Vithoba of Pandharpur

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
Revision as of 16:28, 4 December 2009 by Subramanyan (Talk | contribs) (New page: '''Dr Suruchi Pande''' From Jnaneshwar (1275–1296) to Namdev (1270?–1350?) • Tough the Varkari tradition had originated before their time, Jnaneshwar and Namdev provided it wit...)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

Dr Suruchi Pande

From Jnaneshwar (1275–1296) to Namdev (1270?–1350?) • Tough the Varkari tradition had originated before their time, Jnaneshwar and Namdev provided it with a frm foundation and a unique philosophy. Jnaneshwar was the major source of inspiration. Te Natha tradition, into which Jnaneshwar was initiated by his brother Nivrittinatha, is primarily concerned with yoga. But we notice the intimacy of devotion in the writ-ings of both the brothers. Even their father’s name, Vitthalapant, suggests that there was a tradition of Vitthala-bhakti in the family. Vitthalapant had taken sannyasa some time afer his marriage to Rakhumai. When his teacher Rama-nanda came to know that he had done so without the consent of his wife, he ordered Vitthalapant to go back and reassume the householder’s life. Vitthala-pant complied with his teacher’s command and had four children: Nivritti, Jnanadeva, Sopana, and the daughter Muktabai. To the local brahmana commu-nity and the scholars, Vitthalapant’s abdication of sannyasa was sacrilegious. Te whole family was ex-communicated from society. Te couple decided to end their lives by way of expiation so that their chil-dren would not have to face injustice and torture. Jnanadeva had to go to Paithan to get a shuddhi-patra (certifcate of purifcation through expia-tion, prayashchitta) from the learned brahmanas of that town. Tis was in 1290. While returning from Paithan, Jnanadeva halted at the village Nevase. Sitting besides a pillar in the local Shiva temple he composed his exquisite commentary on the Bhagavadgita called Bhavartha-dipika or Jnaneshwari. It has no equal in Marathi literature. Te text provides the Varkari order its tranquil philosophy. Having experienced grave social in-justice, Jnaneshwar was quick to apprehend that none in society was keen on understanding the real essence of religion; external bustle and osten-tatious display seemed more important. So he was eager to convey the proper meaning of religious philosophy and show its application to everyday life. Jnaneshwar propounds the theory of chid- vilasa-vada. If we presume chaitanya, universal consciousness, to be the only truth, then what-ever is seen or experienced becomes false, mithya, in the ultimate analysis. Tis view, stretched to the extreme, can lead to complete nihilism. Te theory of chid-vilasa-vada avoids such extremes. The Pundalika temple, fooded by the Chandrabhaga According to chid-vilasa-vada, chaitanya is inseparable from energy, and the universe, vishwa, is its manifestation or play, vilasa. Te term ‘maya’ also suggests a sort of play, but this play is for God or Ishwara to enjoy. Jnaneshwar believes ‘brahma satya; Brahman is Truth’ and ‘jivo brahmaiva naparah; the individual soul is none other than Brahman’. But he lays greater emphasis on ‘sar-vam khalvidam brahma; all this is indeed Brahman’ than on the intricacies of the doctrine of maya. He does not call this world abhasa or appearance. He prefers such xamples as gold and golden orna-ments, water and its waves, fabric and its fbres to explain the unity underlying diversity. He does not cite the examples of the ‘rope and the snake’, rajju-sarpa, where the snake is illusory. Jnaneshwar knew that the paths of yoga and jnana were difcult for ordinary people. So he introduced the compara-tively easier path of knowledge combined with devotion. According to R K Bhagwat: ‘Although Jnāndev was mainly a follower of the Path of Yoga, he was also a follower of the Path of Devotion and also a “Vaishṇava”, a follower of the four-fold caste system. With all this, it seems strange that absolutely no reference was made to God Vithobā of Pandharpur in the whole of Bhāvārthadīpikā, al-though there is an indirect reference to that God in that, Lord Krishna says that he holds on his head God Shankar, his great devotee.’17 Sri Bhagwat adds another hint: ‘It seems that through his association with Nāmdev, Jnāndev got admitted into the Vārkarī sect of devotees, the leadership of which also soon devolved on him’ (ibid.). Thus the later com-positions of Jnaneshwar also proved useful in the development of the philosophy of the Varkari sect.Jnaneshwar’s was the period of the Yadava