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Vitthala Venkata Kshetram – devotion from the hills to the earth

In contrast to the “Lord of the seven hills” was also presented the “Lord of the earth” or the one who stands on a brick, Vittala.

Pandharpur is a major holy place in Maharashtra and it is also called South Kashi. It is famous for the Lord Vitthal temple situated on the bank of Bhima river. Bhima river is also known as Chandrabhaga as it takes shape like crescent moon near the town.

Who was Pundalik? What was the intensity of his devotion that Krishna and Rukmini came to his Ashram? How long did Pundalik make the lord wait on a brick? Who was Tukaram and what was the essence of his abhangs in the devotion of Vithoba? The “Abhangas” of Sant Tukaram with their richness of words and an earnest request made to his God,  his ‘Vithoba’ lead the devotee to the path of Salvation or ‘Moksha’.

Devotion in any form reaches God swiftly. Impressed by Pundalik’s devotion to his parents, Visnu planned to bless Pundalik immediately. So, he left Vaikuntha (His abode) for Pundalik’s ashram. Vishnu knocks at Pundalik’s door when he is busy serving his parents food. Pundalik does realize God is at his door. But such was his devotion to his parents, he wants to complete his duties and only then attend the visitor. Then, Pundalik does something strange but out of real devotion. He throws a brick outside for God to stand on and wait for him until he finishes attending to his parents. It is the first day of monsoon so it is wet and muddy outside. If Lord Vishnu stands upon a brick his feet will remain clean and dry. Seeing this act, Vishnu was extremely impressed and the ever-loving God waited for his devotee. When Pundalik came out, he begged for pardon but far from being displeased, Vishnu was taken over by Pundalik’s love for his parents and granted a boon. Pundalik requested Vishnu to stay back on Earth and bless all his true devotees. He agreed to take the form of Vithoba, or God who stood upon a brick. 

Varkari | PC:

The idol is depicted as a dark youth standing arms akimbo on a brick, sometimes accompanied by his consort Rakhumai (रखुमाई ). The abode of Vittala is Pandharpur temple. It is said that He was brought there by his ardent devotee Pundalik(पुंडलीक) who while serving his parents made Vishnu who had come to his rescue, stand on a Vit(वीट), a brick and so this idol is called “Vittala”.

He is essentially a focus of Bhakti driven Varakari ( वारकरी ) faith of Maharashtra. He has been the savior and idol of the common people. Every year thousands of Varakari-s walk from their places all over Maharashtra to Pandharpur chanting the name of Vittala. Vari ( वारी) is a journey, a quest to reach God.

Arundhati Patwardhan found this quest ideally expressed in the Ovi-s (ओवी) and Abhanga-s of Saint Tukaram. “Vittala” is a theatrical presentation of Santa Tukaram’s compositions depicting a mesmerizing journey of a devotee, who travels from self-surrender to self-realization. The devotee experiences tremendous emotional and mental upheavals and an urge to meet his Vithu ( विठू ) as he pleads him the Bhakta’s uncontrollable yearning at some point leads to frustration and even aggression. The Bhakta longs to see God in his physical being. He longs for the union. Finally, the travel reaches its peak after his heart completely surrenders at the lotus feet of Vittala- the all-pervading power. The devotee realises the existence of his Vittala not in the idol in the temple but everywhere around him and also within himself. He no longer craves for the God to be physically visible. A true Bhakta understands the relationship between the soul and the divine. Did you now understand why I did all this “attacks”? My request was not heard, my pleas fell on your deaf ears, my wails were unseeded to and when I decided to give away my life breath you appeared and how? Every where in every way, in me out of me and made me realise that you always were existent in me!

The gestures and expressions through dance and music take one beyond the word meaning going into the core of feeling and the free-flowing Bhakti Rasa of the Abhanga-s.

Arundhati Patwardhan Presented Pandharpur “Vittala”

Read Part-1 : Vitthala Venkata Kshetram – devotion from the hills to the earth

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