Pandharpur Vitthal Temple
The Vitthal or the Vithoba Temple located in Pandharpur in the Solapur district of Maharashtra is one of the most visited pilgrim sites in India. Statistically, it receives the largest amount of devotees in Maharashtra. The holy shrine is dedicated to Lord Vitthal or Vithoba along with his consort Rakhumai or Rukmini, as popularly known, who is worshiped as a form of Lord Krishna. Pandharpur Vitthal Temple is one of the most important and oldest pilgrimage sites in Maharashtra. The Temple is located on the banks of the Chandrabhaga River, another name of the River Bhima.
The legend of Lord Vitthal or Vithoba is disputed but historic and legendary. Lord Vitthal is the focal point of devotion especially among the followers of the Varkari philosophy or Sampradaya of Hinduism as well as the Haridasa sect of Karnataka. He is more popularly worshiped in regions of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. As per the Varkari tradition, “Vitthal” is composed of two words in Sanskrit – Vit meaning Brick and Thal that originated from the Sanskrit word “Sthala” meaning standing. That gives the meaning of “Standing on the brick” to the word “Vitthal”. Hence, the God is depicted as a figure of a young boy standing on a brick. There are, however, other interpretations of the meaning as well. The Varkari Saint Tukaram proposed that Vittha means ignorance and La means one who accepts, creating the word “Vitthala” meaning “God who accepts ignorant people”. Another possible meaning was put forward by historian Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar stating that Vitthu is a Kannada version of Vishnu in Marathi. The suffixes La and Ba are added as a mark of respect creating the names as Vitthala or Vithoba.
The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple is huge with six entrances. The eastern entrance is called the Namdev gate or the Mahadwaara. The Samadhi of Saint Namdev and Saint Chokoba is situated here. The famed “Namdev Chi Payari” step is the first step out of 12 steps that one must climb to reach the Samadhi. The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple has a Mandap in the beginning consisting of a Nagarkhana where various musical instruments are placed. Two Deepmalas can be seen in the west that is lit during festive occasions. The Chowk is lined on both sides with rooms for resident devotees. The Mandap also has shrines dedicated to Garuda and Hanuman. The chowk leads to the Solakhambi Mandap meaning a Mandap with sixteen pillars. The beautiful chamber is engraved with Krishna Lilas and the Avatars of Lord Vishnu. The entrance to the shrine is through a silver door named as the Rupyacha Darwaja.
The idol of the deity Vitthala or Vithoba is made of black stone three and a half feet tall. The idol has a Shivalinga on his head and the Kaustubha Mani around the neck. The idol is placed in front of a Prabhaval, a silver plate in the sanctum.
Several smaller shrines dedicated to Lord Ganapathi, Garuda, Lord Krishna’s consorts Rukmini, Sathyabama and Radha, Kashi Vishwanath, Lord Rama and Lakshman, Kalabhairav, Dattatreya, and Narsoba are present inside the Temple Complex.
Pandharpur Vitthal Temple History
- The exact date or year of construction of the Pandharpur Vitthal Temple is debatable but the earliest inscriptions on the oldest structures of the Temple belong to the era of the Yadava dynasty in the 12th and 13th century. However, the name Pandaranga which is another name for Vitthala can be found on a Rashtrakuta Copper plate inscription dated 516 AD postulating that worship of Vitthal started as early as the 6th century.
- Several inscriptions can be found in the Pandharpur Vitthal Temple as well as surrounding areas that imply the fact that the Temple existed in the 12th and the 13th century. An inscription in Alandi referring to Vitthal and Rakhumai can be found dating back to 1209. A stone slab dated 1237 AD states that the Hoysala king Someshwara donated a village for expenses incurred during Annadanam in the Temple premises. Besides these, several inscriptions related to Lord Krishna and the Yadava kingdom can be found in and around Temples that date back to 1249 AD and 1277 AD.