dyn-asty. The naneshwari records:Tetha yaduvamshavilasu je sakalakala nivasu;Nyayati poshi kshitishu shriramachandra. There (reigns) the just protector of the earth—Sri Ramachandra of the Yadava dynasty, the very abode of all arts.18 According to Professor Vafgaonkar, ‘Jnanesvari was written in 1290 ad. Ramdeva had freed Kashi from the clutches of Yavanas three or four years be-fore this and had built the temple of Sharngadhara. And when Jnanesvari was being written, Ramdeva ruled Kashi. Perhaps because of the victory of Ram-deva and freeing of mlecchakranta Kashi, Jnanes-vara honoured him in the Jnanesvari. … Even in the temple of Panduranga the inscription of Chauryan-shicha Shilalekha, the king Ramdevaraya was called as the Pandhari-phada-mukhya.’19 It should be noted that this was the period when society was governed by karma-kanda or rituals prescribed in the Smritis, as is evidenced by the compo- sition of Chaturvarga-chintamani by He-madri (a minister of Ramadeva’s) at this time. Several incidents in Jnaneshwar’s life prove that varnashrama rules (of caste and station in life) were strictly being enforced. Te upper castes and the untouchables were both af-fected by the rigidity of the caste system. Te tender heart of the saint-poet was pained by the hypocrisy, sectarianism, and tyranny of the orthodox. His commentary on the Gita em- phasizes the development of universality of consciousness and outlook by announcing that God’s gates are open to all without any distinc-tion of caste, creed, or sex. He preached the Bhagavata Dharma Sant Jnaneshwar of devotion to the Divine that underlies universal religion. Jnaneshwar went on long pilgrimages to far of places in northern India in the company of Nam- dev. Both of them spread far and wide the tenets of true religion coloured with devotion and com-passion. Jnaneshwar ended his sojourn on earth by voluntarily choosing to be buried alive while in samadhi—jivanta samadhi—in the presence of his brothers, sister, and other saints. He was only twenty-one then.Namdev has his own singular contributions to the developments of the Varkari sampradaya. He went to stay at Ghuman near Amritsar, established a tradition of Vitthala-bhakti, and popularized the teachings of the Bhagavata Dharma through his forceful kirtans composed in the emerging Hindi. Ghuman is known as namdevki ghomani, Nam-dev’s Ghuman. Te safron fag fying in front of the memorial temple at Namdev’s math is called Jhandasahib Sri Namdevji. Among Namdev’s dis-ciples were Vishnuswami, Bohardas, Jallo Sutar, Laddha Khatri, and Keso Kalasdhari.20 Te Delhi sultans ruled over North India at this time. It was in times of much political turmoil that Namdev accomplished his work. While compiling the Adi Granth, Guru Arjun included sixty-one of Nam-dev’s hymns. In one of these, Namdev says: ‘Ibhai bithalu, ubhai bithalu, bithala binu samsar nahi; Vitthala is here, Vitthala is there, without Vitthala the world is not.’ Namdev wished that his body be kept near the Panduranga temple steps so that devotees would touch him with their holy feet while entering the temple. Te Namdevchi Payari fulfls this wish symbolically. When the dindis (group of Var-karis) come near this step, they sing one of his abhangas: Sadhusanta sharan jau jivebhave Prasada svabhave deti gheti; Nama mhane amhi payariche chire Santa paya hire var deti We take complete refuge in saints. Tey will shower grace according to their very compassionate) nature. Namdev says that we are hewn and shaped stones which holy saints step on. Te eforts of Jnaneshwar and Namdev were particularly momentous because they emphati- cally enunciated that the doors of the Bhagavata religion were open to all. Tis period is signifcant in view of the works of a galaxy of saints from all sections of society. Tese included brahmanas like Nivrittinatha, Sopanadeva, Muktabai, Visoba Khe-chara, and Parisa Bhagavata, the potter Goroba, the gardener Savatoba, Kanhopatra—the daughter of a prostitute—the maid servant Janabai, the cob-bler Rohidasa, the goldsmith Narahari, the barber Sena, and other saints from the lower classes like Chokhoba, Raka, and Banka. All of them were dazzling jewels in the social movement of the Var-kari sampradaya. All of them practised religion in their own lives and tried to discover the expression and manifestation of their deity in their own work or profession. Tey avoided scholastic discussions about Brahman but boldly addressed vexed social issues. Chokhoba announced: ‘Harinama garjata bhaya nahi chitta; repeating the name of Hari, the mind knows no fear.’ The Period of Bhanudas (1448–1513) and Eknath (1533–99) • It is traditionally believed that King Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar had the image of Panduranga taken to Hampi, possibly to prevent desecration by Muslim invaders. The absence of the deity sent the whole of Pandharpur into a pall of gloom. It was Paithankar Bhanudas Maharaj who brought back the deity to Pandhar-pur. Bhanudas’s family was traditionally devoted to Vitthala. He says: Amuchiye kuli pandhari nema Mukhi sada nama vithobache. In our family there is a tradition of vari to Pandhar-pur and (we) always repeat the name of Vithoba. Eknath was the great-grandson of Bhanudas. He performed rigorous sadhana for twelve years under the watchful eyes of his guru Janardana Swami. His life was the perfect synthesis of prapancha (dutiful householder life) and para-martha (spirituality). He supported the Varkari sampradaya through his witty kirtans, bhajans, vari, and religious celebrations and literature. He performed Hari-kirtan everyday in the Vitthala temple at Paithan. He was a scholar of the San-skrit language and philosophy. His erudition and mastery of Sanskrit and Indian philosophical tra-ditions is refected throughout his literary compo-sitions. Tough highly infuenced by the Advaita philosophy, he loved the sweetness of bhakti and the recitation of God’s name. Tough a grihastha, he was the very incarnation of shanta-brahma (the calm of Brahman)! Tat is why his words reach the hearts of its readers instantaneously. Eknath wrote a commentary in ovi verse on the eleventh chap-ter of the Bhagavata. Te orthodox brahmanas of Paithan were displeased with him because the commentary was in Prakrit. So Eknath took his writing to Kashi. Te pandits of Kashi were de-lighted to see the embellished but devotional masterpiece, akshara-sampada. They encouraged him to write more and he composed another five chapters in Kashi. His work was completed on the Mani-karnika Ghat and was honoured with a pomp-ous procession. In a way, this was a great laudation for the entire Varkari sampradaya.Other works of Eknath include the Bhavartha Ramayana, Rukmini-swayamvara, commentary on the Chatuhshloki Bhagavata, Swatmasukha, Ananda- lahari, Hastamalaka, and Shukashtaka. Today we can read the Jnaneshwari in its pure form only be-cause of the laborious eforts that Eknath put in to bring out a standard edition, rid of the corrup-tions that had crept in through oral traditions. Te bharudas of Eknath have special place in Marathi literature. Tese are metaphorical verses which ex-pound morality and religion through common-place themes. Deities like Khandoba, Jokhai, and Yallamma; birds and animals—lapwing, ox, dog, and ram; children’s games—tipri (played with pieces of sticks) and eki-beki (a number game); household chores—grinding and pounding ; and family relations: all fgure in these bharudas. Eknath was perfectly sensitive to the social system and honestly tried to correct misinterpretation of religious tenets. He criticized the violence done in the name of religious sacrifces, bali. Spirituality was actively expressed in his life. His emptying his kawad (water jars) full of the holy Godavari waters into the mouth of an ass dying of thirst; his feeding of untouchables on the occasion of the shraddha ceremony; his calm when spat upon repeatedly by a vindictive Muslim as he was returning from his bath; his bringing up of an untouchable boy; his spiritual ministrations to a concubine, to a prosti-tute, and to a criminal who had fed from jail; his patience with his arrogant son—all illustrate his social awareness and courage to act out his con-victions. He also had a frm belief in the Advaita philosophy. His life is an excellent illustration of kriyashila jnana, knowledge expressed in action. A story is traditionally narrated about the fond relationship between Eknath and Jnaneshwar. Eknath was sufering from an afiction in his throat when Jnaneshwar appeared to him in a dream and told him that he would be cured if he removed the root of the Ajana tree that was encircling his ( Jnaneshwar’s) neck in his samadhi-pitha at Alandi. Eknath did likewise and was not only cured but was also inspired to bring out a corrected edition of Jnaneshwari. Eknath tried to reach out to the sim-ple, illiterate masses with the message of the Varkari sampradaya. He says:Kara kara lagpatha Dhara pandharichi vata;Pundalikachi peth Sopi ahe sarvansi. Be consistent and hold on to the path of Pandhari. Te peth (abode or way) of Pundalika is simple and easy for all . Te Period of Tukaram (1608–49) •

