Hdeity infobox|

Caption =
Name = Vithoba
Devanagari = विठोबा
Sanskrit_Transliteration = Viṭhobā
Tamil_script =
Script_name =
Script =
Affiliation = Form of Vishnu or Krishna
God_of =
Abode = Pandharpur
Mantra =
Weapon =
Consort = Rakhumai (Rukmini)
Mount = Garuda, when associated with Vishnu
Planet =

Vithoba ( Marathi: Viṭhobā, विठोबा ), also known as Vitthala ( Sanskrit: Viṭṭhala, विठ्ठल, Kannada: Viṭṭala, ವಿಟ್ಟಲ ) and Panduranga ( Sanskrit: Paṇḍuraṇga, पांडुरंग, Kannada: ಪಾಂಡುರಂಗ ), is a Hindu god, worshiped predominately in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Karnataka . While generally considered a manifestation of the Hindu deities Vishnu or Krishna, he is sometimes associated with the god Shiva and Buddha. Vithoba is often depicted as a dark young boy, standing arms-akimbo on a brick, sometimes accompanied by his main consort Rakhumai.

Vithoba is the focus of the monotheistic non-Brahminical Varkari sect of Maharashtra and the Haridasa sect of Karnataka. Vithoba's main temple stands at Pandharpur in Maharashtra, close to the Karnataka border. The legends of Vithoba revolve around the devotee Pundalik – who is credited with bringing the deity to Pandharpur – and around Vithoba's role as a savior to the saint-poets of the Varkari faith. The Varkari saint-poets have written various Marathi devotional compositions called abhangas dedicated to Vithoba. Other devotional literature includes Kannada hymns by the Haridasas and Marathi aratis. The most important festivals of Vithoba are Ashadhi Ekadashi (Shayani Ekadashi) and Kartik Ekadashi (Prabodini Ekadashi).

Like the origins of his names, the historicity of Vithoba and his cult is contested. In the process of his final identification with Vishnu, Vithoba – at different stages – was linked with a cattle-god, a hero stone, a Jain saint, Shiva and even Buddha. Though the origins of his cult and his main temple are unclear, there is clear evidence that they existed in the 13th century.

Etymology and other names

There are many conflicting theories about the origins of the names of the deity. Varkari etymology suggests that the word "Vitthala", also spelled as "Vitthal", "Viththal", "Vittala" and "Vithal", is composed of two Sanskrit-Marathi words, "Viṭ" meaning "brick" and "thal", which may have originated from the Sanskrit "sthala", meaning "standing". Thus "Vitthala" means "one standing on a brick". [Novetzke pp. 115–16] Crooke too supports this explanation.cite encyclopedia
author = Crooke W.
editor = Hastings, James
encyclopedia = Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics
volume = 18
title = Pandharpur
pages=pp. 607–8
isbn = 0766136957|year = 2003|publisher =Kessinger Publishing|origyear = 1935
] Khare suggests "Vitthala" is derived from a Tamil word meaning "arms-akimbo".citebook|url= |chapter=Vitthala of Pandharpur is Buddha|title=Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine|author= Jamanadas, K.|publisher=Dalit E-Forum|year=2001|accessdate=2008-09-20] The prescribed iconography of Vithoba stipulates that he be shown standing arms-akimbo upon a brick, which is associated with the legend of the devotee Pundalik. According to R. G. Bhandarkar, "Vitthu" (Viṭhu) is a Kannada corruption of the word "Vishnu", which was adopted in Marathi, and the suffixes 'la' and 'ba' (meaning "father" in Marathi) are appended for reverence – producing the names "Vitthala" and "Vithoba". [Bhandarkar p. 124] Tagare says this corruption is due to the tendency of Marathi and Kannada people to pronounce the Sanskrit 'ṣṇ' as 'ṭṭh', present from the 8th century. [Tagare in Mahipati: Abbott, Godbole p.xxxvi] According to M. S. Mate, who assumed that Pundalik is an historical figure rather than a mythical one, the devotee Pundalik was instrumental in coaxing the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to build the Pandharpur temple to Vishnu. The deity Vitthala was named by the builder king "Bittidev", the alias of Vishnuvardhana. [Sand p. 38] Other variants of the name include "Viṭhurāyā" ("King Vitthala"), and "Viṭhāī" ("Mother Vitthala"). The people of Gujarat add the suffix "Nath" ("Lord") to Vitthala, which yields the name "Vitthal-nath".cite web|url =| title = Pandharpur|publisher = The Gazetteers Dept, Government of Maharashtra (first published: 1977)|author = Pathak, Dr. Arunchandra S.| date = 2006|accessdate = 2008-07-14]

According to Hemachandra (1089–1172 AD), the other popular epithet for Vithoba, "Panduranga" or "Pandaranga", meaning "the white god" in Sanskrit, is an epithet for the god Rudra-Shiva. Bhandarkar proposes that Panduranga may be an epithet for the form of Shiva, worshipped in Pandharpur and whose temple still stands, later – with the increasing popularity of Vithoba's cult – transferred to Vithoba. [Bhandarkar p. 125] Another theory suggests that Vithoba may initially be a Shaiva (related to the cult of the god Shiva) god and later identified with Vishnu, thus the name Panduranga of Vithoba.citebook|url=,M1|title=A Social History of the Deccan, 1300–1761: Eight Indian Lives|author=Eaton, Richard Maxwell|pages=p.139–40|year = 2005|isbn = 0521254841|publisher = Cambridge University Press|accessdate=2008-09-20] Crooke suggests that Panduranga is a Sanskritised term of "Pandaraga" – "belonging to Pandarga – the old name of Pandharpur." Another name "Pandharinath" relates to Vithoba being "the lord of Pandhari (a name of Pandharpur)". Vithoba is also addressed by universal Vaishnava names like "Hari" and "Narayana", which are related to the cult of the god Vishnu. [citebook|url=|title = The Experience of Hinduism: Essays on Religion in Maharashtra|author = Zelliot, Eleanor|coauthor = Berntsen, Maxine|pages = p. 170|year = 1988|isbn = 0887066623|publisher = SUNY Press|accessdate=2008-09-20]

Origins and development

V. P. Chavan says that the hymn "Panduranga Stotra" by Adi Shankaracharya, if genuine, establishes that Vithoba worship existed as early as the ninth century AD, the period of its author. [citebook|url=|title=Vaishnavism of the Gowd Saraswat Brahmins and a Few Konkani Folklore Tales|author= Chavan, V. P. |pages= 8|publisher =Asian Educational Services|isbn = 8120606450|year = 1991|accessdate=2008-09-20] According to Eaton, the image of Vithoba was first worshipped as a pastoral god as early as the sixth century and is similar to Bir Kuar, the cattle-god of the Ahirs of Bihar, who is now also associated with Krishna. [For Bir Kuar, Tagare in Mahipati: Abbott, Godbole p. xxxiv] He says that Vithoba was later assimilated in the Shaiva pantheon and identified with the god Shiva like most other pastoral gods. The reasons Eaton cites are that the temple at Pandharpur is surrounded by Shaiva temples, most notably of the devotee Pundalik himself, and that the headgear of Vithoba is a Linga, the symbol of Shiva. However in the 13th century, the saint-poets like Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram recognized Vithoba as a form of Vishnu. Novetzke suggests that Vithoba worship migrated from Karnataka to the formerly Shaiva city of Pandharpur before 1000 CE. Under the possible influence of a Krishna-worshiping Mahanubhava sect, the town was transformed into a Vaishnava center of pilgrimage, though there are still remnants of Shaiva worship in the town. [Novetzke p. 116]

R.C. Dhere suggests that Vithoba worship is more ancient than the worship of Krishna, "Vedic or pre-Vedic", about 6th century BCE. According to Dhere, Vithoba is an amalgam of various local heroes, who gave their lives to save their cattle, and was worshiped first as a Dhangar (a shepherd, cowherd community) deity. Dhere thinks the rise of the Yadava dynasty, which had cowherd ancestry, led to the glorification of Vithoba as Krishna, who is often depicted as a cowherd. This also led to conversion of the Shaiva Pundarika shrine to the shrine of the devotee Pundalik, who brought Vithoba to Pandharpur. Vithoba is also assimilated in Buddhism as a form of Buddha, who in turn in Hinduism is viewed as a form of Vishnu.cite encyclopedia
title = "Sri-Vitthal: Ek Mahasamanvay (Marathi)" by R.C. Dhere
volume = 5
url=,M1|accessdate=2008-09-20|author= Kelkar, Ashok R.| encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia of Indian literature|pubisher = Sahitya Akademi|pages= p. 4179|year = 2001|origyear = 1992
] Despite assimilation in Vaishnavism as Krishna-Vishnu, Vithoba does not inherit the erotic overtones of Krishna such as his dalliance with the milkmaids. Vithoba is associated more with "compassion, an infinite love and tenderness for his "bhaktas" (devotees) that can be compared to the love of the mother for her children...pining for the presence of his devotees the way a cow pines for her far-away calf."citebook|url=,M1|title=Vaudeville in The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India|author= Schomer, Karine|coauthors= McLeod, W. H.|pages=pp. 223–24|year= 1987|publisher = Motilal Banarsidass Publ.|isbn = 8120802772|accessdate=2008-09-20]

G. A. Deleury proposes that the image of Vithoba is a "Viragal" (hero stone), which was later identified with Vishnu in his form as Krishna, and that Pundalik transformed the Puranic, ritualistic puja worship into the bhakti-focused "interiorized adoration prescinding caste distinction and institutional priesthood..." [Deleury in Sand p. 38] Tilak suggests that Vithoba emerged as "an alternative to existing panthenon" of Brahminical (related to classical, ritualistic Hinduism) deities. The emergence of Vithoba was concurrent with rise of a "new type of lay devotee", the Varkari. While Vishnu and Shiva were bound in rigid ritualistic worship and Brahmin (priest class) control, Vithoba, "the God of the subaltern, became increasingly human". Vithoba is often praised as the protector of the poor and needy. [Tilak pp. 243–46] Another theory suggests that Vithoba is a Jain saint because the Pandharpur image of Vithoba is "digambar" ("sky-clad" or naked), like images of Jain Digambar saints. [citebook|url =|title=The Great Temples of India, Ceylon, and Burma|publisher=Asian Education Service|author=Anon|year = 1988|isbn = 8120603850|origyear = 1898|accessdate=2008-09-20]