- Krishnadevaraya, king of the Vijayanagara Empire safely took away the idol of Vitthal during the invasion of Muslim rulers. The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple remained closed for worship for a few years. The idol was then restored by Bhanudas Maharaj in the 14th century and worship restarted.
- Before independence, the untouchables, and other backward classes were not allowed to enter the Pandharpur Vitthal Temple premises. Freedom fighter Sane Guruji went on Fast-unto-death to change this custom. He was supported by other Gandhians. Eventually as a result, of this movement, the gates of the Temple were opened for the untouchables and other castes.
- The legends associated with Lord Vitthala in Pandharpur have been mentioned in the Skanda Puranam, Sthala Puranam, Padma Puranam and the Panduranga Mahatmya. All these legends are centered on one individual named as Pundalik. There are several versions of legends associated with Pundalik and Lord Vitthala.
- According to the first legend, Pundalik was a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. He dedicated his life to the service of his parents. Impressed by his devotion, Lord Gopala Krishna visits him from Govardhan in his Digambar form. Pundalik requests Lord Krishna to remain beside the banks of the River Bhima making it a Tirtha Kshetra. The region described resembles the modern city of Pandharpur.
- The second legend states that Pundalik was a greedy man who did not take care of his old and ailing parents. When he drove them out, they set out on a pilgrimage to Varanasi on foot with other groups of devotees. Pundalik also eventually decided to go to Varanasi and on his way, stopped for rest on the banks of River Bhima. He observed that three ugly women: Ganga, Yamuna and Godavari went to the house of a poor cobbler after taking the bath. On asking their credentials, they informed that they have to bear the sins of people and got cleansed when they visit the cobbler’s house who treated everyone especially his parents with love. Realization dawned on Pundalik and he immediately asked for forgiveness from his parents and started treating them well.
- Meanwhile, Radha who loved Lord Krishna visited Dwarka, his kingdom and sat on his lap. Radha ignored Rukmini, Lord Krishna’s queen. Angered by the occurrence, Rukmini left Krishna and left to Dindivana near Pandharpur. Lord Krishna searched for her and eventually landed in Pandharpur where he came across Pundalik’s home. Lord Krishna was impressed with his devotion to the parents and called on Pundalik. But Pundalik asked him to wait as he was busy with his parents and threw a brick outside for the Lord to sit and wait. After finishing his work, Pundalik came out and on seeing Lord Krishna, asked for forgiveness. He asked him to settle here with Rukmini and bless them forever.
- A small but an interesting legend associated with the Pandharpur Vitthal Temple is related to the naming of the first step of the Temple as “Namdev Chi Payari”. Once a child named Namdev was asked by his mother to offer the Naivedyam to Lord Vitthal. Namdev went to the Temple and performed Naivedyam but waited to see the God eat the offering. He keeps waiting and becomes disheartened when the God does not appear. In his disappointment, he started banging his head on the feet of the Lord. Seeing his innocence and devotion, Lord Vitthal appears before him, eats the offering and blesses him. Namdev requests Lord Vitthal to name the first step of the Temple after him so that all the devotees will touch and pass through him to have the Lord’s darshan. Since then, the Temple’s first step is named as “Namdev Chi Payari”. The child became a highly revered Saint in the future.
- The Rukmini or the Rakhumai Temple has been built separately from Lord Vitthal’s shrine. There is a legend behind the separate shrines for both of them instead of one. Vitthal’s wife was fondly called Padubai and was mostly busy doing the household chores. One day, she was too tired and refused to serve a guest of her husband Vitthal named Maliraya. Vitthal became angry and cursed Padubai that she will become mad and be separated from him. Padubai eventually became mad and left him to the jungle where she died under a Tamarind tree. Her parents Janakoji and Kamalaja came to visit her after the death but were blocked by Vitthal who turned into a snake. He did not allow anyone near the corpse. He created a shower which washed Padubai’s remains into the sea. Maliraya felt guilty as he believed that he had caused this instance and took up penance. The Sea-god granted his wish and returned the bones which he immersed in a proper ritual at the Padmatirtha Lake. Meanwhile, Vitthal was unable to bear the separation from Padubai and wandered in search of her. Eventually, he reached Padmatirtha and found a beautiful Lotus on the bank. As soon as he plucked the flower, it turned into Padubai. However, Vitthal who by the time was free of all materialistic desires decided that both of them will take abode in Pandharpur but in separate shrines to bless their devotees.