Tukaram was born at Dehu, ffeen miles from Pune. Tuka-ram’s life is a mix of intense joys and sorrows. His family was devoted to Vitthala for eight genera-tions. But they sufered from harsh famine; his wife and son died and he became bankrupt. Tormented by difculties in household life, death of dear ones, and  jealous neighbours, his  lot was one of agonyand hardships. ‘I am always warring,’ he says, ‘with the world and with the mind. Accidents befall me all of a sudden, and I try to ward them of by the power of Ty name.’ Despite his sufering, Tukaram is straightforward, upright, frm, and direct in his thoughts as is seen from his abhangas. 

The ‘dark night’ of Tukaram’s soul fnally ended with the vision of God: ‘I see God’s face, and the vision gives me infnite bliss. My mind is riveted on it, and my hands cling to His feet.’ His deep identi-fcation with the Deity gives him a missionary zeal: ‘I enjoy this sweet ambrosia and distribute it among men. Do not wander among the woods. Come here and partake of my ofer. Your desires shall be ful-flled, if your intellect is fastened to His feet. I come as a messenger from Vitthala.’ Just like Eknath before him, Tukaram chose the medium of kirtan to spread the message of know-ledge and devotion. Brahmanas like Rameshwara Bhatta, who opposed him initially, came to love his kirtans. Shivaji was also highly impressed by his kirtans. Tukaram never advised people to run away from their duties. He said that everyone should do their duties to perfection, but one must always be aware of one’s own spiritual essence. He was of the opinion that being spiritual did not mean being impractical. He says: Jodoniya dhana uttama vyavahare Udasa vichare vecah kari. Wealth is to be accumulated through immacu-late conduct; and spent with the feeling of detachment.Again, ‘Nasave oshal, maga maniti sakala; do not be burdened by unnecessary bligations, then will all respect you.’Saint Tukaram spent his whole life spread-ing the teachings of the Varkari sampradaya. He harshly criticized the hypocrisy and malpractices current in society. His disciple Nilobaraya also composed many abhangas and was widely-known for his devotional singing. The Period afer Tukaram • An array of saints and holy persons have continued to be associated with the Varkari tradition, though they are not as well known as those mentioned above. Tey have continued to sincerely work for the uplif of the masses. A group (phada) of Mallappa Vaskar was one of the prominent groups in the post-Tukaram era. Contributions of the Varkari Sampradaya All the saints of the Varkari sampradaya were against dry, futile karma-kanda—ritual and idle talk. They tried to emphasize the true spiritual and humanis-tic essence of religion. Tey presented dharma in a simple, straightforward, and practical form. They emphatically propounded the religion of love and fraternity. Tough profound scholars themselves, they decried sapless scholarship which failed to sense the nearness of God. Tey stressed the culti- vation of an afectionate and loving heart.

The work of these saints had great social impor-

tance, for they were great reformers. They did not have sectarian views or a shallow spirit. Tey lived the philosophy they taught. They provided the com-mon men and women with the courage to aspire afer brahma-jnana, the knowledge of Brahman. Tey said that every being—not the monk alone—is capable of getting moksha. Te doors of Ishwara are open to all. Tey pointed out that ‘celibacy is not just the avoidance of the company of women; navhe brahmacharya bailichya tyage’; the feeling of non- attachment should be deep-rooted and natural. Te literature of the Varkari sampradaya is a treasure of the Marathi language. Some of the saints speak in tones that are delicate and tender, like the rays of the moon, while others speak with the ferce-ness of fre. Te breadth of their vision is eloquently articulated in Jnaneshwar’s ‘Pasayadana’: May the Supreme Self be propitiated by this sac-rifce in the form of a literary production and grant me in charity only one boon (pasaya): that the evil vision of the vile and wicked lose all its crookedness and sting, and that they develop love towards good actions; and further that there be fellow-feeling amongst all beings. May the dark-ness in the form of sin get destroyed, and may the people of the entire universe conduct themselves in the light of the rising sun in the form of one’s own (religious) duty; and may each and every being get the fulflment of each and every wish of his. Let the concourse of saints that shower all that is propitious on the universe, appear and visit perpetually the aggregate of beings on this earth. Tese saints are, as it were, the blossoms of the moving ‘Kalpataru’ trees, or the lively towns of sentient ‘Chintāmani’ gems, or the talking oceans of nectar. May these saints who are uncontami-nated moons and heatless suns be the constant kinsmen (soyare) of all. In short, let all the three worlds be happy and perfected (with the bliss of monism), and let them render service eternally to the primeval Supreme Being. And especially those in this universe that (literally) live on (the constant study of ) this work (the Gita): may they have perfect happiness both temporal as well as spiritual. Hearing this, the Lord of the universe (in the form of the preceptor Nivrittinath) said, ‘This boon has been granted to you’, at which Jnanadev became very happy.21 AcknowledgmentI gratefully thank Sri Vitthal-Rukmini Devasthan Samiti, Pandharpur, for granting permission to take photographs in the temple premises, and Sri Radha-Damodar Pratishthan, Pune, for permitting me to use the images of saints from their publica- tion Tejache Chandane. Notes and References 17. Sri Jnanadeva’s Bhavartha Dipika, trans. R K Bha­gwat, (Madras: Samata, 1989), xxii. Te reference here seems to allude to the pindi (linga of Shiva), on the head of Sri Vitthala of Pandharpur, a unique characteristic of this image. ]18. Jnaneshwari, 18.1804. 19. Varkari Sampraday, 39. 20. Bahirat observes: ‘In the Punjab region, many people from downtrodden communities like Shimpi, Tanka Kshatriya, Shripa, Darjee, Jas­sal, Tippee, Sappal, Kaitha, Bhatta have rever­ ence for Namdev. Tey feel that Namdev helped them to achieve a raised or uplifed status for good living’;Varkari Sampraday, 50. 21. Adapted from Sri Jnanadeva’s Bhavartha Dipika, 671.


