on his lap. So as his parents do not get disturbed, Pundalik slipped a brick forward. Till date one finds Vithoba standing on that brick, waiting to be entertained by his 'host', at Pandharpur.

The Palkhi procession has remained unbroken since it began despite wars, famines and floods. More than Fifty Palkhis of saints assemble at Pandharpur every year. In Maharashtra “Varkaris” (predominantly simple farmers) is a big community. They usually undertake 21-day walk after they have completed the sowing process in their fields. In the Ashadi Ekadasi festival, people from every faith and religion participate. Learned sages also come for it. Jnyaneshwar preached the Gita which is considered the highest religious text in Maharashtra.

The 'Bhakti Marg' (the path of devotion) as propounded by Sant Jnyaneshwar, teach us to forget the physical self in pursuit of the Lord. When the Varkaris sing and dance during the pilgrimage, they forget the material world around them.

Along with the Dindi procession, seva to the poor and needy is done reflecting that Lord is in all forms. This is called ‘Seva Dindi’. During the Seva Dindi, the people on pilgrimage undertake selfless service to the poor and needy like Amrut Kalash (Annadhan), Narayan seva, Medical seva, Building & repairing rural infrastructure etc.

Participation in Ashadi Dindi and Seva Dindi helps an individual in many ways by bringing good health, peace & prosperity in his life. Chanting the continuous glory of the God in the Ashadi Dindi procession and Seva Dindi purifies an individual, there is an inner cleansing that takes place in Mind, Body and Spirit and the participants tend to lose their individual identities and experience bliss. It develops all aspects of human personality and helps us understand the true purpose of Life.[2]

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