Significance of the Temple
- The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple receives the highest number of pilgrims in Maharashtra every year.
- The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple is considered extremely ancient and sacred. It is praised in several Puranas and the famed Saint Sri Adi Shankaracharya even wrote the Pandurangashtakam Stotram praising God Vitthal whose other name is Panduranga in the 8th century.
- The deity Vitthala has been associated with several Gods in the past. He is worshiped as an avatar of Lord Shiva by strict Shaivites, as the supreme Lord Vishnu by Vaishnavites, as the supreme avatar of Lord Krishna by his sect, as the avatar of Buddha by Buddhists and as a Jain god by the followers of Jainism.
- It is believed that Lord Vitthala and Rakhumai signify non-attachment to materialistic desires. They symbolize a life of duty, forgiveness and devotion.
- The Dindi Yatra is a unique feature of the Temple. Thousands of Varkaris, people who worship Lord Vitthal religiously march from their homes in areas like Karnataka and Maharashtra to reach the Temple on foot. This Yatra is called the Dindi Yatra and takes place in June – July.
- It is widely believed that a holy dip in the Chandrabhaga River washes away all your sins and blesses the devotees with prosperity.
- In May 2014, the Pandharpur Vitthal Temple became the first Temple in India to invite women and people from backward classes to assume the responsibilities of Priests.
- The Kaustubha Mani that is hung around the neck of the deity’s idol is supposed to be one of the precious gems obtained during the mythical tale of the churning of the ocean episode in mythology.
Pandharpur Vitthal Temple Timings
- The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple opens at 4 AM and closes at 11 PM.
- The Mukha Darshan (Darshan of the face) can be had any time without waiting in the queue.
- The Sparsh Darshan (Touching of the feet) can be had only by standing in a separate queue.
The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple does not impose any strict dress code but it is advised to wear decent dresses for the visit. It is recommended that Shorts, Bermuda shorts, and miniskirts are to be avoided.
Festivals celebrated at the Temple
- Ashadi Ekadasi or the Shayani Ekadasi – The grand religious procession is celebrated in the month of Ashadha (June – July). The festivities begin on the eleventh day of the month. It is believed that Lord Vishnu falls asleep on the day in the Ksheersagar while lying on the back of the Shesha Naga on this day. The Ksheersagar is the Ocean of Milk that denotes the Milky way that surrounds the directional space. It is also the place where Lord Vishnu reclines over the Shesha Naga and plans to churn the ocean to reveal its Amrit and other miracles. Hundreds of devotees from Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh walk from their homes to the Temple carrying a Palkhi with the “Padukas” or the “Feet” of the Lord. They do so amidst singing bhajans and songs in the praise of Lord. This journey is called the Dindi Yatra. During the Yatra, the devotees perform charity work for the poor and the needy like Annadanam, repair work, medical help, and building work.
- Prabodhini Ekadasi – The Varkaris offer Poojas at the Pandharpur Vitthal Temple on the 11th day of the Kartik month (November – December), exactly four months after the Shayani Ekadasi. It is believed that Lord Vishnu wakes up from his slumber on this day in the Ksheersagar during the Samudra Manthan episode in mythology.
- The Magha Ekadasi and the Chaithra Ekadasi are also celebrated by the Varkaris especially. They arrive at the Temple in large numbers during these days and receive the blessings of their beloved Lord.
- Besides the Ekadasis, Holi, Deepavali, and Dussehra are also celebrated with great pomp and fare. The Pandharpur Vitthal Temple is decorated and special Poojas are performed for the Lord on these days.