Chandrabhaga River, Pandharpur September 2008 Vithoba of Pandharpur Dr Suruchi Pande (Continued from the previous issue ) eferences to Pandharpur and Vitthala are found in the Puranas, in the abhangas (hymns) of the saints, in stone inscriptions, and in popular literature. Early References to Pandharpur and Vitthala Puranic Sources • The sthalamahatmyas (chap-ters on ‘greatness of sacred sites’) in the Puranas contain a wealth of fable, legend, and historical information as well as ref ections on ancient tradi-tions and indigenous culture. The Skanda and Padma Puranas refer to places known as Panduranga-kshetra and Pundarika- kshetra or Paundarika-kshetra. T e Padma Purana also mentions Dindiravana, Lohadanda-kshetra, Lakshmi-tirtha, and Mallikarjuna-vana, names that are associated with Pandharpur. T ere are mythi-cal tales connected to these popular names. For instance, the Dindiravana forest was so named be-cause it was associated with the demon Dindirava. When his arrogance crossed all limits, Vishnu took the form of Mallikarjuna Shiva and put him to death with an iron rod, lohadanda. Again, when Krishna started showing greater affection for Radha, Rukmini was displeased, and leaving Krishna in Dwaraka, she went away to Dindiravana on the River Bhima. In order to pacify her, Krishna came to Dindiravana with his cowherd companions, the gopas. They camped at Gopalpur while Krishna went to meet Rukmini. So the Gopalakrishna of Gopalpur is an important deity even today. While he was looking for Rukmini, Krishna also met the famous devotee Pundalika. Another legend tells of the beautiful Padma who was performing hard penance to get a suitable hus-band. Satisf ed with her tapas, the Deity appeared before her in a very handsome form. Seeing him, Padma lost consciousness, her hair all-dishevelled (muktakeshi). Her wish was granted and the place of her tapas became ‘Kshetra Muktakeshi’. There are stories related to the names of vari-ous places in the Pandharpur Kshetra. T ese are also attempts at synthesizing the cults of Shiva and Vishnu or the Sri Venkatesha and Sri Vitthala form of Vishnu. It is interesting to note that Venkatesha and Vitthala do not have any prominent place in the Puranas, but they are extremely popular deities. And there are interesting parallels in their tradition. Vitthala is adored in his balarupa (child form) and Venkatesha is balaji.7 Both their consorts stay apart. Padmavati, Venkatesha’s wife, was displeased with her husband for tolerating Bhrigu’s insult. So she went away, f rst to Karavira and then to Tiruchanur, three miles away from Tirumalai, where Venkatesha resides. Both Venkatesha and Vitthala do not carry any weapons. Some of the images of these deities obtained from archaeological excavations also show similarities. Both the icons are katinyasta kara (hav-ing their hands on their waist). T e Panduranga-shataka by Sri Shankaracharya explains the reason:

Vithoba of Pandharpur

Pramanam bhavabdheridam mamakanam

 Nitambah karabhyam dhrito yena tasmat

Vidhaturvasatyaihi dhrito nabhikoshah

 Parabrahmalingam bhaje pandurangam

I pray to the Panduranga, the representation of Para-brahman, who rested his hands on his waist to show his devotees the depth of the ocean of samsara, and who holds a (lotus) bud in his navel for Vidhata (Brahma) to stay.8 Stone Inscriptions • T e beam on the eastern oor of the Solakhambi Mandap bears a Sanskrit- Kannada inscription (c. 12th cent. ce) written in Devanagari, which says that the Hoyasala Yadava Vir Someshwara donated the land of Hiriyaganja or the service—angabhoga and rangabhoga of Sri Vitthala. The Chauryanshicha Shilalekha is another amous inscription. Chauryanshi is eighty-four in Marathi. It is believed that rubbing one’s back on he surface of this stone inscription provides lib-ration from eighty-four lakh births. Experts be- eve that this inscription can be dated to seventeen ears before the composition of the Jnaneshwari ext (c. 1290 ce). Another inscription from Heb-ali near Dharwad—dated to 1248 ce—bears the hrase ‘Sri Pandurangeya Sri Vitthaladevara’.9 It can be reasonably inferred from historical ecords that Vitthala and Pandharpur started gain- ng widespread popularity and loving acceptance mong the masses af er the 6th cent. ce. A copper-late inscription of that period mentions Pandhar-ur as a palli (small village), while in the inscription f the Hoyasalas it is a mahagrama (big village or own). T is transition is suggestive of the growth f devotion to Vitthala. The Meaning of ‘Varkari‘ Every Maharashtrian is fa-miliar with the term ‘Var-kari’. It brings to mind a characteristic image: a per-son dressed in dhoti and uparane (a small piece of cloth worn loosely round the shoulders), with bukka on the forehead, a rosary of tulsi beads round the neck, tal (cymbals) in hand, a saf-fron f ag on the shoulder, continuously repeating ‘ramakrishna hari ’. A Var- kari is one who religiously performs the vari (pil-grimage) to Pandharpur on foot, especially during the months of Ashadha (mid June to mid July) and Kartika (mid October to mid November). Many people go on pilgrimages, but the term ‘Varkari’ has got exclusively associated with the pilgrimage to Pandharpur. The term not only suggests a spe-cif c appearance, it also suggests the espousal of a particular philosophy and a certain way of life. The Varkari sampradaya (tradition) has also produced a succession of distinguished and elevated saints. One who goes to Pandharpur on a vari is a Va-rikar or Varkari. T ere are several opinions about the origin of the term. According to Sri Rajvade vari means a group or a mass of particulars or in-dividuals (2). The Amarakosha mentions vara as synonymous with sanghata and samudaya (that is, a group) as well as avasara, opportune time.10 The Jnaneshwari also mentions vari: Yachi ekepari, rupakachiya kusari; Saritase vari, samsarachi. From this (simile of a tree), the Lord has skilfully shown the futility of the world and has given a way out of the cycle of birth and death.11 Aise vairagya he kari, tari sankalpachi sare vari; Sukhe dhriticha dhavalari, buddhi nande. When thus dispassion is achieved the resolve [for en-joyment] becomes power less, the seeker gets cour-age and the pure intellect starts working (6.377).

