Vithoba temple, Pandarpur is the main centre of worship for Vithoba, form of Vishnu or Krishna and Rukmini (Rakhumai). It is the most visited temple in Maharashtra. Vithoba or Vitthala of Pandarpur has lured many a great saints and the place stands testimony for the unparalleled devotion to the great Lord Panduranga. On the banks of river Chandrabaga, the Almighty Krishna, along with His Consort Rukmini, stand atop a small brick for the sake of his devotee Pundalik.
Every divine place has devotees revel in the bliss born out of singing the Divine Names of the Lord, and Pandarpur is no exception. The Divine Name of ‘Ramakrishna Hari Vasudeva Hari’ is ever reverberating in this holy town. Devotees are delighted to see Lord Panduranga, the enchanter of the Universe, wearing the ‘Makara Kundala’ (fish shaped ear stud) in his ears, Peethambara (clad in yellow silk), wearing exquisite ornaments, a bewitching smile playing on His lips and having the insignia of Goddess Lakshmi on His chest, His two palms on His hips, as if awaiting Abhangs and Nama Kirtans of the Saints and devotees.
Great Saints like Namdev,Tukkaram who had immense love for Vitthala, spent their entire life immersed in Kirtans and Bhajans.
Undeniably, Lord Vitthala is an embodiment of love and devotees offer their love profusely, seeking in return, only enhanced love for Him!
The Legend of Pundalik
The saga of Pundalik is one of the most important Mahimas (legends) about Vithoba. 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. Upon hearing his parents’ plans, Pundalik and his wife decide to join them on pilgrimage. While the youthful son and his wife ride on horseback, the frail old couple walk in bad weather and the ill-treatment continued. 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 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. Pundalik is very curious and approaches the beautiful women and asks them of their details. They reply that they are the Ganga, Yamuna and other holy rivers of India. Pilgrims wish to take a dip in their holy waters to wash away their sins, and that is soiling their clothes. Then, the women say: “But O Pundalik, with your ill-treatment of your parents, you are the greatest sinner of them all!”
Pundalik is utterly shocked and his conscience transforms. He realises his misdeeds, becomes entirely devoted to his parents and ensures their comfort. Devotion in any form reaches God swiftly and impressed by Pundalik’s devotion to his parents, Lord Vishnu plans to bless and pays a visit to Pundalik’s ashram.
Vishnu knocks at Pundalik’s door, while he is busy serving his parents. Pundalik does realise that God is at his door, but such was his devotion to his parents, he wants to complete his duties and then attend the visitor. Then, Pundalik does something strange but out of real devotion. He pushes a brick outside for God to stand on and wait for him until he finishes attending to his parents.
Seeing this act, Vishnu is extremely pleased and the ever-loving God waits for his devotee.
When Pundalik comes out, he begs for pardon from the Lord but far from being displeased, Vishnu is overtaken by Pundalik’s love for his parents and grants him a boon. Pundalik requests Vishnu to stay back on Earth and bless all his devotees.
The Lord agrees to take the form of Vithoba, or God who stood upon a brick, and a temple was built there. Along with Vithoba, Rakhumai (Rukmini, the consort of Krishna) is also worshipped here.
The Story of Namdev Chi Payari (Step of Namdev)
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” (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 as the “first step” at His temple, so that his innumerable devotees will touch him before having the “darshan” of the Lord. So, this first step is called “Namdev Chi Payari”.
The significance of Ashadi Ekadashi – Dindi Yatra
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 (Palanquin) having the “padukas” (feet) 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, Sant Jnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram had set out on a pilgrimage to Lord Vitthala 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 different parts of the country set out for Pandarpur, 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.
Upon reaching Pandarpur on Ashadi, these devotees take a holy dip in the sacred River Chandrabhaga before proceeding for the Darshan of Lord Vitthala.
The Palkhi procession has remained unbroken since it began despite wars, famines and floods. More than Fifty Palkhis of saints assemble at Pandarpur every year.
The ‘Bhakti Marg’ (the path of devotion) as propounded by Sant Jnyaneshwar, teaches us to forget the physical self in pursuit of the Lord. When the Varkaris(farmers from the region) sing and dance during the pilgrimage, they forget the material world around them. A dip in the holy river Chandrabhaga on whose banks Pandarpur 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 has begun to invite women and people from backward classes as priests.
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’. Participation in Ashadi Dindi and Seva Dindi helps an individual in many ways by bringing good health, peace and prosperity in his life.
Chanting the continuous glory of the God in the Ashadi Dindi procession and Seva Dindi purifies an individual, 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.
