The temple of Sri Vittala, Sri Pandharpur
Sri Pandharpur Dhama is the beautiful holy abode of Lord Vittala, Sri Krishna Himself. Located in southeastern Maharashtra, Pandharpur Dhama is the spiritual center of Maharashtrian bhaktas. The Chandrabhaga river gently curves around the town of Pandharpur in a crescent half moon shape, thus her name Chandrabhaga which means “half moon”.
Sri Vittala, with Goddess Rukmini, Sri Panduranga Bhajanashram, Govindapuram
It is said that the devotee Pundalik founded Pandharpur. His father Janudeva and mother Satyavati lived in a thick forest called Dandirvan. Pundalik was a devoted son but soon after his marriage he began to ill-treat his parents. To escape from this misery, the parents decided to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi. When Pundalik’s wife learnt about this, she also decided to go. She and her husband joined the same group of pilgrims on horseback. While the son and his wife rode on horseback, the old couple walked. Every evening when the party camped for the night, the son forced his parents to groom the horses and do other jobs. The poor parents cursed the day they decided to go on a pilgrimage. Soon the party reached the ashrama of the great sage Kukkutswami. There they decided to spend a couple of nights. They were all tired and soon fell asleep-except Pundalik who could not sleep. Just before daybreak he saw a group of beautiful, young women, dressed in dirty clothes, enter the ashrama, clean the floor, fetch water and wash the swami’s clothes. Then they entered the inner room of the ashrama, and came out in beautifully clean clothes and passing near Pundalik, they vanished.
Sri Pundalik Mandir on the banks of the Chandrabhaga river
Next night he saw the same sight again. Pundalik threw himself at their feet and begged them to tell who they were. They said they were Ganga, Yamuna and other holy rivers of India in which the Pilgrims bathed and washed off sins. Their clothes became dirty by the sins of the bathing pilgrims.”And because of your ill-treatment of your parents,” they said, “You are the greatest sinner.”This brought about a complete change in him and he became the most devoted son. Now the parents’ rode the horses while the son and his wife walked by their side. By their love and affection, the son and his wife urged the parents to give up the pilgrimage and return to Dandirvan.
Sri Sri Radha Pandharinatha, ISKCON Pandharpur
One day it so happened that Lord Krishna, the King of Dwarka, while feeling lonely, was reminded of his early days in Mathura. He particularly remembered his sports with the milkmaids, the cowherd boys, and his love, Radha. He longed to see Her again. By his divine powers he brought Her to Dwarka, and seated Her by His side. Just then His queen, Rukmini, entered the room. When Radha did not rise to pay Her respects, Rukmini left Dwarka in anger and hid Herself in Dandirvan forest. After some days, Lord Krishna set off in search of Rukmini. He first went to Mathura, then to Gokul. He met the milkmaids and cowherd boys. They too joined in the search. They went to Mount Govardhan in Her search. At last they reached the banks of the river Bhima in the Deccan. Krishna left His companions at Goplapura, and He Himself entered Dandirvan forest alone in search of Her. At last He found Her and managed to calm Her. Krishna and Rukmini came to Pundalik’s ashrama.
Sri Pundalik serving his parents, just as the Lord appeared to him as Sri Vittala
But at that time Pundalik was busy attending to his parents. Though he knew Lord Krishna had come to see him, he refused to pay his respect to the Lord before his duty towards his parents was done. He, however, threw a brick outside for lord Krishna to stand upon. Impressed by Pundalik’s devotion to his parents, Lord Krishna did not mind the delay. Standing on the brick He waited for Pundalik. When Pundalik came out and begged God’s pardon, Lord Krishna replied that far from being displeased, he was pleased with his love for his parents. Lord Krishna then ordered him to worship Vithoba, or God who stood upon a brick (Marathi: Vit).
Main deities of Sri Vittala & Sri Rakhumayi Devi, Sri Pandharpur
An imposing temple was built at the place where Krishna and Pundalik had met. Inside the temple stands Krishna’s image on a brick. By His side stands the image of Rukmini (called Rakhumayi by the locals). This temple covering a vast area has a total of six gates.
Arati ceremony of Sri Vittala, Sri Pandharpur
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited the temple of Lord Vittala in Pandharpur during His travels across India. He danced in ecstacy before the deity (CC Madhya 9.282). Recently, a beautiful temple has been built by ISKCON, with installed deities of Sri Sri Radha Pandharinatha. The temple is under the auspices of Sri Lokanath Swami, a dedicated disciple of Srila Prabhupada, the Founder Acharya of ISKCON.
Extracted and adapted from http://www.gsbkerala.com/panduranga.htm