Pandharpur is in the heart of Maharashtra near Sholapur. The Pandharpur temple was built in the middle of the thirteenth century by King Visnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty. Pundalik was one of those who did not care for his parents. Once, while on his way to Kasi, Pundalik spent a night in the house of a sage. The next morning, he found three beautiful maids helping the sage’s wife with house work. Struck by their charm, he asked them who they were.
“We are the goddesses Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. But don’t dare to talk to us. We shall have nothing to do with those who treat their parents as unkindly as you do,” they cried out.
Pundalik felt thoroughly ashamed. So far he had given no thought to anyone but himself. Breaking off his journey, he returned home in haste. Thereafter Pundalik cherished his parents with deep tenderness Inspired by their love of Krishna, he too began to worship Him with great earnestness. The time soon came when he won the favour of Krishna, who happened to be in the forest nearby looking for his consort, Rukmini. Moved by Pundalik’s great devotion, he decided then and there to grace his house with His presence. At the sight of the divine cowherd, Pundalik did not run up and greet him with adoration. Instead, he showed Him a brick or ‘vit’ as a seat and asked him to wait until he finished attending to his parents. At this proof of Pundalik’s devotion to his parents, Krishna was mightily pleased and waited patiently. ‘Ask of me, what you will,’ He said later when Pundalik turned to pay homage to his favourite god. “Be forever with me as you are now”, implored Pundali.
To please him Krishna stayed forever at Pandharpur on the brick or ‘vit’. Thereafter he was known as Vithoba.
Like all ancient holy places, the Pandharpur is clustered with temples. The streets are narrow, flanked by old houses in Maratha style. The ghats are crowded with pilgrims. A little away from the temple of Vithoba, the shrine of Pundalik is placed like a small square room with an arched portico. There is also a belief that a shrine of Siva was built over the remains of Pundalik.
The temple of Vithoba is a large enclosure with high walls and eight gates. There is a beautiful mandapa with colourful paintings on the ceiling. These are scenes from the life of Krishna. The image of Vithoba is a metre high and has a head gear that looks like a crown. The pedestal is a brick-like oblong block. Vithoba looks squat and square like a peasant. Rukmabayi, the goddess Rukmini has also a shrine of her own. She too looks like a Maratha housewife, a village belle with a large saffron mark on her forehead and heavy ornaments. There is a linga mark on the crown of Vithoba. It is to tell you that Vishnu and Siva are the same. The saints Namdev and Tukaram both attained glory at Pandharpur. Both were devoted to Vishnu and sang hymns in praise of him.
A tradition has grown up in these parts of people taking vows to do a pilgrimage to Pandharpur. The man who takes the vow, dresses in simple clothes, wears the rosary of Tulsi beads round his neck, carries brass cymbals and a saffron flag on a short stick. Fasting and singing, he goes on foot to Pandharpur with palanquins containing the masks of saints like Namdev and Tukaram. Once he reaches Pandharpur he worships Vithoba with due ceremony and completes his vow.