The Story of Narahari
Once, there lived in Pandarpur, a devotee of Lord Shiva by the name Narahari. He was a goldsmith, a craft man par excellence. He was known for his skill and craftsmanship in the art of jewel-making and renowned for his wonderful ornaments. Though he lived in Pandarpur, he never had the darshan of Panduranga.
He was such a staunch and ardent devotee of Lord Shiva that the glorious form of Lord Vittal did not fancy him at all. He would never listen to Vitthala Nama Kirtan and would shut his ears if a group of Saints engaged in Namakirtan ever passed by his shop. He would never allow anybody to sing the praises of Vitthala in his presence and would try to surpass them by his lectures on Lord Shiva. He used to visit a small shrine of Lord Shiva situated on the banks of Chandrabaga and offered his worship. He always envied the popularity of Lord Vitthal who had a huge crowd of devotees not only from Pandarpur but also from other parts of the country.
The Lord had his own plan of drawing Narahari closer to His lotus feet and making him His ardent devotee!
Once, a wealthy devotee desired to make an expensive girdle of gold studded with precious stones and gems for Lord Panduranga. He approached Narahari and expressed his desire assuring that he would adequately reward him for his befitting skill and craftsmanship. No sooner did he hear that the girdle was for Lord Vitthal than Narahari turned down his request. He said that he would never in his life make an ornament for anyone other than Lord Shiva.
The rich man argued that this was just a business deal and a business man should never allow his prejudices to intrude on his business. He further asserted that Narahari would be paid sufficiently just as any of his business deals and this would no way shatter his ideals. Narahari reluctantly accepted the deal but was very firm that he will execute based on the specifications given. As Narahari was very firm in not entering the temple premises of Vittal, he wanted the rich man to bring the measurement of the waist of Lord Panduranga. The rich man went to the temple with great joy and had the priests of the temple measure the waist size of the Lord and came back to Narahari with exact measurement.
Narahari made an excellent ornament studded with precious stones and gems of the same size and gave it to his wealthy customer on the promised day. The wealthy man had arranged for a grand pooja on that day and took the girdle to the temple in a big procession. Sadly, the girdle measured bigger and it slipped out of the waist of the Lord when offered! Crestfallen, the gentleman immediately rushed to Narahari’s shop. Explaining that it measured bigger, he requested Narahari to alter it to the exact size of the idol of Panduranga.
Though Narahari protested that this was exactly to the measurements provided, he immediately made the necessary adjustments. But when this was offered to Vittala, the girdle seemed small and it would not fit! The devotee rushed to Narahari. All attempts of Narahari to make the girdle fit Lord Panduranga proved futile. The devotee felt frustrated and was at his wit’s end. Narahari, who took great pride in his workmanship, was left flabberfgasted by the whole incident.
The rich man forces Narahari to visit the Temple and take the measurement himself. Narahari was forced to accept this idea; but he placed a condition that he would not look at the Lord Panduranga and insisted that he should be carried inside blindfolded. Narahari was carried into the Temple Sanctum Sanctorum. Narahari had never, even in his wildest dreams, ever imagined entering the Vithoba Temple.
Though he entered the Temple with an air of indifference, the Lord of the Universe was highly pleased to see Narahari enter His Sanctum. Blindfolded, Narahari entered the sanctum and set to measure the Lord’s waist. When he touched the deity and started to feel it, he felt matted hair, the moon and also the third eye on the Lord’s forehead, snake in His neck and the trident in His hand! Narahari was startled. ‘How could it be Lord Shiva?, he thought and touched again. Overwhelmed with joy he cried out, ‘Oh! this is My dear Lord – Lord Shiva!” and immediately removed the cloth that blinded his eyes.
But he was dumbfounded to see the lotus eyed Panduranga standing along with His Consort Rukmini! Narahari was dumbfounded by the divine sport of the Lord.
He realised the truth that there was no difference between Lord Vittala and Lord Shiva. He at once fell at the feet of Panduranga.
He then took the measurement of the waist of the Lord and this time the ornament fit the Lord perfectly.
Adi Sankara, in one of his verses, says that Lord Panduranga is none other than the Nirguna Brahman (the formless Brahman) which has assumed a beautiful form by it’s sheer mercy upon the mankind and hence worshipping him would tantamount to the worship of all the other deities.
Narahari’s story stands as an illustration to this. Both the Panchaksharam and the Ashtaksharam leads to HIM!
Om Nama Shivaya! Om Namo Narayanaaya!