Poojas and Rituals
- Kakad Aarti – The Aarti is performed for the Lord at 4:30 AM every day. The Kakad Aarti is a form of morning Mangal Aarti which is performed to wake up the deity. Several chants and stotrams are recited to create a holy environment conducive to the waking up of the Lord.
- Nitya Pooja – The regular Pooja begins with a ritualistic bathing of the Lord with Panchamrit which are Milk, Curd, Honey, Sugar, and Ghee. Then the Lord is decorated and dressed up in the regional attire for the morning darshan. This Pooja is performed between 5 AM to 6 AM.
- Mahapuja – This Pooja can be performed by the devotees by paying the requisite amount. Several Poojas and shlokas are recited on behalf of the devotee. These rituals are performed between 7 AM to 8 AM.
- Mahanaivedyam – The Lord is offered food of different varieties mainly consisting of rice, daal, and sweets. This takes place between 11 AM to 11:15 AM.
- The Poshakh Pooja – The ornaments and the attire of the Lord are changed again for the evening darshan.
- Dhoop Aarti – The evening Aarti takes place between 7 PM to 7:30 PM. The Lord is offered with Naivedyam afterward as dinner.
- Shej Aarti – The Night Aarti or the Shej Aarti is performed at 10 PM. The ornaments are removed from the deity and milk and sugar is offered. The Lord is allowed to sleep amidst the chants of the priests.
How to reach: Road, Rail and Air
- By Air – The nearest airport to Pandharpur is the Lohegaon airport in Pune which is situated at a distance of 205 km from the city. One can board a bus or hire a taxi from Pune to reach Pandharpur.
- By Train – The Pandharpur railway station connects various cities and towns in Maharashtra like Pune, Nagpur, Solapur, Latur, and Kopergaon. The Kurduvadi station located about 50 km from Pandharpur caters to devotees from several major cities in India like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Mysore, Pune, and Jaipur.
- By Road – The Maharashtra State Transport Corporation operates regular buses from cities like Mumbai, Bijapur, Belgaum, Pune, Solapur and Khandala. Private buses also operate on the route.
Where to stay
Pandharpur offers a wide range of hotels and ashrams for a stay to the devotees. The prices are reasonable. The MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation) has constructed a few lodges that can be booked for a stay.
Where to eat
A large number of private restaurants are available that serve delicious local cuisine as well as North Indian and South Indian cuisine.
- Takpitya Vithoba – The small shrine dedicated to Takpitya Vithoba. As per a legend, a woman who was an ardent devotee of Lord Vitthal used to offer buttermilk (tak) and ground lahi (parched Jowar, wheat or rice) daily at the Temple. If unable to reach the Temple, she offered it to Lord Vitthala at home. The Lord was impressed with her devotion and would sometimes come to her home to relish the offerings. The shrine dedicated to the Lord and the woman was built by a widow named Radhabai in 1540 CE. The stone bowl can still be visited that was used to offer food to the Lord himself.
- Pundalik Temple – The small Temple is situated beside the Chandrabhaga river, just a few kilometers away from the Vitthal Rukmini Temple. This Temple marks the resting place of Pundalik who is credited with the arrival of Lord Vitthal to Pandharpur.
- Kaikadi Maharaj Math – The Math is situated just 2 km away from the Temple. The complex depicts several mythological occurrences in Hinduism and their significance. The concept of the place is that all the Gods in Hinduism are placed under one roof and their significance explained to the devotees.
- Vishnupad Temple – The Temple is situated 5 km away from the city. It is believed that one can visit Lord Krishna’s footprints and hoof prints of a cow on a stone slab near the banks of the river. As per the local beliefs, Lord Krishna comes for lunch here every day.
- Mangalwedha – The land of Mangalwedha is called the “Land of Saints”. The city is the birthplace of several saints like Saint Damaji, Saint Kanhopatra, Saint Basaveshwara, and Saint Chokhamela.