A Varkari A stone inscription in the Vitthala Temple


Here the word vari means ‘a trip, rounds, or going about’.12 According to Molesworth’s Marathi-English Dictionary, vari means ‘the practice of pro-ceeding regularly at recurring monthly or annual periods on pilgrimage to any sacred place’. The practices of various saints and devotees have given ‘Varkari’ its current meaning ‘the ritual pilgrimage to Pandharpur’. In every village and in every city of Maharashtra we fnd people who proudly call themselves Varkaris. The Varkari sampradaya is also called the Malkari or Bhagavata sampradaya. Why are Varkaris called Malkaris? Tis is because they wear a rosary of tulsi beads, and tulsi is dear to Vitthala. Tis rosary is the symbol of a life dedicated to Vitthala. One who ofers everything to Bhagavan is a bhaga-vata. The term suggests a preponderance of bhakti, devotion. Te Eknathi Bhagavata text says: Dara sutagrihaprana karave bhagavantasi arpana; He bhagvatadharma purna mukhyatve bhajan ya nava. Te true sense of the Bhagavata religion is in dedi-cation of one’s wife, children, home, and life to Bhagavan. Bhajan is the name (main feature) of this (dharma).13Having dedicated themselves to God, the Vari-karas are naturally generous: Kaya vacha mane jive sarvasve udara; Bapa rakhumadevi-vara vitthalacha varikara. Te Varikara, whose father is Vitthala—the hus-band of Rakhumadevi—is generous with all of his body, speech, mind, and life.14 The Varkari Code of Conduct Te Varkaris follow the tradition of vari to Pandhar-pur. There is also a tradition of vari to Alandi, the birthplace of Jnaneshwar. Ashadha Shuddha Eka-dashi is the important day at Pandharpur and Kar-tika Vadya Ekadashi at Alandi. During the vari to both these places, bhajans are sung from dashami (the tenth day of the fortnight) to purnima or amavasya (the full- and new-moon days). On purnima, all dindis (groups) involved in the vari go to Gopalpur near Pandharpur. The ceremony of ofering kala (parched grains of jowar mixed with curd) is performed here. All the Varkaris par-take of this kala as pious prasad and here ends their holy journey. The Varkari families follow the tradition of vari with love and devotion from generation to gen-eration. With exalted minds they walk tirelessly to Pandharpur, unmindful of scorching heat or pouring rain. Jnaneshwar and Namdev have beautifully described the congregation of these Varkaris. Jnaneshwar says: Anande preme garjati bhadrajati vitthalache; Tulasimala shobhati kanthi gopichandanachi uti. Aise ekangavira vitthalarayache dingara; Baparakhumadevivara jihi nirdhari jodala. (Tese Varkaris), adorned with tulsi garland round their necks and sandal-paste on their forehead, an-nounce the (name of the) pious Vitthala. Staunch followers, brave men, they are the children of Vitthalaraya. Tey have united themselves frmly to their father Vitthala, the consort of Rakhuma-devi (ibid.).Namdev who was contemporaneous with Jnaneshwar says: Ale ale re hariche dingara Vira varikar pandhariche; Bhakti premabhava bharale jyanchya angi Nachati harirangi nenati laju. Here come the children of Hari, the brave Varika-ras of Pandharpur, whose being is full of devotion and love. Coloured by Hari, they dance without reserve (5).It is interesting to note that though the Bhaga-vata sampradaya emphasizes bhakti, the forms of its upasana (spiritual practices) tend towards Advaita. Tough in their works Jnaneshwar and Namdev speak of ‘krishnamurti savali; the black image of Krishna’, or say, ‘hridayi krishnamurti bheto ali; the image of Krishna came to meet me deep in my heart’, the magnifcent concept of ‘vishvakara hari-rupa; the cosmic form of Hari’ fnds repeated ex-pression in the compositions of the Varkari saints.Wearing a rosary of tulsi beads is of utmost importance to the Varkaris. Vitthala is the child (balasva-rupa) Krishna. The tulsi plant is dear to Krishna. So a Varikara must wear a rosary containing a hundred and eight tulsi beads as a pious observance. If the thread of the rosary happens to snap, the staunch Varikara would not have food until the rosary is re-paired. There is a touching story about tulsi among the Kunbis (an agricultural community) in Maha-rashtra. It goes like this: Tulsi was the daughter of a poor brahmana. She had a dark complexion and a brahmana husband was not in her fate. Due to pov-erty, her hapless father deserted her. The gavali (cow-herd) Vithoba of ered refuge to orphaned Tulsi. But Rukmini was not happy with Vitthala’s overtures. Rukmini’s attitude hurt Tulsi and she decided to take shelter with Mother Earth. As she was disap-pearing in the bosom of the earth, Vithoba hurriedly pulled her out. But instead of Tulsi, the holy basil (tulsi) came into his hands. Vithoba had promised to marry Tulsi. He kept his words by marrying the holy basil. This is the reason why Vithoba always has a garland of tulsi around his neck. The rosary keeps the Varkaris alert about their ideals right up to the end of their lives. Sandal-paste (gopi-chandan) and black-powder (bukka) marks on the forehead, and the saf ron f ag carried on the shoulder are the other important components of their insignia. T ere are certain moral and ethical precepts that every Varkari is to follow: • Adherence to truth. • Treating all women other than one’s own wife as Rakhumai (Mother Rukmini). • Confessing unintentional transgressions to Bhagavan and praying for his forgiveness. • Being a vegetarian. • Visiting Pandharpur and Alandi at least once a year. • Observance of ekadashi fasts. • Japa of one’s mantra at least a hundred and eight times every day. • Daily study and contemplation of such texts as the Jnaneshwari and Haripatha. • Performing all household duties with com- passion but non-attachment, maintaining the awareness of Vitthala. Th e Varkari philosophy advises devotees to face miseries and hindrances with courage and f rmness of mind and rise above samsara. No work is futile. We get our share of work because God wishes it to be so. We should work keeping in mind that it is our pious duty to do so and that we are answerable to God. T e Varkaris are divided into several sub-sects, each having its own mantra: • Chaitanya Sampradaya: It has two divisions; one group repeats the mantra ‘ramakrishna hari ’, while the other repeats ‘om namo bhagavate vasudevaya ’. • Swarupa Sampradaya: T eir mantra is ‘sriram jaya ram jaya jaya ram ’. T is sampradaya has two divisions—the Ramanuji and the Ramanandi. • Ananda Sampradaya: T e followers of this sam- pradaya repeat the name ‘sriram ’ or ‘ram ’. • Prakasha Sampradaya: Members of this sampra- daya chant the mantra ‘om namo narayanaya ’.15 History of the Varkari Sampradaya It is convenient to divide the history of the Varkari sampradaya into f ve phases: (1) From Pundalika to Jnaneshwar (2) From Jnaneshwar to Namdev (3) The period of Bhanudas and Eknath (4) The Tukaram period (5) The post-Tukaram period From Pundalika to Jnaneshwar • T e exact time of the devotee Pundalika (or Pundarika) is uncertain. The Padma Purana and the Skanda Purana tell the story of Pundalika. Pundalika was Procession of Varkaris proceeding to Pandharpur.