Pandharpur temple

Scholars examine the history of Vithoba beginning with the dating of the chief temple at Pandharpur, which is believed to be the earliest Vithoba temple.cite book|url=|title = Maharashtra – Land and Its People: Ch.7: Religion and Gods of Maharashtra|author= Karve, I.|year = 1968|pages = 188–9|publisher=Maharashtra State Gazetteer|format=pdf|accessdate=2008-09-20] The oldest part of the temple dates to the Yadava period of the 12th and 13th centuries, but most of the temple is believed to have been built in the 17th century, and additions continue.Zelliot, Eleanor in Mokashi, p. 35] The date of establishment of the temple is unclear to Bhandarkar, but he insists there is clear evidence to suggest it existed in the 13th century. [Bhandarkar p. 124] According to S. G. Tulpule, the temple stood as early as 1189 AD. A monument dated 1189 records establishment of a small Vithoba shrine at the present location of the temple; thus Tulpule concludes that the worship of Vithoba predates 1189. [Shima p. 184] Ranade believes that the oldest inscription of Vitthala (Vithoba) and Rakhumai, dated to 1209 AD, is found in Alandi. [Ranade p. 183] A stone inscription dated 1237 AD, found in an overhead beam of the present Vithoba temple, mentions that the Hoysala king Someshvara donated a village for the expenses of the "bhoga"s (food offerings) of Vitthala (Vithoba). [citebook|title=Studies in Indian Archaeology|author=Gokhale, Shobana|chapter = The Pandharpur Stone inscription of the Yadava king Mahadeva Sake 1192|url=,M1|pages=pp. 42-52|year=1985|publisher=Popular Prakashan|isbn=0861320883, 9780861320882|edition=238 pages|accessdate=2008-09-20|editor = Deo, Shantaram Bhalchandra; Dhavalikar, Madhukar Keshav] A copperplate inscription in 1249 AD records a grant being given to a general of the Yadava king Krishna, to the village "Paundrikakshetra" (the city of Pundarik) on the river Bhimarathi, "in vicinity of" the god Vishnu. [Bhandarkar p. 124] Another stone inscription in Pandharpur narrates a sacrifice at Pandurangapura due to which "people and Vitthal (Vithoba) along with the gods were gratified". [Bhandarkar p. 125] Thus from the thirteenth century, the city is known as the city of Panduranga. Inside the temple, a stone inscription records gifts to the temple between 1272–77 AD from various donors, notably minister Hemadri of Yadava king Ramachandra.


Sand concludes from the Skanda Purana version of Pundalik's legend (discussed below in Legend) that two "murtis" (images) of Vithoba must have existed at Pandharpur. The early one was a "tirtha-murti", the image near a holy water body or tirtha, that faced west near the Pundalik shrine on the bed of the river Bhima. The other was a "kshetra-murti", the image at the "kshetra" or holy place, where a temple faced east on the hill where the current temple, built around 1189, stands. Thus, he proposes that the worship of Vithoba may predate the temple itself. [Sand pp. 43, 58] Deleury suggests that although the temple may have been built in the 13th-century Hemadpanthi style of temple architecture, the statue of Vithoba is of an earlier style and may have been carved when a smaller shrine existed in Pandharpur. The workmanship of the image is earlier than the style of the Anhivad Chalukyas (943–1210), Yadavas (1175–1318) and Ajmer Chohans (685–1193). Although no other existing Vishnu temple has iconography like Pandharpur's Vithoba, Deleury finds similarities between the Pandharpur image and the third-century arms-akimbo Vishnu images at Udaygiri Caves, but declares that they are from different schools of sculpture.


The legendary figure of Pundalik is commonly perceived as an historical figure connected with the establishment and propagation of the Vithoba-centric Varkari cult. [Sand p.35] R.G. Bhandarkar considers Pundalik to be the founder of the Varkari cult. [ Bhandarkar pp.125–6] According to Bhandarkar, he was the one who promulgated the cult in Maratha country. [ Bhandarkar in Sand p.36] Stevenson (1843) thinks Pundalik was an historical person, possibly a Jain or a Buddhist since Varkari tradition is a combination of Buddhist and Jain morals, and Vithoba is viewed as Vishnu in his form as Buddha. [Sand p.35, read the full text at [,M1 The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1843) pp.64–73] ] Frazer, Edwards and P.R. Bhandarkar (1922) suggest that Pundalik tried to unify Shiva and Vishnu and that this cult originated from Karnataka. [Sand p.37] Ranade (1933) thinks that Pundalik, a Kannada saint, was not only the founder of the Varkari cult but also the first great devotee or first high priest of the Pandharpur temple. [citebook|url=,M1 |title=Mysticism in Maharashtra: Indian Mysticism| author=Ranade, R. D. |pages=pp.183–4|year=1988|publisher=Motilal Banarsidass|accessdate=2008-09-20] Upadhyaya supports the priest theory but declines the Kannada origin theory. [Sand p.37] According to Mate, Pundalik was instrumental in coaxing the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to build the Pandharpur temple to Vishnu, placing him in the early 12th century. [Sand p.38] Other scholars like Raeside (1965), Dhanpalvar (1972), and Vaudeville (1974) have questioned the historicity of Pundalik and dismissed him as a mythical figure. [Sand pp.39–40]


Varkaris consider Vithoba to be the "swarup" or original Vishnu himself, not an avatar of Vishnu like Krishna, [ Zelliot, Eleanor in Mokashi p. 37] although legends and consorts link Vithoba to Krishna. A. R. Kulkarni feels that Vithoba is not Krishna as there is a Krishna temple in Pandharpur that the Mahanubhavas, who are worshippers of Krishna, visit while they do not visit the Vithoba temple. In some traditions though, Vithoba is also worshipped as a form of Shiva. Dhangars still consider Vithoba to be a brother of the god Viroba and view Vithoba as a Shaiva god rather than a Vaishnava one. [citebook|url=|title=The Experience of Hinduism: Essays on Religion in Maharashtra|author= Zelliot, Eleanor|coauthors= Berntsen, Maxine|pages=p. 114|year = 1988|publisher = SUNY Press|isbn = 0887066623|accessdate=2008-09-20] Vithoba's consort is worshipped by the community as "Padubai", a protector of the community and cattle in particular. Underhill proposes that the shrine of Pandharpur is a combined form of Vishnu-Shiva established by the "Bhagavata" sect that worships Vishnu-Shiva.Underhill p. 171] For the Badva brahmins, the chief priests of the Pandharpur temple, "Viṭhobā is neither Viṣṇu (Vishnu) nor Śiva (Shiva). Viṭhobā is Viṭhobā". Raeside, Dr. I. M. P. (1965) in Sand p. 33]

B. R. Ambedkar, an Indian political leader and Buddhist convert, suggested that Vithoba was Buddha. [citebook|isbn = 8171542379|year = 2005|origyear = 1954|publisher = Popular Prakashan|url= |title=Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission|author= Keer, Dhanajay |pages=p. 482|accessdate=2008-09-20] Vithoba's image replaces the traditional representation of Buddha, when depicted as the ninth avatar of Vishnu, in some temple sculptures and Hindu astrological almanacs in Maharashtra. Lokhnade suggested that the saint-poets praised Vithoba as a form of Buddha.


All Vithoba images are generally modeled on his central image in Pandharpur. The Pandharpur image is a black basalt sculpture that is convert|3|ft|9|in|m| tall. He is depicted as a dark, often black young boy with a high, conical headgear or crown interpreted as Shiva's symbol – a Linga. Thus, according to Zelliot, Vithoba represents Vishnu as well as Shiva. [ Zelliot, Eleanor in Mokashi, p. 35–36] The first Varkari saint-poet, Dnyaneshwar, states that Vithoba (Vishnu) has lifted Shiva, who according to Vaishnavism is Vishnu's first and foremost devotee, on his own head. [Ranade p.41]

Vithoba is shown standing arms-akimbo on the brick thrown by the devotee Pundalik. He wears a tulsi-bead necklace with Kaustubha gem embedded in it and "Makara-kundala" (fish-shaped earrings) that saint-poet Tukaram relates to the iconography of Vishnu. Vithoba holds a conch in his left hand and a discus or a lotus in his right, all of which are traditional attributes of Vishnu. Other images depict the right hand making a gesture that has been traditionally misunderstood as a blessing; no blessing-gesture is present in the central image. The Pandharpur image is either "digambhar" (naked), or its loin cloth is present around the waist with a fold of the robe extending to the feet, through which the shape of genitals is visible. Other images and pictures depict him clothed usually with "Pitambhara", a yellow ") and "Yama" on the feet.


Vithoba is usually depicted with his main consort, Rukmini, on his left side. Rukmini is generally referred as "Rakhumai" or "Rakhamai"(literally "mother Rukmini"). Rukmini is traditionally viewed as the wife of Krishna and a form of the goddess Lakshmi. Hindus generally consider Krishna as a form of Vishnu and his consort as a form of Lakshmi. Rakhumai is depicted in the arms-akimbo posture, standing on a brick. She has an independent cella in the Pandharpur temple complex. According to Ghurye, Rukmini – a princess of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra kingdom – was elevated to main consort instead of Radha because of her affiliation with the region. Apart from Rakhumai, two other consorts Satyabhama and Rahi, derived from Radha, are worshiped too. All three consorts are regarded as Krishna's in Hindu mythology. [citebook|url=,M1 |title=Indian Sociology Through Ghurye, a Dictionary|author= Pillai, S. Devadas|pages=pp. 366–67|year = 1997|isbn = 8171548075|publisher = Popular Prakashan|accessdate=2008-09-20]


The main temple of Vithoba and his consort Rakhumai (Rukmini) is located at Pandharpur (coord|17.67|N|75.33|E|) in Maharashtra, on the border of that state with Karnataka. Pandharpur is affectionately called "Bhu-Vaikuntha" (the place of residence of Vishnu on earth) by devotees. [Tagare in Mahipati: Abbott, Godbole p.xxxv] Vithoba is a popular deity in Maharashtra and Karnataka; devotees exist in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to a lesser extent. Vithoba "is worshipped and revered by most Marathi people but he is not the family deity of many people". [Karve in Singh: p. LIX]

Two distinct traditions revolve around the worship of Vithoba in Maharashtra: the ritual worship of the god by Badva brahmin priests in his temple and the spiritual worship by the Varkaris. [ Engblom, Philip C. in Mokashi, pp. 7–10, 15] The ritual worship of Vithoba by the Badva brahmins in the main temple of Pandharpur includes five daily rites. The rituals start with the "kākaḍāratī", an "arati" to awaken the god at about 3 am. Next comes the "pañcāmṛtapūjā", a "puja" that includes a bath with five sweet substances called Panchamrita. After dressing the image comes "madhyāhṇapūjā", a "puja" for re-dressing and lunch at noon. Fourth is "aparāhṇapūjā", a "puja" for dinner at sunset, and last comes "śerāratī", an "arati" for putting the god to sleep. [Shima p.188] Apart from these traditions, the Haridasa tradition dedicated to Vitthala flourished in Karnataka.

Varkari sect

"Varkari Panth" ("The Pilgrims' Path") or "Varkari sampradaya" ("The Pilgrims' tradition") is one of the most important Vaishnava sects in India. [Flood (1996) p. 135] It is a monotheistic bhakti sect, focused on the worship of Vithoba and based on traditional "Bhagavata dharma". The sect, according to Vaudeville, is "Shaiva-Vaishnava synthesis" and "nominal Vaishnavism, containing a free mix of other religions". [Novetzke p. 116] The sect is believed to have originated in Karnataka and migrated to Maharashtra. This theory is based on Vitthala (Vithoba) being called "Kannada" – belonging to Karnataka – by saint-poet Dnyaneshwar, citeencyclopedia| url=,M1| title=Encyclopaedia of Indian literature|volume=1|pages=pp. 966–8|publisher=Sahitya Akademi|year = 1987|isbn = 8126018038|accessdate=2008-09-20] although the word is also interpreted as "difficult to understand". [citebook| url=,M1|title=Songs on Yoga: Texts and Teachings of the Mahārāṣṭrian Nāths|author= Kiehnle, Catharina|pages=p. 17| isbn = 3515069224| publisher=Franz Steiner Verlag|year=1997| accessdate=2008-09-20] Varkaris and scholars who believe Pundalik to be an historical figure consider Pundalik the founder of the cult of Vithoba. This is evidenced by the glory cry "Pundalikavarada Hari Vitthala", which means "O Hari (Vishnu) Vitthala (Vithoba), who has given a boon to Pundalik". According to Zelliot, the sect was founded by Dnyaneshwar, spelled also as "Jnaneshwar", a Brahmin poet and philosopher of about 1275–1296. [Zelliot, Eleanor in Mokashi, p. 38] Varkaris also give him credit with the saying "Dnyanadev rachila paya", which means "Dnyaneshwar laid the foundation".

