July 11, is the day of Ashadi Ekadashi (the eleventh day of the month of Ashad). The day is significant according to the Hindus as it marks the beginning of Chatur-masa (four months). On this day, Lord Vishnu goes to sleep for four months and thus these four months are considered to be inauspicious for any religious or social activities like marriage. Many people observe fasts and abstinence of different sort during these four months.
However, for Mahrashtrians, this has another significance which is associated with Vithoba or Vitthala of Pandarpur. As per the Bhakti cult of Maharashtra, two main exponents of the Bhakti movement, Sant Tukaram and Sant Jnaneshwar are supposed to have reached Pandarpur on the day of Ashadi Ekadashi. The day till date is commemorated by undertaking a pilgrimage to Pandarpur by the devotees which is better known as the Pandarpur Yatra. The unique feature of the temple is that the shrines of Vithoba and his consort, Rakhumai have two different temples. Let me tell you the myth associated with this.
Vithoba’s (a name for Lord Vishnu) wife was fondly called Padubai and was always busy with her household chores. Once she was so busy with her work that she did not attend to Maliraya, a guest of Vithoba. Vithoba’s anger knew no bounds and in his anger he cursed her that she would go mad and be separated from her. True to her curse, Padubai went to a forest and died. Vithoba was so angry that he took the form of a snake and came in between the corpse of Padubai and her parents who had come to see her at the sad turn of events. He then had clouds turn to rain and wash away her bones into the sea, after allowing the kites and vultures eat up her body.
All this upset Maliraya to no end as he felt guilty for the events. He took severe penance for twelve years at the sea-shore and then got the release of Padubai’s bones from the lord of the sea. He then immersed the bones in the Chandrabhaga River and a beautiful lotus emerged out of it. Meanwhile Vithoba was sad and guilty for his acts, was roaming and looking for Padubai all over, till he reached Chandrabhaga River. When he saw the lotus, he plucked it and Padubai emerged as Rukmini. But by then Vithoba had renounced family life and could not undo his own curse and so they decided not to live under the same roof, but decided to meet regularly and speak to each other. The two separate temples symbolize Vithoba’s non-attachment and a life of suffering and a life of duty, devotion and forgiveness.
Many see Vithoba as a pastoral deity, who got assimilated in the Hindu pantheon in due course of time. Many have said that Vithoba is a form of Shiva, like majority of the pastoral deities and this could be based out of the fact that Pandarpur has many Shiva temples. However, the exponents of the bhakti cult like Sant Tukaram and Sant Eknath have identified Vithoba with Vishnu and Rakhumai with Rukmini.
Vithoba is also associated with his devotee Pundalik and as a savior of the Varkhari community. Next time we will go thru the myths associated with Pundalik.