Prabuddha Bharata an ordinary man madly in love with his wife. Due to this inordinate attachment he tended to neglect his own aged parents. Eventually, he met Kukkuta Swami and underwent a radical transformation; service to parents became his foremost priority. Another story goes like this: When Vitthala was searching for Rukmini in the Dindiravana forest, he happened to chance upon Pundalika’s house. Pundalika was busy serving his parents. So he pro-vided a brick for Vitthala to rest on. Vitthala stood on the brick and waited patiently for his devotee. After completing his services, Pundalika prayed to Vitthala and sang his glories. The deity was pleased and he asked Pundalika what he desired most. Pun-dalika requested Vitthala ‘to stay here permanently and lif jivas from ignorance’. Vitthala happily assented to the loving demands of his devotee. Hence the place came to be known as Pundarikapur. There is no unanimity about the period of the Puranas. So it is dificult to ascertain when Pun-dalika lived. It can be inferred from epigraphic evi-dence that at least half a century before the time of Jnaneshwar people knew a sage called Pundalika Muni. T e Panduranga-shataka-stotra composed by Sri Shankaracharya refers to Pundalika. Sri Shankara charya is generally believed to have f our-ished around the 8th cent. ce. It follows that Punda-lika and Vitthala were well-known by this time. The Rashtrakuta copperplate inscription of 516 ce men-tioned earlier also refers to the temple of Vitthala.In his book Malutaran, Narahari Dhundiraj Malu suggests that King Shalivahana, who is re-puted to have initiated the Shaka era, established the town of Pandharpur, placing it under the charge of his chief minister Ramachandra Sonar. The for- est of Dindiravana was cleared to erect the temple of Panduranga and a few other temples. T is text does not appear to be backed by adequate historical evidence; but if there is any truth in it, then the le-gend of Pundalika and the temple of Vitthala goes back to the 1st cent. ce.16 It is, however, indisputable that the Vitthala-bhakti cult was well established by the 6th cent. ce. Af er this period the cult underwent remarkable growth and spread. T ere is no specif c reference clarifying the origin of the vari tradition. But there were people who followed the tradition of vari to Pandharpur well before the time of Jnaneshwar. Namdev says that Vitthalapant, Jnaneshwar’s father, did the Ashadhi and Kartiki varis. People used to come for the darshan of Vitthala from all over Maharashtra, Telangana, and Karnataka at this time. (To be concluded ) [T e image of Vithoba in the August number was courtesy of Sri Chaitanya Deglurkar.] Notes and References

6.	 The	discussion	in	this	section	is	based	on	Sri 	Vit-

thala: Ek Mahasamanvaya.

7.	 Incidentally,	Swami	Brahmananda,	the	spiritual	

son of Sri Ramakrishna, had this to say about Balaji of Tirupati the very f rst time he saw the deity: ‘I see a female deity here!’ Apparently the temple originally belonged to a female deity. The word bala also indicates a female deity.

8.	 Panduranga-shataka,	verse	3.
9.	 B	P	Bahirat,	Varkari Sampraday: Uday va Vikas	(Pune:	Venus,	1988),	23–4.

10. Amarakosha, 2.5.39 and 3.3.162. 11. Jnaneshwari, 15.42. 12. Varkari Sampraday, 3. 13. Eknathi Bhagavata, 2.298. 14. Varkari Sampraday, 4. 15. Bharatiya Sanskriti Kosha, ed. Mahadevashastri Joshi (Pune: Bharatiya Sanskriti Kosha Mandala, 1993), 8.607–8. 16. Varkari Sampraday, 25.Devotees performing parikrama(circumambu-lation) at the Vithoba Temple in Pandharpur