Chapter 6

In search of the original idol of Viththal.


What was the idol like that was established before the Yadava period? is it that same idol that resides in the Viththal temple today. Must not the original idol have been replaced when the various natural and political calamities caused it to be moved? Such questions are asked and the researcher needs to answer it. However, no evidence has yet been found that can provide definitive answer.

The extraordinary feature of the idol in the Mahatmyas.
The Mahatmya from both the Padma and Skanda Purana tell of a unique feature of the idol of lord Viththal of Pandharpur. The mantra of Viththal is carved directly over the idols’ heart.  The mantra consists of six syllables according the Panduranga Mahatmya from the Padma Purana. The concerned verse has enigmatic description of the Mantra.
Deciphering the mantra is not needed, but to search for an idol carrying such mantra is needed.

Support from other sources :
In Viththalasahasranam and many such stotras he is described as ‘composed of six syllables’, one on whose heart there is a line of syllables of a mantra. A biography of Changa Keshavadas mentions of Pandurang himself had initiated Changa Keshavdas in the six syllable mantra in Pandharpur. The same Changa Keshavdas is said to have rebuilt the Viththal temple after it had been destroyed by Muslims.

Where is the idol with the Syllables of the Mantra?
The idol in the temple at Pandharpur today has no letters carved over its heart. But the exceptional idol of this sort does exist. It is found in Maharashtra, in the same Solapur district. This idol is located in the Viththal temple in the village of Madhe. At the beginning of 20th century the historian Rajvade published the inscription on the Vithobas heart in Madhe. Actual inscription was also published by him.

Solving the enigma of the Mantra.
An imcomplete manuscript claims that the mantra can be deciphered as “ Viththalaya Namah”. An eminent Pandit, Acharya V.P. Limaye Specialized in Vedas and grammer has deciphered it as “Om Shri Om Krishnaya Namah”. The justification of the mantra is also given in the present essay.

The cryptic mantra in the “Panduranga Mahatmya” in the Padma Purana.
It is unclear how to interpret the mantra in the Padma Purana. Perhaps a different verses leading to the same mantra might have been created by the author.

Description of Savata maharaj of Viththal.
He describes it as “heart – lotus, marked with Mantra.”

The idol delightful to the eyes : The idol of Viththal at Madhe is described in the essay in details. The Mahatmya of Skanda purana describes the three distinctive features of the idol. a. verse indicating mantra inscribed on the hearth of the idol.b. a third eye can be seen on the forehead of the idol. c. It is a naked idol of a child god. All the three features are not found in the idol of Pandharpur, and all the features are present in the idol at Madhe.

Relocation of the idol :
A Hindu king from Vijaynagar had taken away the idol, as per the Marathi myths. During the period of the sultanates 15th -17th centuries there were many crises during which the idol of Viththal at Pandharpur had to be moved elsewhere. During the campaign of Afjhal Khan in 1659 it was threatened. When Aurangzeb camped in 1695. In between these two events many other similar crises occurred, during which the idol was moved to Chincholi, Gulsare, Degav and other nearby village.

Rajwade while editing the Marathi inscription in Pandharpur informs that the badves are said to have removed the idol in the nick of time and placed it in the village of Madhe, 20 miles away from Pandharpur. After Afjhal Khan had been killed, they brought the idol back, and an independent temple and idol of Vithoba were installed in Madhe in memory of this inauspicious period.

The Devotees point of view :
Some of the devotees believe that the idol was not moved, but the sanctuary was walled in. Some of them felt that the devotees would have realized the change in idol.
In yet another incidence, a frieze panel was broken into two in 1982. It was joined using cement.  However, none of the devotees seem to have realized it and none of them objected to it. Thus the world of devotees is different than that of researchers.

Unbroken character of the importance of the holy place :
According to the traditional information, the idol was moved to Madhe. The Nimbalkars built the viththal temple at Madhe to memorize the event. The temple looks like a mosque from the outside.

Thus in order to see what the original idol looked like, the one worshipped by Dnyandeo, Tukaram and Niloba, one can look at the idol that has been safely preserved and worshipped in the temple at Madhe. This conclusion does not cause Pandharpur to lose even a tiny bit of its importance. The stories of Vishvanatha of Varanasi and Somnath are good examples.

The lack of Standardization of idols of Viththal :
A four-armed idol of Viththal is found at Taklibhan. It was a family deity of king Bhan. If the Taklibhan and Viththal temple is so old, it would be important to study it.The village name Takalibhan, means that in order to differentiate from other Taklis, the name of the local king Bhan was placed. Bhan is an easilty pronounceable Marathi form of the name Bhanu.
An inscription in Pandharpur mentions of a Yadav king to be Bhanu.

The four- handed idol of Takalibhan is distinguished by local traits rather than by the style of any particular school. Considering many other idols, the standing with the hands on the hips is the indespensible sign of Viththalness. The process of standardization of Viththal idols was not complete in the Yadava period.

The testimony of Baba Padhye :
He was a renowned scholar of Dharmashastra, alive till 1806, has supported the claim of six – syllable mantra.

Thus it indicates that the idol was brought back to Pandharpur from Madhe. It proves the Rajvades’ account of shifting the idols was true to the fact.

What happened in the nineteenth century?
This leaves only one point to be clarified : when, where and why was the original idol of Viththal destroyed the one that resided until at least A.D. 1805? In 1873, a madman threw a rock at the idol, and broke one of its legs. The story was published in newspapers. According to the Dhramashastra, the broken idol of the god is immersed in water, and a new idol should be fashioned. Thus it might have been changed after the attack of 1873.
The practice of asserting the presence of Non - existent features. The present idol is not naked; it does not hold a cowherd’s staff between his leg. it does not have a string coming down from its head, and there is no mantra carved on its chest. How - ever, the memory of the old idol might have survived. Thus a book, Pandurangatatvavivek 1882 by Vitthal Dajishastri Dharurkar narrates a story from Skanda purana. It consists of a mantra on the chest of the idol. A thesis in 1977 by Manmadkar describes the present –day idol of Viththal, referring to other features. He also mentions the syllables of a mantra in the area of heart. Thus the secret of disappearance of the original idol is not known.

Some objections, some answers :
After the essay was published, some of the objections were raised by some of the scholars and devotees. They were answered in suitable manner. The both, the objections and the explanations are included in the essay.

Some more objections are also suitably answered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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