Namdev, (c. 1270–1350) a shudra tailor, also wrote "abhangas" (literally "unbroken", short Marathi devotional poems) in praise of Vithoba and used Kirtana to sing the glory of his Lord. This led to the spread of the Vithoba faith, which accepted women, shudras and outcaste "untouchables", something forbidden in classical Brahminical Hinduism. In the times of Muslim rulers, the faith faced stagnation. After the decline of the Vijayanagara empire, when wars erupted in the Deccan region, the Muslim rulers had to accept the faiths of Maharashtra in order to gather the support of its people. In this period, Eknath (c. 1533–99) revived the Varkari tradition. With the foundation of Maratha empire under Shivaji, the Vithoba-centric tradition was further propagated by Tukaram (c. 1568–1650, a shudra grocer) throughout the Maharashtra region. [Shima pp. 184–86]

All these saint-poets and others like Janabai, the maidservant of Namdev, wrote Marathi devotional poetry ("abhangas") dedicated to Vithoba. This poetry advocates pure devotion to Vithoba and refers mostly to Vithoba as a father or in the case of female-saint Janabai's poetry as a woman or mother ("Vithabai"). [Flood (1996) pp. 142–44] A wide variety of people from different castes and backgrounds wrote "abhangas" in praise of Vithoba: Visoba Khechara, who was an orthodox Shaiva (worshipper of Shiva) and teacher of Namdev; Sena the barber; Narhari the goldsmith; Savata the gardener; Gora the potter; Kanhopatra the dancing girl; Chokhamela the "untouchable" Mahar, and even the Muslim Sheikh Muhammad (1560–1650). [Zelliot, Eleanor in Mokashi, p. 40] Anyone born Shaiva or Vaishnava who considers Vithoba his "maya-baap" (mother-father) and Pandharpur his "maher" (maternal house of a bride) is accepted as a Varkari by the sect irrespective of the barriers of caste. Varkaris often practice the japa (meditative repetition of a deity's name) of Vithoba's name and observe a fast on all Ekadashis (11th lunar days). [Tagare in Mahipati: Abbott, Godbole p. xxxvii]

Haridasa sect

According to Haridasa tradition, the Vaishnava "Haridasa" ("servants of Vishnu") or "Haridasa-kuta" movement centered on Vitthala (Vithoba) was founded by "Achalananda Vitthala" (c. 888).citebook|accessdate=2008-09-20|url=,M1 |title=The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism|author= Flood, Gavin D.|pages= pp. 252–53|publisher = Blackwell Publishing|isbn = 0631215352, 9780631215356|year = 2003|accessdate=2008-09-20] According to Sharma, the Vithoba-centric devotion movement first emerged with the Haridasa tradition in Karnataka and later moved to Maharashtra. He relates this to Vitthala being called "Kannada" by Dnyaneshwar. [citebook|url=,M1|title=History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature|author= Sharma, B.N.K.|pages= pp. 514–16|publisher = Blackwell Publishing|isbn = 8120815750, 9788120815759|year = 2000|accessdate=2008-09-20] Lutgendorf credits the movement to Vyasatirtha (1478–1539), the royal preceptor of Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya. Vitthala enjoyed royal patronage in his era. Krishnadevaraya is credited with building Vitthala's temple at Hampi (Vijayanagara). [citebook|url=,M1|title=Hanuman's Tale: The Messages of a Divine Monkey|author= Lutgendorf, Philip|pages= pp. 69, 70, 72|publisher = Oxford University Press US|isbn = 0195309219, 9780195309218|year = 2007|accessdate=2008-09-20]

Haridasas consider the temple of Pandharpur sacred as well that of Hampi and worship Vitthala along with forms of Krishna. [cite web |url=|title= History of the Haridasas|accessdate=2008-09-15|date= October 30, 1997, last updated on December 12, 2000|work= website|publisher = Madhusudana Rao CR] Haridasa literature generally dealt with praise dedicated to Vitthala and Krishna. [cite web |url=|title= Haridasa Literature|accessdate=2008-09-15|date= October 30, 1997, last updated on December 12, 2000|work= website|publisher = Madhusudana Rao CR] Haridasa poets like Vijaya Vitthala, Gopala Vitthala, Jagannatha Vitthala, Venugopala Vitthala and Mohana Vitthala assumed pen-names ending with "Vitthala" as an act of devotion. [cite web |url=|title= Ankitha|accessdate=2008-09-15|date= October 30, 1997, last updated on December 12, 2000|work= website|publisher = Madhusudana Rao CR] [cite web |url=|title= Haridasa Lineage|accessdate=2008-09-15|date= October 30, 1997, last updated on December 12, 2000|work= website|publisher = Madhusudana Rao CR] The Haridasa poet Purandara Dasa or Purandara Vitthala (1484–1564), "Father of Carnatic Music",cite book |last= Iyer|first= Panchapakesa A.S.|title= Karnataka Sangeeta Sastra|origyear=2006|year=2006|publisher= Zion Printers|location= Chennai|isbn= p. 93] often ended his Kannada compositions with a salutation to Vitthala. [ citebook|url=,M1|title=Songs on Yoga: Texts and Teachings of the Mahārāṣṭrian Nāths|author= Kiehnle, Catharina|pages=p. 39|isbn = 3515069224|publisher = Franz Steiner Verlag| year=1997|accessdate=2008-09-20]


