By Swami Harshananda
Paṇḍharpur (or Paṇḍharāpura) in the Satara district of the Maharashtra State is one of the well-known places of pilgrimage, especially for the vaiṣṇavas (followers of the Viṣṇu cults). It is, however, the best and the holiest of such places as far as the Maharashtra state is concerned.
The other names by which it was known earlier, are: Paṇḍharī, Pāṇḍurañga-pura, Paṇḍaraṅgapalli, Phaganipur, and Puṇḍarīka Kṣetra.
This town, famous for its temple of Vithobā (or Pāṇḍuraṅga Vitthala), is situated 65 kms. (40 miles) to the west of Sholapur, on the right bank of the river Bhīmā. At Paṇḍharpur itself, it is called Candrabhāgā river. It is a tributary of the river Kṛṣṇā.
Though this pilgrim centre cannot claim great antiquity like some other
places like Kāśī (or Vārāṇasī), it was quite well-known even by A. D. 1000. The
Padmapurāna (Uttarakhanda 176.56-58) mentions the image of Viṭṭhala-Viṣṇu, on the bank of the river Bhīmarathī, which has only two arms. It calls him ‘Bindu-mādhava’.
Although the whole town is clustered with several temples, both big and small, it is the temple of Viṭhobā or Viṭṭhala (an aspect of Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu) that is the centre of attraction, drawing huge crowds of pilgrims throughout the year.
According to the local legends, Lord Kṛṣṇa once came to the house of his matchless devotee, Puṇḍalīka (or Puṇḍarika) who was busy serving his aged parents. He threw a brick towards the Lord, requesting him to stand on it and wait till he finished his filial service. Later, when he attended to him, he begged that the Lord should stay there permanently! Hence it is seen that the image is stationed on a flat brick-like stone-slab.
The temple of Viṭṭhala is built on an area of 105 metres (350 ft.) by 51 metres (170 ft.), on a high plinth. It has six
mahādvāras or main gates out of which
the eastern one is considered as the front gate or the chief gate. This is named after
Nāmadev (A. D. 1270-1350), a great saint who was a contemporary of Jñānadev or Sant Jñāneśvar (A. D. 1275-1296). The very first step is said to have been built over his samādhi or burial place. There is also a brass bust of that saint there.
The image of Viṭṭhala is about 1.12 metres (3 ft. 9 in.) and seems to have been carved out of one block of black stone, along with the squarish (brick-like) pedestal. It has only two arms, both resting on the hips. The left holds a śaṅkha (conch) and the right, a cakra (discus). The ornaments consist of a necklace and fairly large ear-rings that touch the shoulders. The crown or the headgear is of an uncommon shape, more like a longish cap.
The image has a rough or worn-out appearance. It seems to have had a chequered history, being removed and reinstalled several times, maybe due to constant invasions by alien hordes.
Behind the Viṭṭhala temple is the temple of Rakhumāyi (Rukmiṇī, the divine spouse of Kṛṣṇa), the image itself being about 1.2 metres (4 ft.) in height.
The daily worship is an elaborate affair. Ekādaśī (eleventh day during each of the two fortnights in a lunar month) days are observed as festive days.
There is a large staff of priests and attendants in the temple, the chief ones being called the Badves. The others are known as Sevādhāris and are of various grades.
The visiting devotees are of two types: the vārkaris who visit the temple regularly every month (on ekādaśi days) and others
who visit at their convenience. (See also
There is a temple for the great devotee Puṇdarīka in the bed of the Candrabhāgā river, about 66 metres (220 ft.) away from Viṭṭhala’s temple.
To the south of this again, about one kilometer away, is another temple called ‘Viṣṇupād.’ It is built on a rock in the river-bed on a plinth 2.1 metres (7 ft.) in height. It contains the ‘footprints’ of Lord Kṛṣṇa and of a cow. Pilgrims perform śrāddha ceremonies (obsequial rites) here.
The town also contains other temples dedicated to Siva and Devī (Pārvatī or the Divine Mother).
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore