Friday, May 3, 2013

Mystery of Lord Vitthala solved!

But the fact remains that "Paundrank Vitthala" was a historical figure belonging to Pundra clan, a society that never accepted birth-based inequality. 

Lord Vitthala of Pandharpur has always been an enigma to the scholars. The recorded Worship of Lord Vitthala dates back to 11th century AD. It is believed that it is even more antique. The saints like Namdeo, Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram believe that the idol of Lord Vitthala is as ancient as the universe is. The devotees of Lord Vitthala have been worshipping him as a manifestation of Lord Vishnu or Krishna. The Varkari’s (Devotees of Lord Vitthala) call themselves Vaishnavas, the cult of Vishnu. Still, Lord Vitthala is an enigma because of the following reasons:

a. Lord Vitthala’s name is nowhere to be found in the list of Vishnu’s 1000 names or in his 24 incarnations and the saints and though the devotees had and have this knowledge still he is called as “Vishnu who appeared on the banks of Chandrabhaga river, naked, stood arms akimbo.”.

Same time Saints believe He is Krishna, in a pastoral attire, came to Pandharpur for his great devotee “Pundarik”, who was eternally busy in service of his parents.

Also, there is another story told about the appearance of Krishna at Pandharpur. The story goes like this: As Rukmini, consort of Krishna saw Radha, a mythical lover of Krishna, sitting on his lap, got angered. In a rage, she left Mathura and came in recluse at Pandharpur. To please her, Krishna, along with his pastoral mates rushed to Gopalpura, a village near Pandharpur. To woo her, he went alone to meet Rukmini in the pastoral attire.

Another explanation of Krishna’s visit and his eternal abode at Pandharpur is told that Krishna visited Pandharpura to seduce a beautiful Princess named Padma. All these stories appear to be concocted as there is no consistency in them. Though the stories might have helped priests to elevate the mythological importance of the shrine, the real form of Vitthala remains a mystery.

b. Many scholars like Dr. Manikrao Dhanpalwar have tried to prove that this sacred place was originally Shaivait before it was converted to a Vaishnava shrine. This is because the actual temple of Devotee Pundarik is a Shiva temple. It is a belief of devotees that on the head of Lord Vitthala is Shivalsinga. Many saints like even Dnyanehwar recognise Lord Vitthala as Shiva as well.

c. According to Dr. R.C.Dhere, Vitthala originally was a minor God of pastoral Dhangar community, named as Ital, who rose high as supreme God as his character was elevated in a Vaishnav form by the Sthalapurana’s (Local mythological scripts) According to him He was first elevated as Shaivait and in later course He was related with Vishnu and Krishna to adorn him a Vaishnava character.

Without going into much detail of various opinions of the scholars and imaginative forms that were seen by Saints in their state of supreme devotion, we can deduce that Lord Vitthala is an only God in Maharashtra whose origin cannot be traced in any mythological texts. There is no explanation of word “Vitthala”. No origin of this word is found as yet. Some scholars have tried to prove that Vitthala is the local form of Sanskrit word “Vishnu.” Some have tried to connect his name with the Kannada language word “Bittiga” or “Bittarasa.” But these explanations are lame as in Karnataka and even in Tamilnadu, there are temples those are called only as Vitthala (or Vitthaleshvar) only, and not Bittiga or Bittigeshvara.

The facts about present Pandharpura are as follows:

a. Pandharpura was known as Pundrik Kshetra since ancient times.

b. The city name Pandharpur is a corrupt form of original Pundrapur.

c. The mausoleum of Devotee Pundarik is, in fact, a Shiva temple, which can be still seen clearly. The temple was famous as “Pundrikeshwar” in ancient past which is clearly stated in Padma and Skanda Purana. Pundrikeshwar means “Lord of Pundrik or Pundariks”

d. The idols of so-called Krishna’s consorts are located at different temples. In fact, they have no relation with Lord Vitthala.

Looking at above, instead of searching for Vitthal, I thought better to find historical link or lineage of Pundariks. This was so as the city is named after Pundarik, the Vitthala’s main and popular epithet is Panduranga which is clearly a corrupt form of Paundranka and that the Shiva temple is called “Pundrikeshwar”

In Shaivait’s it is a practice that Lord Shiva is named either after great devotee or society or builder of the temple. Lord of Asur Mahabal is Mahabaleshwar. Lord of Poona is Puneyshwar. Similar way “Pundrikeshwar” meaning "Lord of Pundrik."

The historians were busy in finding historical Pundarik. There are various individuals named "Pundarik" in Hindu mythologies, but they could relate no one with Devotee Pundarik of Pandharpur.

Also, it is clear that there never was a devotee named Pundarik (or Puindalik) in any era for whom Lord Krishna or Vishnu appeared at Pandharpur. Historians completely agree with this fact. Also, they cannot explain why the name Krishna was changed to Vitthala (as it would be impossible) and by which process and why it could be so when Krishna is Krishna everywhere in India.

The Historians were misled because they didn’t see that was just standing before them. Or they didn’t want to see it for the reasons best known to them.

