This book remains the most thorough and insightful work on Viththal and his cult in any language. It is an indispensable guide for understanding the history and morphology of lived Hinduism. The history of the god Viththal and his worship is traced in the history of Vaishnavas. It exemplifies the synthesis of Vaishnava and Shaiva elements. The author highlights viththal's connection with pastoralist hero cults, an Veershaiva, Brahminical tradition. In addition, connections of Buddhist and Jain traditions are also traced.
The book has two main themes. One theme is the Viththal as a pastoralists’ deity. The god is further Viashnavised. The other theme is finding Viththal as great convergence or confluence of many different streams of Indian religious traditions. Further, the Viththal also has a significant connection with Buddhists, Jains, Goddess worship, the followers of non - Varkari sects, saint poet Ramdas and Vedic and other orthodox Brahminical tradition.
The contribution of Dr.Dhere is the scholarly arguments about the original idol of Viththal. He presents a theory that the original idol was removed from Pandharpur, is to be found in a temple at Madhe.
Introduction : Viththal beckons
The book starts with the foreword of the author. It explains the quest for the study of Viththal and the tradition of his worship.
Lord Viththal of Pandharpur has ruled the hearts of Marathi minds. He is experienced in various centuries by the saints such as Dnyandeo, Namdev Eknath and Tukaram.
The Path of inquiry
How did Viththal come to be identified with the cowherd Krishna? Might he be originally a cowherd or a god of cowherds. Might the Yadava dynasties have some connection with his original worshippers? Does the Dindir forest have any special significance in his original story? Can the Pundalik be found in the sanctuary of religious faith? These and many more questions arise. The Buddha and the son of Jina and their association with the incarnation of Vishnu needs to be studied.
The search for the original form
The deity who from the 11th or 12th century accomplished a great confluence of many religious streams must have been a folk deity. The inference continues to arouse the curiosity of many scholars.
In order to explain the name Viththal, it was said that the god stands on a brick (Vit) The story related to the brick is developed out of popular materials. In order to find the original form the shepherds’ cult of Viththal – Birappa. He is a husband of a cowherd woman named Padubai or Padma. We must use of the similarities between Vithtal and Venkatesha. Bir Kuar (Vir Kumar) a god of Ahirs in Western Bihar is similar to Viththal.
Satisfying etymology of the name Viththal is not explained so far. A clear explanation of the name Vithal has yet to be found and the original form of Vithtla might emerge from the explanation.
Unfortunately precise idea of the plentiful resources is not conceived. Complete Mahatymya texts have not yet been made available. The Pandurang Mahatmya has become as rare as a manuscript. The Pandurang Mahatmya based on Skanda Purana has not yet been published at all. Many briefer text praising Lord Viththal and Pandharpur should be brought together and published.
The inscriptions about lord Viththal and Pandharpur should be edited together so that a precise idea of the inscription.
Similarly the papers of all Viththal temple servants holding traditional rights in his worship must be gone through and relevant documents must be edited.
The material related to the folk traditions should be examined in detail, especially pastoral groups like Dhanagars.
Such pursuit should be supported by scholars and faithful as well.
Scholarship and devotion : We must realize that research into a god and research into peoples ideas about the god are two different things.
History of religion and the study of society : To understand the development of gods is in a sense to understand the development of the society that has faith in them. In the present book, the dramatic details of such developments are narrated.
Research and sectarianism : The research should not be confused with the devotion. Any outcome or conclusion of the research is not against the faith. Researcher seeks the truth whereas the devotee is concerned with the belief.
Satisfaction and dissatisfaction : The satisfaction over the completion of the task is expressed at the same time dissatisfaction over the work that remains to be fulfilled is expressed by the author.
Acknowledgements of all the forces useful for the outcome of the research are duly recognized at the end.