Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Tirtha-yatra - Part 17


Lord Viththala's Temple at Pandarapura

Feb 12, CANADA (SUN) — A serial exploration of the holy sites visited by Lord Caitanya.


In Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya Lila, Chapter 9, we read about Lord Caitanya's visit to a famous Krsna temple in Maharashtra state:

    Madhya 9.282

    tatha haite pandarapure aila gauracandra
    viththala-thakura dekhi' paila ananda

    "From there Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to Pandarapura, where He happily saw the temple of Viththala Thakura."

    The city of Pandarapura is situated on the river Bhima. It is said that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu initiated Tukarama when He visited Pandarapura, and thus Tukarama became His disciple. Tukarama Acarya became very famous in the Maharashtra province, and he spread the sankirtana movement all over the province. The sankirtana party belonging to Tukarama is still very popular in Bombay and throughout the province of Maharashtra. Tukarama's book is known as Abhanga. His sankirtana party exactly resembles the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sankirtana parties, for they chant the holy name of the Lord with mridanga and karatalas.

    The Lord Viththaladeva mentioned in this verse is a form of Lord Vishnu with two hands. He is Narayana."

Lord Viththala and Rukmini Devi

Known in ancient times as Pandupur (Pandharpur), the village of Pandarapura is located in the Sholapur district of Maharashtra, about 38 miles west of the center of Sholapur. The town lies on the bank of the Bhima River, and is famous for its Vithoba (Viththala) temple. At the time Lord Caitanya visited there, Pandarapura was an important center of Maratha Vaisnavism.

In his book, Chaitanya's Pilgrimages and Teachings by Jadunath Sarkar (Calcutta 1913), the author states:

    "After thus humbling the pride of that sect the Master went to the Falgu shrine, then to Tritakupa (the shrine of Bishala), Panchapsara, Gokarna (where Shiva is worshipped), Dwaipayani, Suprak, Kolhapur (where He beheld Lakshmi and Kshir Bhagavati), Nanga-Ganesha, Chor Parvati, and Pandupur. Here before Vithal's image He sang and danced long."

Sri Krsnadas Kaviraj also states that Lord Caitanya preached at Pandupur.

Later in Madhya Lila 9, we find further information about Lord Caitanya's association with Pandarapura, this time in relationship with His brother:

    Madhya 9.300

    ei tirthe sankararanyera siddhi-prapti haila
    prastave sri-ranga-puri eteka kahila

    "Sri Ranga Puri informed Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu that the sannyasi named Sankararanya had attained perfection in that holy place, Pandarapura.

    Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's elder brother was named Visvarupa. He left home before Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and accepted the sannyasa order under the name of Sankararanya Svami. He traveled all over the country and finally went to Pandarapura, where he passed away after attaining perfection. In other words, he entered the spiritual world after giving up his mortal body at Pandarapura. Sri Ranga Puri, a disciple of Sri Madhavendra Puri and godbrother of Isvara Puri, disclosed this important news to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

    Madhya 9.301

    prabhu kahe,----purvasrame tenha mora bhrata
    jagannatha misra----purvasrame mora pita

    Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "In My previous asrama, Sankararanya was My brother and Jagannatha Misra was My father."

    Madhya 9.302

    ei-mata dui-jane ista-gosthi kari'
    dvaraka dekhite calila sri-ranga-puri

    After finishing his talks with Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Ranga Puri started for Dvaraka-dhama.

    Madhya 9.303

    dina cari tatha prabhuke rakhila brahmana
    bhima-nadi snana kari' karena viththala darsana

    After Sri Ranga Puri departed for Dvaraka, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu remained with the brahmana at Pandarapura for four more days. He took His bath in the Bhima River and visited the temple of Viththala."

The main ghat at Pandarapura

Lord Viththala (Vitthala), also known as Vithoba, is Sri Krsna Himself. At Pandarapura temple, His consort is Rukmini Devi. In other temples Lord Vithoba is associated with Visnu, and His vahana Garuda is sometimes present. He is also known as Hari and Narayana.

Lord Viththala is worshipped primarily in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. He is often depicted as a dark young boy, His posture relaxed, with arms hanging loosely or perched on His hips. He is sometimes standing on a brick. Depending on local sentiments, the Lord is sometimes associated with Buddha or Shiva.

Sri Viththala's main temple is the one standing at Pandarapura. There is a great deal of debate about the origins of Lord Viththala, some associated with the Marathis, and others with the poet Tukaram and with the Jain. In Karnataka, he is associated with the Haridasa sect.

Lord Viththala's temple at Pandarapura has a very striking shikhara, visible for a long way along the bathing ghats on the Bhima River. This is believed to be the earliest Vithoba temple, dating back at least to the Yadava period, 12th or 13th century. Epigraphical evidence shows that there was a Vithoba shrines at the present location of the temple as early as 1189 A.D.

Although much of the current structure was built in the 17th century, a stone inscription dated 1237 mentions that the Hoysala king Someshvara donated a village for the expense of the bhoga (food offering) for Lord Vitthala. A copper plate inscription dated 1249 records the Yadava king Krishna granting to one of his generals the village Paundrikakshetra (kshetra of Pundarik), on the river Bhimarathi, in the presence of the god Vishnu.

Another stone inscription in Pandharpur temple narrates a yajna at Pandurangapura due to which "people and Vitthal along with the gods were gratified". Thus from the 13th century, the city is known as the city of Panduranga.

The beautiful Deities of Lord Vithoba and Rukmini Devi are a delight to the many devotes who come here on pilgrimage. Vitthala is carved out of black basalt, nearly 4 feet tall. He wears a high, conical crown and a necklace of tulsi-beads, along with the legendary Kaustubha gem.

Pandharpur on the banks of Chandrabhaga (Bhima) River


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