However, we can safely assume now that the place Pandharpur was historically known as Pundrapur. (Kannada form "Pandarage" is clearly corrupted from Kannad expression "Pundarike")The area was known as Pundrika Kshetra (region). Vitthala’s main epithet is "Paundrank"…that for the sake of simplicity was converted to "Pandurang". This threefold labyrinth makes the whole thing clear.


Among many societies in ancient India were Pundra’s. The first reference to Pundra’s can be traced in Aitereya Brahmin, a sacred text explaining Rig Veda. There is a story of sage Vishwamitra. King Harishandra of his times had no child. He worshipped Lord Asura Varuna and begot a boon and in turn, he promised to Varuna that he will sacrifice his son to him. He had a son, named Rohit. As his son, Rohit, became young; Harichandra started postponing Rohit's sacrifice for his love towards him. On this Varuna got angry and punished Harischandra with severe pains in stomach. When Rohit came to know the reason, Rohit went to the sage Ajeegarta and bought his son Shunahshepa as an alternate for sacrifice. When Vishwamitra saw Shunahshepa bound to the sacrificial pillar in a pitiable condition, Vishwamitra took mercy upon him and freed him. He named him as Devrata and asked his 101 sons to treat and respect him as their elder brother. The elder 50 sons denied accepting Devrata as their eldest brother. On this Vishwamitra got enraged and cursed his fifty sons that “They shall become Shudra and shall seek refuge in the lands of the Pundra’s, Aundra’s, Shabar and Mutibs, the non-Vedic (shudra) kings of southern India. In alternative version, it is stated that his son went to South and formed Pundra, Aundra and other dynasties.

Another reference to Pundra’s we can find in Ramayana, in which, Bhargava Rama had subjugated Pundra’s.

According to Jain Ramayana, when Rama had deserted pregnant Seeta, she was taken in shelter by a Paundrik king of Pundrapur, where Seeta delivered twins, Luv & Kush.

Another ancient story tells us that Aundra’s and Pundra’s along with other clans belonged to the Lord of Asura’s, King Bali.

In Mahabharata there are several stories related with Pundra's. The kingdom of Pundra’s been located in Northern part of Bengal and was powerful. They were allies of Emperor Jarasangha, an Asura King, whom Krishna got crookedly killed at the hands of Bheema.

That time there ruled a Paundra king who called himself “Purushottama” and said to be copied attire of Krishna. People of his kingdom would call him “Paundrank Vassudeo”. He opposed Krishna’s claim that He was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In later times, in a battle, Paundrank Vasudeo was killed at the hands of Krishna.

In Mahabharat battle, Pundra’s were united to fight against Pandava’s. After that annihilating war, many Pundra’s seems to have been migrated toward south and formed their kingdoms. Mahabharata too call them Shudra’s, non-Vedik’s. Other myth informs us that the Pundra, Aundra, Vanga, Shabar and Kalinga were sons of Great Asur King Bali, who is still worshipped throughout India. This does mean that the Pundra clan originated belonged to the Asura society of ancient India and were anti-Vedic hence were condemned and despised in the Vedic literature.

Aundra’s established their kingdom in Odisa and Andhra. The nouns Odisa and Andhra are corruptions of the original Aundra. The Pundra’s were closely related with them. Pundra’s first capital was Pundranagara in Pundrikvardhan kingdom, in North Bengal. At Mahasthangarh,  ruins of that ancient city have been discovered. Several branches of Pundra’s migrated to the south in later times because they mainly were pastoral society.

There are at least three known Pundrikpur’s in south. Pandharpur (Originally Pundrapur or Pundrikpur) could be first settlement/kingdom of Pundra’s in south India, as this is a bordering city of Karntaka and is in Maharashtra. The ancient alternate name of the cities of Tiruvarur and Chidambaram too was Pundrapur and they too are famous Shaivait pilgrimages. This does prove that the Pundras ruled some parts of south as well along with their allies Aundras.  Satvahanas, first known dynasty of Maharashtra, which ruled from 2nd century BC till 3rd century AD, belonged to Aundra (Andhra) clan. Aundras too were Shiva worshipers and this fact is evident from the fact that Andhra Pradesh and even Maharashtra is crowded with ancient Shiva shrines.

It can be safely deduced that Pundra’s first settlement was at Pundrapur (Pundrikpur) alias Pandharpur. Pundras too were Shaivik, like most of Asura’s in ancient India. They established temple and lingam of Shiva which naturally was called as “Pundrikeshwara” (Lord of Pundrika’s.)

Hence it is clear that there was never existed an individual Brahmin devotee called Pundarik for whom Krishna or Vishnu dashed to this place. This is not at all a historical figure. In fact, Pundra was an independent society, who worshiped Lord Shiva, thus erected the Shiva temple calling it “Pundrikeshwar”, Lord of Pundra’s. We have seen that the Pundra Vasudeva was calling himself “Paundranka” as evidenced from Mahabharata. The memories of the Pundras has been preserved by many sources but so far the scholars failed to see its significance. 

The ancient Pundras and Aundras were the pastoral shepherd community, today known as Dhangar. We can find the Solapur and nearby districts are heavily populated by this community. Aundras founded Andhra Satvahana dynasty that ruled Maharashtra over 400 years. Pundras had their capital at Pundrapur (Pandharpur) which is now evident from the available proofs. In a way it was shepherd community that founded culture of Maharashtra.

Now it will become clear, who Lord Vitthala is!

The main epithet of Vitthala is Pandurang. Till date, the meaning of Pandurang was taken verbatim…Fair/white complexioned. Also, it was another name of Lord Shiva too. This baffled scholars because they always thought that the Vitthala is a manifestation of Krishna, who is black complexioned and so Vishnu too is and as Vitthala is also called as black, how come that he is called Pandurang (fair complexioned) from ancient times? In fact, the old Puranik texts are known as “Pandurang Mahatmya” (Glory of Pandurang), not as Vitthal Mahatmya! Had they thought over this and looked at the fact that this region was known as “Paundrik Kshetra” (land of the Pundra’s) the confusion would have vanished.

But now we know that the root of noun Pandurang lay elsewhere. We now know that Pundra people referred themselves as “Paundrank” (Pundra people) at least from Epical times. This solves mystery why Vitthal is called Pandurang (Root “Paundrank”). This only mean that Vitthal himself was from Pundra clan, a great devotee and most probably founder of Pundrapur. Vitthal was his name; hence there is no need to find its origin elsewhere. Paundrank Vitthal remained Pandurang Vitthal throughout. The Vitthal idol must have been established by his successors in his memories. There was a custom among Aundra Satvahana’s as well as in many dynasties to have erected statues or images of their predecessor kings. Hence there is no wonder why idol of Paundrank Vitthal was erected near the Pundrikeshwar Shiva temple.

It is told by the scholars that the first Vitthala temple was built during 12th century when Yadava dynasty ruled Maharashtra from Devgiri. Till then the idol stood in the wilderness of nature. Vitthal till then was a secondary God at Pandharpur. The main worshipping place still was famous a Pundrik Kshetra or Pundrikeshwar, a Shiva shrine.

How idol of Pandrank king Vitthala could have been elevated as a manifestation of Vishnu or Krishna is another story. We should keep in mind that Yadava dynasty related their bloodline with Lord Krishna. Pundra’s too were noted herdsmen from ancient times. The ancient enmity between Pundra’s and Yadava’s must have been forgotten by then or it was a distant, vague memory. The idol of Vitthala was and is dark black, had attire of a herdsman, and though not exactly same, but partially resembling the attributes of Krishna and Vishnu, such as conch and flower, in Vitthala’s hands made it easy to correlate Vitthala with Krishna and same time with Vishnu. It suited purpose of Yadava kings as the sanctity of the place was already known and was a famous pilgrimage. In all probability, to get huge donations from Yadava kings, Brahmin Puranik community created a mythical God out of a historical persona. Vitthala was thus hijacked by the Vedics those have controlled the temple since then. They composed verses creating various stories to elevate Vitthala as a Vaishnava God. Yadava kings helped build first temple. Later on many southern kings donated villages as well as money to this temple. We can see that from known history and many inscriptions found at Pandharpur.

It is fact that by 12th century memories of Pundra’s had become distant as they were seized to be the rulers since long ago and had lost their past eminence. The Vedic dominance was at the helm during Yadava era. Still, some of the ancient devotees of Vitthala maintained their right of Puja of Pundrikeshwar. This fact is evident that till this date Mahadev Koli (Fishermen) community has right to perform sacred rituals at Pundrikeshwar temple though Vitthala has been hijacked by the Vedics since last 8 centuries.

Gradually by the 13th century, people started accepting Vaishnava form of Vitthala. It was an era of socio-political tumults. The Saints like Namdeo, Dnyaneshwar to Tukaram wove their life around Vitthala and saw in Vitthala their brother, father, friend and a compassionate Lord who could bless them with ultimate salvation. Who else could bless them with equality? Thus cult of Vitthala spread so much so that He has become the main God in the pantheon of Hindu gods of  Maharashtra. However, the sad story is, Vitthala, the Lord of Equality remained bound in the chains of the Vedics, a religion of inequality since the beginning of the medieval era.  

But the fact remains that "Paundrank Vitthala" was a historical figure belonging to Pundra clan, a society that never approved birth-based inequality. 


  1. Very informative post. Keep sharing post like this. Inside the temple complex, is the famous stone chariot which is Hampi's most iconic structure. It was actually a shrine housing Garuda, the Eagle God, and a vehicle of Lord Vishnu. The entire body is carved with battle scenes. Given the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the stone chariot faces the inner sanctum where Lord Vishnu's idol was housed, its presence and placement is symbolic. Check out more fact about Vittala Temple also.

  2. Lord Vitthal is actually derived from Jain Tirthankar Neminath. His statues resembled to Jain Tirthankar statues.


  4. It's originaly a Buddhist statue at pandharpur which is shown to us after makeup as Virtual.
    There is no such virtual statue, it is an ancient Buddhist statue.

  5. still Vitthala will remain Vishnu. Nobody can change that.