The festivals associated with Vithoba correspond primarily to the bi-annual pilgrimages of the Varkaris to Pandharpur. The Varkari pilgrims travel from Alandi and Dehu, towns closely associated with saint-poets Dnayaneshwar and Tukaram respectively, to Pandharpur. Along the way, they sing "abhanga"s (devotional songs) dedicated to Vithoba and repeat his name, carrying the palkhis (palanquin) of the saint-poets. Varkaris do not engage in ritual worship but only take darshan of the deity. The ritual worship by the priests is curtailed five days each around Ashadha (June – July) and Kartik (October – November) Ekadashis, the 11th day of the Hindu month, when the large number of Varkaris perform their yatra (annual pilgrimage) to Pandharpur. The Varkaris visit the temple on two more Ekadashis in the Hindu months of Magha and Chaitra too, but in smaller numbers. [ Engblom, Philip C. in Mokashi, pp. 7–10, 15] Up to six hundred thousand Varkaris travel to Pandharpur for an annual pilgrimage on Shayani Ekadashi, the 11th of bright fortnight [Each of the 12 Hindu months such as Ashadha, Chaitra, Magha, and Kartik etc. is divided into two fortnights of 15 days each. During the bright fortnight ("Shukla-paksha"), from day 1 to day 15 or full moon day, the moon waxes, and during the dark fortnight ("Krishna-paksha") it wanes til new moon day.] in the Hindu month of Ashadha. [Engblom, Philip C. in Mokashi, p. 2] Both Shayani Ekadashi and Prabodini Ekadashi, the 11th of bright fortnight in Kartik, are associated with the mythology of Vishnu. Hindus believe that Vishnu falls asleep in Ksheersagar – a cosmic ocean of milk – on Shesha-nāga, the cosmic serpent, on Shayani Ekadashi (literally "sleeping eleventh") and finally awakens from his slumber four months later on Prabodhini Ekadashi. The celebrations in Ashadha and Kartik continue until the full-moon in those months, concluding with torchlight processions. [Shima p. 188] Inscriptions dating to the 11th century mention the Ekadashi pilgrimages to Pandharpur. On Shayani Ekadashi and Prabodini Ekadashi, the chief minister or a minister of Maharashtra state performs the worship on behalf of the Government of Maharashtra ("sakari-mahapuja").

Apart from the four Ekadashis, a fair is held on Dussera night at Pandharpur, when devotees dance on a large slab ("Ranga-shila") before Vithoba, accompanied with torchlight processions. Other observances at the Pandharpur temple include Ranga-panchami, when gulal (red powder) is sprinkled on the god's feet and Krishna Janmashtami, Krishna's birthday, when devotees dance and sing in front of Vithoba for nine days. [Shima p. 189] Other sacred days include Wednesdays, Saturdays and all other Ekadashis, all of which are considered holy in Vaishnavism.

Devotional works

The texts of the Varkari sect are "Bhaktalilamrita" and "Bhaktavijaya" of Mahipati, "Pundalika-mahatmya" by Bahinabai and a long abhanga by Namdev, all of which describe the legend of Pudalik. Sanskrit texts from the Brahmin tradition include two versions of "Panduranga-Mahatmya" from Skanda Purana, consisting of 900 verses; "Panduranga-mahatmya" from Padma Purana, consisting of 1,200 verses, and a chapter, "Bhima-mahatmya", from Padma Purana. [Sand p. 33] [For the complete English translation of "Bhaktavijaya", which narrates the legend of Pundalik and also tells stories of reported interactions between the saints and Vithoba, see "Stories of Indian Saints" by Mahīpati, Justin Edwards Abbott, and Narhar R. Godbole.] According to Dhere, a third "Panduranga-mahatmya" is found in Vishnu Purana. [Sand p. 56] The Marathi "Panduranga-mahatmya" by the Brahmin Sridhara and another work by the same name written by Prahlada Maharaj in Marathi and consisting of 181 ovis (verses) originate from what Raeside calls a "third tradition" between Varkari and Brahmin traditions. [Sand p. 34]

Apart from these and "abhangas", short Marathi devotional poems of the Varkaris, many "stutis" (praises) and "stotras" (hymns) are dedicated to Vithoba, some of them from the Haridasa tradition. The best known of these is "Pandurangastaka" or "Pandurangastrotra", attributed to Adi Shankaracharya, although this attribution is questioned. [Sand p. 56] The text "Tirthavali-gatha", attributed to Namdev or Dnyaneshwar but possibly a collection of writings of saint-poets, is a text centered on the propagation of Varkari faith and worship of Vithoba. [Novetzke p. 120] Other devotional works include aratis like "Yuge atthavisa vitevari ubha" by Namdev and "Yei O Vitthala maje mauli re". These aratis sing of Vithoba, who wears yellow garments and is served by Garuda (mount of Vishnu) and Hanuman (the monkey god, devotee of Rama – an avatar of Vishnu).


