Chapter 7

Viththal and Hero-stones.

Viththal, originally a god of pastoralists, continued to hold his hands on his hips. This unique character is retained in all the transformations to Krishna and Vaishnava forms.

The idol connected with the name Viththal: According to one scholar According to one scholar Vishvanath Khaire, the village pronunciation of Viththal as Itu or Ithu etc, Itu itself in Tamil has the meaning ‘with hands resting on hips.’ The etymology “viththal is one who stands on a brick” is artificial. The etymology of ‘the hand resting on hips’ has found a support in a manuscript ‘Lohadanda urpha Pandharpur Kshetra Kaifiyat’ in the Mackenzie’s index.

Veerdev standing with his hands placed at his waist :
It is inevitable that we connect Viththal with traditional folk deities whose idols are similar to his. In many villages near Karnataka and Maharashtra, having idols of this kind. The idols are Veerdevs, the memorials of dead heroes who have become objects of worship. In Bihar as well there is a famous Veerdev named Bir Kuar (Vir kumar), it is a god of the Ahirs (Abhira pastoralists)

Might Viththal too have been a hero-god?
G. A. Deleury was the first to present a clear connection between Viththal and cenotaphs. He notes the following : a. Mahanubhav text mentions of a story that Viththal was a cattle thief, and that he died in a counterattack by cattle protector. b. The story is a transformation by an attitude of sectarian hatred.c. No one would erect a memorial for a cattle-thief. Hence he must be a cattle protector. d. In Kannada, the cenotaphs are called as Bittiga. The name Viththal comes from Bittiga – Bittidev. e. Both Bittiga and Viththal have their hands on their hips. f. similar hero-gods are found in Bihar. g. Viththal is one of the gods of dhangar - shepherds in Maharashtra and Karnataka. h. In the fully developed places of worship of Viththal his original form as a protector of cows has been preserved. i. There is amazing similarity between the favorite food kambha of Vedic pastoralist god Pushan and Kala that Krishna – Viththal loves.

The claim has found some support in Sontheimer, Tulpule and Dhanpalvar.

It is clear that aside from the story in the Mahanubhav text, there is no truly decisive substantiation that the god Viththal of Pandharpur arose from the deification of a cenotaph.

Viththalveerukathan leela.
The essay has included the original Mahanubhav story.

Analysis of Leela :
Mahadaisa asks a question about the Viththal of Pandharpur. Viththal is known as Viththal Vir. Thus he was already a Vir.

He was a robber, with the three accomplices. The three were from Mangalvedhe. They were practicing highway robbery. When one of the protectors shot back, Viththal fell at Pandhari (Pandharpur)

As the sons of Viththal learned of his death, they erected a hero column. They established a linga on the top of the column. A god came to identify himself with the hero column. Viththal began to fulfill the wishes of those who worshipped the memorial. His wife was named as Lakhai. The name of the couple was given as Vitho-Rukmini. After Viththal achieved a status of a deity, his sons composed verses of devotion to him. the names Vitho-Rukmini are woven into the abhang verses. In this wasy Viththal achieved fame as god.

An interpolated lila : It is impossible for Chakradhar to accept any other deity as incarnation of Krishna. Thus the leela itself could be interpolation. The interpolation was confirmed by a Mahanubhav scholar.

Reviling Viththal.
There are many similarities between Varkari and Mahanubhav. The varkari idea that prevents the Mahanubhavs and Varkaris from mixing is the idea of identifying Viththal as Lord Krishna. This idea is not supported by any Sanskrit text. In fact there are the instances when the Mahanubhavs were provoked by the referring to the Viththal as a god.

Viththal, cowherd and cenotaphs
If the sectarian enmity is set aside, it provides very important insights into the creation of cenotaphs and their divine status. However the story is not told in order to narrate a historical truth, but to revile someone else’s god.

The most prevalent idea of the idol of Viththal is that of a cowherd child Krishna. The process accepted by Deleury in the original form was the opposite of his divinized form and thus it is contradictory.
An older version of Lila :
It indicates that Viththal is a divinized memorial of a hero who protected cattle, that his origin was low.

The divinization of heroes :
The heroes dying young are praised throughout the world. Voluntary death for higher purpose is always held important. Then they are believed to attain divinity.

Shudra heroes and Cenotaphs :
Generally the most of the cenotaphs found are from the Varna admittedly Shudra heroes. In traditional Indian society, cows and Brahmans were considered pre-eminently holy. Hence protecting the cows and Brahmans was a duty of Kshatriyas and heroes. Small engraved plaques (taks) of untouchables who gave up their lives in order to protect a Brahman family continue to be worshipped in the home shrines of many such families.

Viththal is not originally a cenotaph :
When we consider the background and the people’s faith in cenotaphs we must agree that it is possible for a cenotaph to reach the status of a high god. If one claims that Viththal developed from a cenotaph to a high god, one has to accept the responsibility fro providing trustworthy evidence. There are more than one cenotaphs in Pandharpur. When a god gradually attains superior status, Symbolic ritual priority is given to his original form, if it is retained in his cult. If the cenotaph found opposite the main door of the temple in Pandharpur were the original Viththal, it would have given symbolic ritual priority or an explanatory story be created.

If a cenotaph had been elevated and made into Vishnu-Krishna, the idol in the temple would not be one of a folk deity who looks like a cenotaph; rather it would have had all the traditional characteristics of the god.

Thus, there is not sufficient evidence to determine that Lord Viththal was originally a cenotaph.

The valiant ones of the hero Viththal :

Some of the verses are quoted by the scholars claiming that the saints were the ‘valiant ones of the hero Viththal’. The term hero does not apply to Viththal, Thus, these verses can not prove that Viththal was originally just a hero – stone.









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