Many temples of Vithoba are in Maharashtra; [Singh p. 13] and some are in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The Vithoba temple, Pandharpur in Maharashtra is the main centre of worship of Vithoba. The temple's date of establishment is disputed, though it is clear that the temple was standing at the time of Dnyaneshwar in the 13th century. Along with Vithoba and his consorts, Rukmini, Satyabhama and Radha, other Vaishnava deities are worshipped. These include Venkateshwara, a form of Vishnu; Mahalakshmi, a form of Vishnu's consort Lakshmi; Garuda, mount of Vishnu, and Hanuman, the monkey god, as well as Shaiva deities such as Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom and beginnings; Khandoba, a form of Shiva, and Annapurna, a form of Shiva's consort Parvati. The samadhis (memorials) of saints like Namdev, Chokhamela, and Janabai and of devotees such as Pundalik and Kanhopatra are in and around the temple. [Shima pp. 189–96.] Other significant temples in Maharashtra are at Dehu, the birthplace of Tukaram, which attracts visitors at all ekadashis of the year; Kole (Satara district), in memory of Ghadge Bova, which has a fair on the fifth day of the bright fortnight in Magha month; Kolhapur and Rajapur, which host fairs on Shayani Ekadashi and Prabodini Ekadashi,Underhill pp. 165–66, p. 172] [cite web|url =| title = Kole|publisher = The Gazetteers Dept, Government of Maharashtra (first published: 1963)|author = Pathak, Dr. Arunchandra S.| date = 2006|accessdate = 2008-10-02] and Birla Mandir at Shahad.

Vitthala was introduced to South India during the Vijayanagara and Maratha rule.citebook|url =,M1 |title=Temples of Kr̥ṣṇa in South India: History, Art, and Traditions in Tamilnāḍu|author=T. Padmaja|pages= pp. 92, 108, 121–22, fig 87|year = 2002|isbn = 8170173981, 9788170173984|publisher = Abhinav Publications|accessdate=2008-09-20] The World Heritage site of the "Vijaya-Vittala" temple in Hampi near Vijaynagara, Karnataka, is the most important Vithoba temple outside Maharashtra. Constructed in the 15th century, the temple is believed to have housed the central Vitthala (Vithoba) image from Pandharpur, which Vijaynagara king Krishnadevaraya took "to enhance his own status". It was later retrieved to Pandharpur by Bhanudas (1448–1513), great-grandfather of saint-poet Eknath. [citebook|url=,M1|title=Mysticism in Maharashtra: Indian Mysticism|author= Ranade, R. D.|pages=p. 213|accessdate=2008-09-20 See also: Eleanor Zelliot in Mokashi, p. 42] From 1516 to 1565, most important transactions, which would have been carried out previously in the presence of the original state deity Virupaksha (a form of Shiva), were issued in presence of Vitthala. [citebook|url =,M1 |title=A Social History of the Deccan, 1300–1761: Eight Indian Lives|author=Eaton, Richard Maxwell|pages= 83|year = 2005|isbn = 0521254841|publisher = Cambridge University Press|accessdate=2008-09-20] Three of Madhvacharya's eight "matha"s (monasteries) in Karnataka –Shirur, Pejavara and Puttige – have Vitthala as their presiding deity. [ citebook|url=,M1|title=History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature|author= Sharma, B.N.K.|pages= 612|publisher = Blackwell Publishing|isbn = 8120815750, 9788120815759|year = 2000|accessdate=2008-09-20] [citebook|url=,M1|title=Living Traditions in Contemporary Contexts: The Madhva Matha of Udupi|author= Rao, Vasudeva|pages= pp. 54–5|publisher = Orient Longman|isbn = 812502297X, 9788125022978|year = 2002|accessdate=2008-09-20] A "Vitthaleshwara temple" stands at Mulbagal, Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu, Vitthala shrines are also found in Srirangam, Vittalapuram in Tirunelveli district, and Thennangur, and sculptures are also found in Kanchi.


There are two versions of the Vithoba legend in the Sanskrit scripture Skanda Purana. According to the first version (verses 1.34–67), ascetic Pundarika (Pundalik), is described as a devotee of Vishnu as well of his parents. Grazing his cows, the god Gopala-Krishna comes from Govardhana to meet Pundarika. Krishna is described as in "digambara" (naked) form, wearing "Makara-kundala" (fish-shaped earrings), a Srivasta mark, and a head-dress of peacock feathers, resting his hands on his hips and keeping his cow-stick between his thighs. Pundarika asks Krishna for a boon to stay in that form at the place where the river Bhima flows, making it both a tirtha (holy place near a water body) and a kshetra (holy place where a temple is situated). [Sand p. 41–2] This place is identified with modern-day Pandharpur, where the river Bhima flows, and the description of Krishna resembles the characteristics of the Pandharpur image. [cite web|url= HzHSk2WfE#PPA78,M1 |title=The History of Sacred Places in India as Reflected in Traditional Literature|author = Bakker, Hans|pages = 78|year = 1990|publisher = BRILL|isbn = 9004093184|accessdate=2008-09-20]

The "Bhima-mahatmya" is the second version of the tale in Skanda Purana. The text of Prahala maharaj and "abhanga"s (verses) of Marathi saint-poets, notably Tukaram, picture Vithoba as appearing before Pundalik as the five-year-old Bala Krishna (infant Krishna). [Sand p. 50]

The last version of the legend appears in Sridhara's Marathi text and the Sanskrit text Padma Purana. Pundalik, a Brahmin, grew ill-mannered and treated his parents badly. The elderly parents decided to leave for the holy city of Kashi. Upon hearing of their plans, Pundalik and his wife joined them on the pilgrimage and forced the parents to walk the whole way and to groom horses while Pundalik and his wife rode on horseback. On the way to Kashi, the group reached the hermitage of sage Kukkuta. At night, Pundalik woke by chance and witnessed the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati as beautiful damsels coming to the hermitage to purify themselves. When he asked the reason for their appearance, they told Pundalik that Kukkuta served his parents and thus became pious and that by serving the sage they became pure too. Further, they advised Pundalik to do the same. Pundalik devoted in his life to the service of his parents thereafter.

Meanwhile, Radha, the milkmaid-lover of Krishna, came to Dwarka, the kingdom of Krishna, and sat on his lap. Radha did not honour Rukmini, the chief queen of Krishna, nor did Krishna hold Radha accountable for the offense. Offended, Rukmini left Krishna and went to the forest of "Dandivana" near Pandharpur. Saddened by Rukmini's departure, Krishna searched for his queen and finally found her resting in "Dandivana" near Pundalik's house. After a bit of coaxing, Rukmini gave up her anger. [Bhandarkar pp. 125–6] Then Krishna visited Pundalik and saw his devotion to his parents. When Krishna came to Pundalik's house, Pundalik was engaged in helping his parents. Pundalik threw a brick outside for Krishna to stand on while Krishna waited. Pundalik asked a boon that the Lord should stand in that form with Rakhumai to bless his devotees forever. [Sand p. 52]

Other legends describe Vithoba coming to the rescue of his devotees in the form of a Mahar "untouchable" or a Brahmin beggar. [Eleanor Zelliot in Mokashi, p. 35] Mahipati in his work "Pandurangastrotra" narrates how Vithoba helped female saints like Janabai in their daily chores such as sweeping the house and pounding the rice. He narrates how Vithoba came to the aid of Sena the barber. The king ordered Sena to be arrested for not coming to the palace despite royal orders. As Sena was engrossed in his prayers to Vithoba, Vithoba went to the palace in form of Sena to serve the king, and Sena was saved. When another saint Damaji, the keeper of the royal grain store, distributed grain to the people in famine, Vithoba came as an outcast with a bag of gold to pay for the grain. [Tilak p. 247]



*citebook|title=Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, and Minor Religious Systems|author=Bhandarkar, Ramakrishna Gopal|authorlink=Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar|url=,M1 |pages=pp. 124–27|year=1995|publisher=Asian Educational Services|isbn=812060122X|origyear=1913
*citebook|title=An Introduction to Hinduism|author=Flood, Gavin D.|year=1996|publisher=Cambridge University Press |isbn=0521438780|url =|pages = pp.135, 142–4
*citebook|title=Stories of Indian Saints: An English Translation of Mahipati's Marathi Bhaktavijaya|author = Mahīpati| coauthors = Abbott, Justin Edwards; Godbole, Narhar R.; Tagare, Ganesh Vasudeo|year=1988|publisher=Motilal Banarsidass| isbn=8120804694 |url =,M1
*citebook|author=Mokashi, Digambar Balkrishna|coauthors= Engblom, Philip C.|title=Palkhi: a pilgrimage to Pandharpur - translated from the Marathi book Pālakhī by Philip C. Engblom|year=1987|publsher=SUNY Press|isbn=0887064612| url =,M1|pages = pp.34–50 and pp.263–278
*citebook|title=Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a Hindu Deity|url =,M1|author = Novetzke, Christian Lee|coauthors = Beck, Guy L.|year = 2005|publisher =SUNY Press|isbn=0791464156|chapter = A Family Affair: Krishna comes to Pandharpur and makes Himself at Home|pages = pp. 113–138
*citebook|title=Mysticism in India: The Poet-saints of Maharashtra|author= Ranade, Ramchandra Dattatraya|url=,M1|publisher= SUNY Press|year=1983|origyear=1933|isbn = 0873956699, 9780873956697
*citebook|author= Sand, Erick Reenberg|chapter=The Legend of Pundarika: The Founder of Pandharpur|pages=pp. 33–61|url=| title=The History of Sacred Places in India as Reflected in Traditional Literature|coauthors= Bakker, Hans; Brereton, Joel P.; Jamison, Stephanie W.; Deshpande, Madhav |isbn=9004093184|publisher=Brill|year = 1990
*cite journal|url= |title= The Vithoba Faith of Maharashtra: The Vithoba Temple of Pandharpur and Its Mythological Structure| journal = Japanese Journal of Religious Studies|volume = 15| issue = 2-3| accessdate= 2008-09-21 |author = Shima Iwao|month = June-September| year= 1988|format= pdf |work = periodical| publisher= Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture|pages= pp. 183–197|issn = 0304-1042
*citebook|title=People of India: Maharashtra|author= Singh, Kumar Suresh|coauthors= Mehta, B.V. |publisher=Anthropological Survey of India|year=2004|isbn=8179911004|pages = pp.11–3| isbn = 8179911004, 9788179911006|url =
*citebook|title=Understanding Karma: In Light of Paul Ricoeur's Philosophical Anthropology|author= Tilak, Shrinivas |url=,M1|chapter=Emergence of Vitthala:divine advocate of the subaltern|publisher=International Centre for Cultural Studies|year=2006|isbn = 8187420200, 9788187420200
*citebook|title=The Hindu Religious Year|author= Underhill, M.M.|year=1991|publisher=Asian Educational Services|isbn=8120605233|origyear=1921|edition=Originally published: Calcutta : Association Press|url =

Further reading

*citebook|author=Deleury, G. A.|title=The cult of Vithoba|publisher=Magis Books|edition=Pune: Deccan College, Postgraduate and Research Institute (Original from the University of Michigan)|year=1960
*citebook|title = Sri Vitthal: Ek Mahasamanvaya|language = Marathi|author = Dhere, R.C.|year = 1984|publisher = Shrividya Prakashan|location = Pune
*citebook|title=Aisa vitevara deva kothe!|language = Marathi|author=Dhond, M. V.|publisher=Rajhans Prakashan|year=2001
*citebook|author = Tulpule, S. G.|year = 1979|title = Classical Marathi Literature: A History of Indian Literature, vol. IX, fax. 4.|location = Wiesbaden|publisher = Otto Harrassowitz

External links

* [ Article on the Pandharpur temple, author: Maharashtra govt]
* [ Pandurang Stotra by Adi-Shankara from Marathi wikipedia]
* [ The Haridasa movement]

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